Thursday, 6 December 2007

Economy and environment

These two factors in island life are presently on a collision course.

The North Lewis Windfarm, which would see 181 turbines scattered over the 40 miles between Stornoway, Bragar and Port of Ness, has been billed as the salvation to the economy of the Western Isles. The developers of this windfarm, Lewis Wind Power, claim that it could bring 400 jobs to the islands. The project is worth £512 million.

On Tuesday of this week, a deal was struck between LWP and the current operators of the Arnish Fabrication Yard, who are working under the name Camcal. Under the terms of this agreement, the Yard would manufacture the turbine towers as a whole. This would generate work for 50 to 70 workers over a period of 5 years.

This is of course depending on whether the Scottish Government approves the scheme. One of the major objectors, the RSPB, has threatened to take the UK Government to court if the Scottish Government does give the green light to the windfarm. The RSPB alleges that the environmental impact study, a requirement for the windfarm planning application, was not carried out properly. If the European Court finds in favour of the RSPB, the UK government is liable for a multi-million pound fine.

It is probably more likely that a public inquiry will be held into the whole scheme.

A parallel can be drawn between a certain golf course development some 200 miles east of Lewis, sponsored by a certain billionnaire whose roots lie a few miles north of Stornoway. When this development was voted down by the local council a week ago, all hell broke loose in the local community, who found themselves deprived of a £1 billion business opportunity. The Scottish Government got involved, and the whole process is going to take rather longer than originally anticipated.

The parallel is about the influence of big money.

I have made my personal opposition to the windfarm clear in many previous posts. One of the reasons is the economic and monetary benefits for the Western Isles. Fifty to seventy jobs stand to be generated at Arnish for 5 years, which (objectively speaking) is a good thing. Other jobs will be generated through the construction of the towers on site. To my layman's eye, the promise of 400 jobs will never be met.

The compensation to the local community, £5 million per annum, is derisory, when compared to the amount of money that will be made by the developers. LWP stands to make huge gains, and represent a company with multi-billion pound assets. These factors have given them the leverage to sway councillors' opinions; it meant that they got away with an incomplete planning application - if the RSPB are anywhere near right. The environment comes a paltry last on the balance-sheet for big money.

The local council sold us down the river. I hope the buck stops at Holyrood.

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