SWLG response to Scarista wind turbine proposal

January 2013

The SWLG has submitted an objection to the West Harris Trust’s proposal for a 33m wind turbine at Scarista, on one of the finest stretches of coast in Scotland. We support the West Harris Trust’s work and its aim of ensuring that the area’s communities have a robust and viable future, and we also support the principle of community land ownership. Our decision to object was therefore made reluctantly and after careful consideration of the proposal and its context.

The Trust estimates that the turbine would bring revenue of £45,000 per year to the area, before running costs and borrowing charges, and the proposed site is next to two considerably smaller existing turbines. However, the location is particularly sensitive, being part of an open coastal landscape that is of exceptional value, and which itself draws tourists and residents to the area. Although the turbine’s immediate surroundings are not ‘wild’, the wider setting certainly is, and the turbine would have a substantial visual impact on this. We believe that an industrial structure of this scale is not appropriate in such a setting and decided to object on this basis.

We support the generation of energy at the community scale where projects are sympathetic to their environment, and hope that the West Harris Trust will reconsider their proposal.

Our letter of objection is below.

The Scottish Wild Land Group objects to the West Harris Trust’s proposal for a wind turbine at Scarista on the Isle of Harris. We believe that the proposed turbine, being located in a National Scenic Area and one of the finest coastal landscapes in the UK, would be too large and conspicuous to be considered appropriate, having a base to hub height of 24.6 metres and a base to blade-tip height of 33 metres. The turbine would be visible for many miles, and its scale and industrial nature make it entirely out of keeping with the landscape and environment of the area, prized for its openness and unspoiled views. We strongly disagree with the applicant’s assertion that the turbine “does not significantly affect the landscape or the view to and from it”.

We recognise the West Harris Trust’s aim of supporting a viable and sustainable community in the area, and that they have identified certain benefits to this community of the proposed development. However, we believe that these benefits, if realised, would not justify the damage the turbine would do to the local environment. This environment is a major asset and attracts tourists and investment to the area and the wider region. A recent YouGov poll suggests that a large proportion of visitors to scenic areas would be less likely to visit if large wind power developments occurred in the area, and while this proposal is for a single turbine, the scenic value of the area and inconsistency of the development with this value are such that the risk of a similar effect is high. This landscape must also be recognised as a national (and international) resource, in which many diverse groups have a legitimate, if less immediate, interest. We believe that the proposed development therefore requires a considerably stronger justification than it has before the damage it causes to this resource can be accepted.

We are also concerned about the use of previous (smaller) developments to justify this one, and the gradual decay of natural amenity that this implies. Clearly, there must be a point at which developments are recognised as being of inappropriate scale whatever the existing infrastructure, and we believe that the proposed turbine, being of substantially greater size and impact than those already present, is beyond this point. If constructed, the turbine could presumably then be used to justify further developments of a similar scale, which would be wholly unacceptable.

For these reasons, we believe that this proposal would cause unacceptable damage to one of Scotland’s finest landscapes and, therefore, one of the areas’ most important economic resources, and should be rejected.