Today, I went along to the debate at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh about the proposed Talladh-a-Bheithe wind farm. About 40 members of the public attended, following a call from the John Muir Trust to show support for the motion.
First off, Murdo Fraser brought this motion to the house for debate:
''That the Parliament notes objections to the planned Talladh-a-Bheithe wind farm on Rannoch Moor from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and the John Muir Trust; considers that, if granted, the Talladh-a-Bheithe project will be visually detrimental to an area of outstanding natural beauty and one that is included in Scottish Natural Heritage’s wild land map; believes that the 24 turbines planned for two kilometres north of the Loch Rannoch and Glen Lyon National Scenic Area will be visible from 30 Munros and Corbetts, including the popular Schiehallion mountain; understands that this case presents the Scottish Government with its first real test following the announcement of the Third National Planning Framework (NPF3), in which 19% of Scotland was identified as national parks and national scenic areas and therefore out of bounds to developers, and notes calls for the Scottish Government to reaffirm its commitment to preserving Scotland’s precious natural heritage.''
Murdo Fraser was keen to point out that this was a test case for new Scottish Government policy on Wild Land (NFP3), and had implications for all 42 Wild Land Areas, which he believed 'should not be sacrificed for a few extra megawatts'. The proposed site is just 2km's from the Rannoch National Scenic Area, a designation which the Government have pledged to protect under their new policy. He drew attention to over 1000 statements against the application for 24 huge turbines and 13km of hill tracks, as opposed to only 23 for. 75% of all local residents oppose the application. Claims that turbines reduce carbon emissions were debunked by both Fraser and Neil Findlay, pointing out that peatland and blanket bog sequester higher amounts of CO2 than can be offset by the development, and this habitat would be irreparably damaged by their construction.
Michael McMahon also spoke in favour of the motion, asking if the new guidelines cannot protect Rannoch, where else can they work? He stated 'we have no proper control over the siting of windfarms in Scotland'. Rob Gibson opposed, arguing 'should not local people not benefit from energy development?' and that any environmental impact would and should be properly mitigated. But Neil Findlay then took him to task, saying that most of the companies involved are multinational corporations, and the money does not stay in the local or national economy. He asked 'how can you design out the impact of this scale of development?' Findlay spoke for a few minutes on a personal connection to landscapes, both wild and local.
Planning minister Derek Mackay was clearly under pressure for the Scottish Government. He restated that he couldn't be drawn on the motion because it was a 'live application' which prevented comments which might prejudice the decision. He questioned whether motions like this should even be permitted when an application was in process. He reaffirmed the commitment of the Government to NFP3, which he said, should 'facilitate sustainable change and not cause irreversible damage'. There was the expected talk of 'each case on it's merit', but as he mentioned 'a contribution of landscape to society' the instrumentalism was disappointingly obvious.
It was interesting that members of the public in the gallery outnumbered members of Scottish Parliament on the floor, and that many MSP's left after a vote and immediately before the debate, including some Green's. That's a real shame… but be aware of the personal agendas of those using wild land in party political arguments. The issue has supporters and detractors left, right and centre, it has clearly gained some ground in the Scottish Parliament since the last time I attended one of these things... and it's far too important to get hung up on old school labels. Luckily all the NGO's who oppose the industrialisation of Rannoch recognise this. But this evening, I just couldn't help wondering: where was the public MCofS presence, where were the Ramblers? We're they in the gallery too, or was it only JMT and Keep Rannoch Wild folk? I'll happily stand corrected if there was some official representation from either... (Helen Todd of Ramblers Scotland has since let me know that she wasn't able to attend because of a prior engagement). Both MCofS and Ramblers Scotland have made public statements against the application, which is a great thing, but press releases are easy - I'm not currently a member of the Ramblers, but as an MCofS member, I'd like to see a mailshot from them asking me to take action, be it to help raise funds for lobbying, public inquiries, or show my face at a parliamentary debate.
The full record of the debate is here