THE BATTLE TO SAVE CULZEAN CASTLE
When, in 1792, the internationally renowned Scottish architect Robert Adam unveiled his work of genius – Culzean Castle – the world was stunned by its combination of European classicism and the Romantic. Adam had designed the grandest Georgian Castle in Scotland to fit into the rugged surrounding hills and coastline as an architectural masterpiece of global importance. Perched on an Ayrshire cliff top with stunning views across the Firth of Clyde to Ailsa Craig, Arran and the Mull of Kintyre, Culzean has become the National Trust’s greatest Scottish attraction, welcoming over 250,000 tourists annually.
Gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in 1945 by the Marquess of Ailsa, to offset death duties, the future of the castle and its associated country park are now at risk due to an egregious planning application about to be reinstated to erect seven, giant industrial wind turbines on the highest hill overlooking Culzean. Banks Group, an English-based energy company, intends to apply for planning approval to South Ayrshire Council for seven, 132-metre high wind turbines, perched on top of Knoweside Hill, the highest promontory in the area. The local council has already been forced to waste tens of thousands of pounds fighting off a previous application by the same company to erect fifteen, 76 metre-high turbines on the same site. Banks, following strong objections from the National Trust for Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, eventually withdrew this application, but have now carried out extensive local consultations and are set to reapply for half the number of turbines at almost twice the original height.
These monstrous steel towers will be visible from miles around, scarring the iconic Culzean Bay and wrecking Robert Adam’s treasured landscape. They will loom immediately above the famous Electric Brae and worse still, will devastate the view from the world-renowned Turnberry Hotel and Championship Golf Courses, recently purchased by Donald Trump and earmarked for a massive £250 million redevelopment programme. Trump is understandably furious. It seems that the SNP government’s obsession with wind power pursues him around the country like some mischievous sprite, intent on upsetting his investment plans and piercing the heart of Scotland’s tourist industry. The National Trust for Scotland said the original application by Banks was “akin to a developer trying to site a wind farm on Arthur’s Seat, oblivious to the impact it would have on Edinburgh Castle or Edinburgh’s economy.”
Knoweside Hill and the surrounding land, falls within a Scenic Area and a Rural Protection Area as defined in South Ayrshire Council’s local plan. Scottish Natural Heritage state in their guidance on the siting of wind farms: “Wind farms should be sited and designed so that adverse effects on landscape and visual amenity are minimised and so that areas which are highly valued for their landscapes and scenery are given due protection”. Installing massive industrial turbines on the nearest hillside overlooking Scotland’s most-visited National Trust site, in an area of outstanding natural beauty, constitutes a direct breach of SNH’s guidelines.
Local community councils, inevitably, have voiced their support for the project, lured by the prospect of substantial financial gains. They have been promised £9.6 million over the projected 25-year lifespan of the Knoweside Hill development. At a time of economic austerity, it is hardly surprising that they have fallen for the bait. In the burgeoning renewable sector, such ‘bribes’ are known euphemistically as ‘community benefit’ and take the form of payments given to consenting local groups and organisations who then agree to live with the resulting devastating impact of the wind turbines on their environment, health, water quality and visual amenity. The galling point about so-called ‘community benefit’ is that it is funded directly by consumers in the form of direct add-ons to their monthly energy bills.
The supposed generosity of Banks Group in agreeing to dole out £9.6 million to local community councils is in fact a charade and the amount involved is derisory compared to the huge gains the developers and their associated landowners stand to make. An average giant industrial turbine will generate more than £14 million profit over its 25-year lifespan, half of which comes from electricity sales and the remainder from consumer subsidies. These vast subventions, added on to our energy bills, have already driven over one million Scottish households into fuel poverty, amongst the worst figures in Europe. Fat cat renewable energy companies can’t believe their luck. They are even paid to switch off their turbines when the wind is too high. Scottish wind farms were paid more than £8 million in the first two weeks of this year to shut down and produce nothing! No wonder the public find it hard to understand why they are being offered miserly 3.5% to 5% cuts in their energy bills when oil prices internationally have plummeted by more than 50%. They need look no further than the great wind farm scam.
The impact of the development on this tranquil part of rural Scotland will be shocking. The estimated construction phase will take 18 months, when massive, 1000 tonne concrete foundations will be laid for each of the giant steel towers. Borrow pits will be quarried and rock blasted with high explosives to provide the base for the access roads to the turbines. Pylons and overhead lines will be erected across the skyline to carry the power to the national grid. The narrow tourist roads around Croy Bay and the Electric Brae will be congested with heavy-duty 60-tonne trucks and cranes during the entire construction phase, causing significant disruption to tourist traffic and to local residents.
The completed wind farm, will not only have a colossal visual impact, it will also impact dreadfully on the health and wellbeing of people living in close proximity to the site. In Australia, laws have been introduced prohibiting the construction of giant wind turbines within 12 km of occupied dwellings, because of the well-known health impacts that they have. But in Scotland, the SNP government has allowed a free for all, where turbines can be built within yards of people’s homes. The constant low-frequency noise, vibrations and ‘shadow flicker-effect’ from turbines can cause headaches, dizziness, sleep deprivation, unsteadiness, nausea, exhaustion, mood swings and an inability to concentrate. Many people have been driven to despair and forced to abandon their homes because of these adverse impacts. There is also increasing evidence that public and private water supplies are being routinely contaminated through the pollution of groundwater by the construction, operation and decommissioning of wind turbines.
The concept that all of this damage would be acceptable if the harnessing of wind energy could help to cut CO2 emissions and halt climate change is also a myth. It is a sad fact that the rocketing costs, soaring fuel poverty, landscape vandalism and impact on people’s lives and properties is all for nothing. Even if Scotland were covered from end to end with giant wind turbines it would not make the slightest difference to global carbon emissions. Indeed the Chinese are laughing all the way to the bank as they open a new coal-fired power station every week to supply the UK with the steel we need to build our wind farms.
We are the victims of a great folly, perpetuated by politicians who believe, incredibly, that “wind is free” and that the ruination of Scotland’s landscape will somehow show our commitment to combatting climate change. Alex Salmond said that Scotland could become the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy. His obsession has seen the country peppered with industrial turbines at a cost so far of more than £8 billion. For the same money we could have had a new, state-of-the art, third generation nuclear power plant, which would provide us with carbon-free electricity for the next hundred years at over 90% efficiency. In contrast, we can look forward to an unreliable, intermittent supply of electricity from this forest of expensive turbines, which work for only 25 years at less that 25% efficiency and stop whenever there is no wind or when there is too much wind. This catastrophic energy policy was never economically viable even when oil prices were above $112 a barrel. At today’s price of $47 per barrel it has become a financial scandal of epic proportions. To add insult to injury, vandalising one of the world’s most iconic landscapes at Culzean Castle would be a shocking and unforgivable mistake. South Ayrshire Council must stand up to the pressure and say NO.
(Struan Stevenson was Conservative MEP representing Scotland in the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014. He is the author of ‘SO MUCH WIND – The Myth of Green Energy’.) (1437 words)