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Opinion: Turbines and tourism can co-exist

Fergus Ewing
Fergus Ewing

After a survey conducted by anti-windfarm campaigners revealed the developments were driving visitors away from Scotland, Energy Minister Fergus Ewing explains why he believes turbines and tourism can co-exist.

A successful tourism industry is absolutely vital for Scotland’s economy.

In 2014, there were 15.7 million overseas and domestic visits, up 10% on the previous year, with tourists spending nearly £5billion.

As both energy and tourism minister I warmly welcome the great work being done in this area and we will work to ensure this success story continues.

Indeed, in my work around the country I regular meet people talking in glowing terms about great holidays they have spent here.

The latest occupancy rates do not suggest that wind turbines are having a detrimental effect on tourism in the Highlands.

Inverness has the third-highest hotel occupancy rates in the whole of the UK after London and Glasgow at 79.5% – and Inverness is also used as a travel and accommodation hub for visitors wishing to explore the wider Highlands.

Overall, Highland hotel occupancy indicates a 10% rise to 64% between 2010-2014, with UK overnight visitor figures remaining steady throughout this period at just under 1.7 million.

VisitScotland and the Scottish Government are looking at how we can increase this even further.

Whilst we are of the view that wind power and tourism are not mutually exclusive, we appreciate that not everyone agrees and thus do not dismiss those views.

This is why we recently commissioned and published an independent report from ClimateXChange, part of the Edinburgh Centre of Carbon Innovation, which confirmed the robust nature of previous

Scottish Government-commissioned research on renewables and tourism, such as the 2008 Moffat Report.

Our policy on onshore windfarms aims to strike a careful balance between utilising Scotland’s significant renewable energy resources whilst protecting our finest scenic landscapes and natural heritage.

Last year we took action to further strengthen already tight protection for our most scenic and wild areas.

Our planning policy now makes it clear that windfarms are banned in National Parks or National Scenic Areas, which cover a fifth of Scotland. It also strengthens protection for wild land areas outwith National Parks and National Scenic Areas, which cover a further tenth of the country.

Scottish Government agency Scottish Natural Heritage has also developed best practice guidance on landscape and the visual impacts of windfarms, which overall is accepted as the standard guidance and widely used in other countries.

And renewable energy remains popular in Scotland with a recent independent YouGov poll showing 71% supported the continued development of wind power as part of our overall energy mix.

That is no doubt partly because people correctly see that it is crucial in helping us decarbonise our electricity supplies as a key plank of tackling climate change.

And of course another plus point is that many businesses across the north of Scotland have gained valuable business and safeguarded jobs from the investment that has been made in renewable energy.

As both a Highlands MSP and as tourism minister it is an industry close to my heart and I am pleased the latest visitor numbers suggest windfarms and a tourism can co-exist and flourish together.

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