Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by David R Craig BSc MSc CChem MRSC


  1.  I am a 45 year old graduate scientist working as a manager with RWE NUKEM, the largest private contractor at the Dounreay establishment. I have lived and worked in Caithness from 1980 to 1998, then again from 2002 to the present day. From 1998-2000, I spent two years working in Oxfordshire, and from 2000 to 2002, I spent two years working in the United States.

  2.  I am married with family—my daughters and wife were all born in Caithness.


  3.  West Caithness may be in a unique position in the UK and that position is about to change. Since the mid-1950's, the Dounreay nuclear facility has provided guaranteed employment for several thousand people, and has provided salaries, contracts and indirect benefits to many local businesses, including hotels, restaurants, transport providers, bed and breakfast establishments and local suppliers "across the board". From then and to this day, Dounreay underpins the vast majority of the local economy. Dounreay was set up as a research facility and that role has now changed to one of leading the world in developing decommissioning technologies.

  4.  UKAEA, who currently run the site, have been formulating plans to finally decommission the site, and in October 2004 they presented their plans to local contractors, showing expected employment from that date to 2036. (Reference: "The Dounreay Decommissioning Plan—Accelerating the removal of the Dounreay liability", 11 October 2004, C Gregory, Directors support office). These figures predict a reduction of spend at Dounreay (and hence into the local economy) from its current £150 million/year to zero by 2036. The presentation also predicts a run down of staff employed on site from the current figure of around 1,300 to zero by about 2036. These figures exclude contractors staff but the same trend will follow. The prediction shows approximately 300 jobs lost by 2009, a further 200 lost by 2019, a further 200 by 2027, a further 200 by 2033 with the final 400 jobs being lost between 2033 and 2037. I would estimate contractors staff would add up to 50% of those figures, based on the current number of contractors working at Dounreay. These are significant job losses and something clearly needs to be done.

  5.  The adjacent Vulcan site also has plans to decommission and run down. These plans are linked into those of Dounreay as the facilities share routes for the treatment of some wastes. This represents further job losses to those listed above. For information, Vulcan provides approximately £17 million/year into the local economy, and provides 285 jobs. To the best of my knowledge, the site is expected to be decommissioned by 2014, when the current Rolls-Royce contract expires. There is uncertainty as to the site role after this date.

  6.  A further large-scale employer in this location is considered to be extremely unlikely, and it is doubtful whether separate business interests in the area will ever replace the income or numbers of jobs from Dounreay and Vulcan. The reality is, West Caithness needs income from as many sources as possible in order to replace the locally-derived economic benefit from Dounreay, and it needs it soon. Over the next ten to twenty years, the area will need to develop new businesses. Tourism, not currently a key employer in the area, will most likely need to grow into one of the key employers in the area.

  7.  Future job prospects in West Caithness are limited because there is very little other professional or technical employment in the area. A significant amount of professional or technical employment is directly related to supporting Dounreay. There are very little alternative opportunities for staff at Dounreay to seek alternative careers or employment while being able to remain in the area.

  8.  Without key planning and investment, the area is likely to become a "retirement home" for those who do not want to or cannot leave. Future generations are likely to find employment elsewhere, hence the population is expected to age and shrink. Without new direction, investment and high-technology communication links, I believe existing businesses will decline, house prices will depreciate, and the area will become the equivalent of a "ghost-town".


  9.  Caithness itself offers "the gateway to Orkney" and West Caithness remains largely unspoiled and suitable for tourism—walking, trekking, camping, historic trails, geological trails, golfing, birdwatching, wildlife stalking (with cameras), fishing, etc. At present, between the Dounreay site and the local engineering businesses, West Caithness offers a broad engineering base to build or develop new technologies, including new energy sources. Thurso and Dunnett bays offer sea-side holiday venues, and Reay has the capacity to offer a marina if the bay was to be walled off from the harbour to the east side. The availability of Broadband throughout the rural community—promised by Scottish Executive by the end of 2005—means that by the end of the year, the area should be as well connected as anywhere else in the country, hence "home" working will become more prevalent and it will be possible to work from a house in Caithness as if in an office in London or Edinburgh. I see good broadband connections throughout the county as key to the success of future businesses.

  10.  In my view, there are two main opportunities for developing Caithness business for the future—(1)  tourism/leisure and (2)  developing engineering technologies for new energy sources. Although I believe in nuclear power, I concede that the location of Caithness (and transmission distances involved) and the relatively modest grid lines available (built for a prototype reactor only) are unsuitable for Dounreay to become any kind of commercial nuclear or indeed conventional power station.

  11.   Tourism and leisure.   Because of the forecast run-down of the Caithness economy, tourism needs to develop in the area, particularly around Thurso and West Caithness, probably more than in any other area of the country. I believe that tourists can be lured here in their thousands—with the wide flat landscapes, walking, climbing, fishing and access to the Northern Isles etc that the county can offer, we have the potential to cash in on our views and unspoilt landscape.

  12.  The attraction of the wide open landscape of Caithness to attract major players and to exploit what we have to offer can best be illustrated by the recent Land Rover launch. The initial announcement was made by Land Rover in August 2004, quoting "breathtaking scenery" as the driving factor for Caithness being chosen for the worldwide launch of the new Discovery model. For weeks as residents we saw new Discoveries being driven around the country roads—including along the A836 and the Achreamie road—local hotels and businesses benefited extremely well from the estimated 3,000 visitors, and when featured on "Top Gear" in early November, Jeremy Clarkson was clearly and immensely impressed with the rugged beauty and unspoiled landscape he was able to view. Local garages and hotels benefited tremendously from this event—I believe that this should be looked upon as an example of what can be achieved through use of the county's rugged beauty. Events like this also give free advertising for our unspoilt landscape and the tourist opportunities it can offer.

  13.  However, large events like the Land Rover launch are unlikely to be frequent items on the Caithness tourism calendar, and in order to promote benefits on a smaller scale, I believe that we need to consider some of the following ideas:

    —  Consider promoting a "north-west tourist route" from Thurso and Scrabster west along the A836 to Durness then south to Lochinver and Assynt. Ferries from Orkney bring tourists to Scrabster—offering a well-publicised route along the north and west coasts would be a logical extension of existing tourist attractions. The route is already a designated tourist route in the Caithness Local Plan and to promote it with appropriate and well-marked stops (beaches, historic buildings, battle sites, nature walks/cruises, mountains, walks, unique local businesses as well as approved B&B and hotel accommodation and caravan/camping sites would be relatively simple to do and to promote.

    —  Promote a West Caithness historic trail, including Viking history (Thing's Va outside Thurso was the Viking parliament), chambered cairns, etc. There are many historic sites throughout Caithness—many of which are unpromoted and which are being neglected/overgrown. Within about two miles of my own house are 5,000 year-old chambered cairns, approx a dozen other cairns, standing stones, stone rows, four brochs, cists, a historic and ruined church, a longhouse and a fort. Many are classified as Nationally Important Monuments. Local walks with well defined and constructed pathways and visitor centres could benefit specific areas just as they have in Orkney and Shetland.

    —  Some ideas for "the most northerly sporting and leisure activities" could be:

      —  Promote a "Caithness" golf trail—possibly an annual competition over all the courses with prizes through tourist board promotion.

      —  Promote a "Caithness" fishing trail—with access to lochs and river areas not normally accessed by tourists.

      —  Promote a "Caithness" climbers trail—all peaks over, say 400 feet.

      —  Promote a "rugged cross-country route" similar to the Pennine Way or similar—say from Dunbeath across to Kinlochbervie.

      —  Promote a geological trail.

      —  Promote a "North Coast Surf Trail"—Dunnett, Thurso and Melvich beaches are already favourites for surfers. What about surf holidays with tuition?

    —  Rival Vikings fought a great battle at Claredon Head just east of Thurso in 1196. What about an annual reconstruction with period costumes, etc?

    —  These ideas are by no means exhaustive.

  14.   Developing new energy sources/techniques.   Caithness has good engineering resources and facilities, and the capability to develop as a test base for engineering of new energy sources, for example biomass, solar, geothermal, wave, and tidal power sources. The existing grid structure from the Dounreay plant is sufficient to take the output from any test or prototype devices built in the vicinity of the plant. Workshops at Dounreay and on a smaller-scale across the county have the capacity for fabrication of a range of engineering equipment. It would even be possible to construct a small nuclear reactor—pebble bed reactor—at Dounreay to supply CO2-free electricity locally.

  15.  Wind power is already well established and further development or manufacture of components is not considered to be a realistic option for Caithness as (a) Denmark already holds the patents etc for this technology and (b) factories have already been set up in Scotland for this purpose—some of which have been closed due to lack of orders or due to continued supply of components from Denmark. I believe that we need to concentrate on new technologies for which we can own, and capitalise on patented engineering developed in Caithness.

  16.  Wave and tidal power would be ideal developments for Caithness to work at as we are essentially coastal and have some of the best wave and tidal energy resource in the country. Dounreay itself provides a coastal facility which could be used to develop, fabricate and test equipment.

  17.  Solar power development is another strong possibility for Caithness—especially in summer when we have almost continual daylight. Development of this technology could be done at engineering facilities away from the coast, therefore offers a more flexible development base than wave or tidal power.

  18.  The same could be said for geothermal energy. Geology of the County and especially around Dounreay is well understood, hence it may be relatively simple to identify the best potential sites for geothermal development.

  19.  Development of more efficient burners for biomass plants, and of scrubbers to reduce or remove carbon dioxide, could also be developed at engineering sites across the county.

  20.  The above offers ideas which could be taken forward using the existing workforce resource and many of the existing engineering facilities across the county.

  21.  International funding and development for the above could be obtained from Local Enterprise companies, UK central government (DTI) and also the EU. Established international utilities companies already in the area (eg RWE) also provide potential opportunities, resources and links to help the development.


  22.  There are two main threats that I see to the above scenarios. These are (1)  lack of suitable resources or facilities to provide the engineering development base, and (2)  threats to tourism.

  23.  Lack of resources or facilities to provide engineering development base. This threat only becomes important as facilities in the area shut down or as resources leave or retire and no longer want to work. I believe that this threat can be minimised by developing a renewable energy engineering base while the existing workforce remains in Caithness. This is why I believe that it is best for a start to be made on this as soon as is possible.

  24.  Lack of action now is a further threat—not just from the point-of-view of lost facilities and resources, but also from the point-of-view of lost opportunities to develop and patent technologies which the county can benefit from for many years in the future.

  25.  Threats to tourism. I believe that the largest threat to tourism in the area is the construction of wind turbines across the county, hence spoiling the open and unspoilt nature of the county. I am not alone in this view—indeed it is becoming a major concern with tourist organisations across the UK.

  26.    During the Highlands Of Scotland Tourist Board (HOST) AGM on 5 November 2004 in the Drummossie Hotel, Inverness, the HOST Chairman, David Noble, said the following "And the LOW point—I do not think there is anything that has depressed me more than the threat that is posed by wind farms and their associated pylon lines. Their proliferation will do immense damage to our industry, and therefore the economy of the Highlands. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. As other commentators have pointed out there is no Scottish Executive strategy for renewable energy or wind farms and their siting and at present the situation is tantamount to anarchy. Until a proper strategy is put in place I believe there should be a complete moratorium of wind farms in the Highlands."

  27.  Data from other areas in the UK which already feature wind power stations can best be used to illustrate that wind power stations are not in any way long-term tourist attractions.

  28.  In August 2002, VisitScotland published an investigation into the potential impact of windfarms on Tourism in Scotland (INVESTIGATION INTO THE POTENTIAL IMPACT OF WIND FARMS ON TOURISM IN SCOTLAND, FINAL REPORT. Prepared for VisitScotland by NFO System Three, Proj 665c, 30 August, 2002). It concluded that visitors were less than enthusiastic about wind turbines than was perhaps expected, and contradicted the findings of an earlier poll carried commissioned by the British Wind Energy Association and the Scottish Renewables Forum. Four out of five visitors interviewed said that they came to Scotland for the beautiful scenery and for the unspoilt nature and landscape. More than half agreed that wind power station sites spoiled the look of the countryside, saying that one of their main attractions is the fact that they are few and far between. Over a quarter said that they would avoid parts of the countryside with wind turbine developments. The Executive welcomed the report as a useful contribution to the debate and it appears to have forgotten since.

  29.  No Government organisation appears to have made any attempt to investigate the impact of such views on the National tourism industry or the economy. Views of Scotland carried out their own investigation on this in 2003 (Wind Turbines and Rural Tourism—An analysis of data from VisitScotland) and concluded that on a National scale, the impact of continued wind turbine construction across Scotland could lead to a loss of up to 6,250 tourist-related jobs and up to £140 million in lost revenue. The report is well constructed and sadly does not make encouraging reading.

  30.  VisitScotland produced further data in 2004 regarding why visitors from seven separate countries come to Scotland (From "Tourism in Scotland"). "Beautiful scenery" was the top of every visitors list, varying from 90% for French visitors to 97% for Italian visitors—an average of 93.85% across all visitors questioned.

  31.  Wind turbine developments are a recognised source of worry for many regional tourist boards. On 6 September 2004, the Scotsman published an article ("Wind farms and sprawl seen as threats to Borders tourist trade") reporting that Scottish Borders Tourist Board expect wind turbines and housing sprawl to damage their tourist economy. The Association of Caithness Community Councils highlighted the effect of windfarm development in Caithness on tourism as one of their key concerns in a letter to the Convenor of Highland Council in May 2003 (S Gordon, Secretary, to A MacGee, Convenor, 22 August 2003). Tourism operators in the Western Isles claim the proposed windfarm on Lewis could cost them £30 million a year in lost tourist income ("Press and Journal", November 2004). This was based on a survey carried out in summer 2004 over a six week period. The findings include: "Over half the respondents said that windfarms would discourage tourists from visiting or returning".

  32.  I would suggest that there is widespread acknowledgement that wind turbine developments affect tourism and that continued developments across the Highland—and across Caithness in particular—will damage the tourist economy.

  33.  Because tourism needs to develop in the area, particularly around Thurso and West Caithness, probably more than in any other area of the country, I do not believe that it is either desirable or sensible to increase wind turbine development in Caithness when the area needs to increase its visitors like never before.

  34.  Finally, wind power stations do not produce any local jobs except in short-term construction. Therefore jobs from wind powers station development are no alternative to those which can be developed for the tourist industry.


  35.  Caithness, in particular West Caithness, is forecast to have a massive reduction in employment from its main employer, between the present day and 2036.

  36.  I believe that Caithness can offer two types of employment to counteract this rundown—(1)  tourism and (2)  engineering development and support for new or undeveloped sources of energy.

  37.  Tourism is not well developed in Caithness—mainly because to date the county has been able to rely on employment and "spin-off" from Dounreay. The county offers much potential for tourism and a list of suggestions is included. The largest single threat to being able to develop tourism is likely to be development of wind turbines across Caithness, which offers no long-term alternative local employment to that potentially from the tourist industry.

  38.  Because of Dounreay and the contractor base which has developed there, Caithness is able to offer an engineering base for development of alternative renewable energy sources. Facilities and engineering expertise are available now. Given the UK Government targets for improved energy efficiency and CO2 reductions, the opportunities in this sector are likely to continue until at least 2020. The main threat to this opportunity is considered to be inaction—if the opportunity is not seized upon soon, then facilities and resources may no longer be available, and/or others may patent and develop the technologies.

  39.  It is up to Government to be proactive now regarding employment in the area, rather than reactive later when the opportunities may be lost to their main threats.

13 January 2004

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