It is not small-scale wind farms which are detrimental to tourism in the Borders, but “atrocious service, poor accommodation and ... the massive litter problem”.
That is the publicly stated view of Dr John Bell, a research physicist, who is currently representing 18 landowners in the south of Scotland who are seeking planning permission for one or two-turbine developments.
Dr Bell, who runs Gretna-based Carleton Borders Services Ltd, makes his scathing assessment in a policy impact document he has presented to Scottish Borders Council in his role as an agent acting on behalf of Matthew Tile of Stewards Cottage, The Bainkine.
Mr Tile is seeking consent to build two 40 metre-high turbines, each capable of generating 50 watts of electricity, on his land just off the A68 south of Jedburgh.
In his submission, Dr Bell addresses a number of potential grounds for objection to his client’s proposal, including ecology, local amenity and audible impact.
But, in an attempt to head off any claims that such small-scale developments will have an adverse impact on tourism in the Borders, Dr Bell states: “It is somewhat disingenuous to claim that wind turbines cause tourists to be discouraged from visiting Scotland as this overlooks the significant cultural and genealogical heritage of our wonderful country and seeks only to rely on the pleasant although sometimes spectacular landscape as being the sole attraction. This opinion also singularly fails to take account of the real issues surrounding discouragement of tourists – atrocious service, poor accommodation and, most importantly, the massive litter problem we seem to have, spoiling all locations, including the [aforementioned] landscape.
“Perhaps more effort should be put into actually solving these latter problems without hiding behind an invented one.”
And Dr Bell confirmed yesterday that his pejorative view of the tourism industry did apply to the Borders.
Mr Tile’s application has still to be determined by the planners, but Catherine Maxwell Stuart, chair of the Scottish Borders Tourist Partnership, took strong exception to Dr Bell’s remarks.
“I would strongly refute the suggestion that tourism businesses here offer ‘atrocious service, poor accommodation and a massive litter problem’ when most visitors to the area report exactly the opposite.
“Indeed the high level of returning visitors and those that would recommend the area to their friends would also seem to suggest exactly the opposite.”
Ms Maxwell Stuart said wind turbine applications could only be satisfactorily dealt with on a case by case basis.
“It is certainly arguable that in some cases the erection of large clusters of wind turbines can detract from the natural beauty of the Borders and we must ensure we protect as much as possible our landscape which is, despite what Dr Bell says, a major factor in bringing many visitors to the region,” she added.
Paula McDonald, regional manager of the national tourism promotion agency VisitScotland, told us: “With regard to individual applications for wind turbines, we communicate through the appropriate channels.
“Tourism in the Borders shares the same challenges faced throughout the rest of Scotland and we would encourage local businesses to continue to offer great value for money and concentrate on providing an all- round quality tourism product.
“We’re delighted that the latest Scotland Visitor Survey showed that the Scottish Borders continues to charm the world with 86 per cent of visitors likely to recommend the area to others, and a further 91 per cent planning to make a return trip in the next five years.
The region’s renowned hospitality also came up trumps with 83 per cent saying they were impressed with accommodation providers’ friendly and efficient service.”
z The survey to which Ms McDonald refers was published at the weekend and carried out by a research company. It focused on 367 visitors to the Borders between July and October last year.
In terms of overall satisfaction with the region, 62 per cent of the sample said they were “very satisfied”, while 24 per cent said they were “fairly satisfied”.
The research reveals that 71 per cent of visitors would “definitely” recommend the Borders as a destination to others, while a further 20 per cent would “probably” recommend it.
And 55 per cent of those asked said they would definitely return to the Borders in the next five years. Of these 62 per cent were UK residents and 25 per cent were from overseas.
The survey also noted that 42 per cent of visitors spent more than one night in the region.