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The Booker column

Posted by Richard Sunday, January 16, 2005

The "picture story" that Booker offers this morning in is column in The Sunday Telegraph is surreal. The great scribe himself calls it "a nightmare which symbolises the horror of what is today being done to vast areas of rural Scotland in the name of an environmentalism running out of control."

This is a nightmare that the fragrant Margot Wallström should be having, for it is partly a result of insane EU environmental policies, many of which were signed off during her watch as environmental commissioner.

The story concerns Jerry Mulders, a Dutch businessman, and his Scottish wife Anita, a physics teacher. Six years ago, the moved to a remote farmhouse in the Ayrshire hills, they thought they had found the home of their dreams. Booker takes up the tale:

In a few years time, however, within ten miles of where they live there could be 307 wind turbines, many of them monsters more than 400 feet high. One proposed windfarm alone would cover the hills with 103 giant turbines, less than a mile from the farmhouse from which Mr Mulders runs his business.

As if this was not enough, last summer up to ten trucks a day began dumping 33,000 tons of foul-smelling, highly toxic human and industrial sewage sludge only a quarter of a mile from their home, some of it brought from Barrow-in-Furness 100 miles away. This was exempted from normal planning and environmental rules because, according to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa), it is helping to restore land which can in future be used for forestry.

The plight of Mr and Mrs Mulders and thousands of others in the rural community around the village of Dalmellington highlights the scale of the crisis now facing Scotland, thanks to environmental policies which appear to be completely off the rails.

Yesterday Mr Mulders was in Perth at a conference organised by Views of Scotland, following the publication last week of s new study which for the first time shows just how much of Scotland’s unique landscape is now threatened by monster windfarms, through the Scottish Executive’s policy that, within 15 years, Scotland will be more than meeting EU targets by generating 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

The gazetteer produced by the Scottish Wind Assessment Project (SWAP) lists what will amount to by far the greatest concentration of wind turbines in Europe. The 6,472 currently proposed turbines include 543 in South Lanarkshire, 403 in Argyll and 502 in the Western Isles, such as those making up a 234 turbine proposal on Lewis already arousing island-wide anger.

The scale of all this is so immense it is hard to grasp. But in the case of Mr and Mrs Mulders it equally seems barely credible that Sepa, supported by Ross Finnie of the Scottish Executive, should also encourage the dumping of live sewage only a few hundred yards from their home.

What makes this even more bizarre, however, is that only last month Sepa won a case in Edinburgh to prohibit Scottish Power from turning half the country’s human sewage into fuel pellets, used since 2001 by Longannet power station. Sepa argued that under EC environmental law this sewage was ‘waste’ and could therefore not be used for any other purpose.

It is thus illegal, under EU law, to burn the sewage as fuel. But it is legal to dump it outside Mr and Mrs Mulder’s home in such a potentially dangerous state that, last month, they and their neighbours obtained a temporary stop on further dumping, pending further tests. On 1 February, they will be at Holyrood for a conference on Scotland’s sewage crisis, supported by all parties except Labour.

As Mr Mulder says "when my Dutch friends come to Ayrshire they are amazed by the beauty of our unspoiled hills. When they hear we are soon to lose it to hundreds of wind turbines and extensions of open-cast coal mining, not to mention our sewage problem, they cannot believe such things could be allowed".
I have not tried to edit this. It has to be taken undiluted. Now that Margot Wallström has started up her own Blog, perhaps she would like to use the space to explain to Mr and Mrs Mulder – and the rest of us, while she is about it – how this insanity came about.

For Booker’s next story, he picks up the tsunami situation and the news, almost wholly unreported in Europe (except in this Blog), the Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra told the world that his country did not want financial aid. Instead, Thailand wants the EU to lift the punitive tariffs on shrimp exports which in recent years have inflicted more damage on its economy than the tsunami itself.

The story is given added topicality by a report (actually a press release) from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation which revealed last week that no industry had been harder hit by the tsunami than fishing. Thousands of boats and fishing communities were destroyed, the cost in Thailand alone being estimated at $16 million.

Yet, as recorded on this Blog and now by Booker, EU-imposed tariffs have cost the Thai economy £3 billion, double the £1.5 billion in aid now promised to the entire region.

Booker then picks up on the report that our new Brussels trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, stung by accusations that the EU's protectionism is doing immense damage to the third world, last week announced "I want to find ways to assist people and businesses hit by the tsunami".

He would "consider" moves towards trade concessions worth "tens of millions of euros". This compares with the Thais' own estimate that the shrimp tariff alone is now costing them £400 million a year.

Booker adds a delightful barb to this: "The EU is thus happy to promise money, which Mr Shinawatra says his country does not want," he writes. "But when he says he would prefer the right to earn that money through exports, all he gets is another press release from Mr Mandelson. As the British people could tell him, this is par for the course."

His two other stories cover domestic issues, one on the continuing crisis caused to contractors who are being cheated out of their fees by Defra, and the other that poses the question: How many public bodies does it take to change a light bulb?

You can see the answer on this link to the Booker column.