Aberdeen councillors are being urged to take a stand – and show the local authority to be a leader in protecting the environment.
New pressure for a rethink on plans for an energy transition zone (ETZ) in the south of the city, close to the new £350 million harbour, has come from the Scottish Wildlife Trust – the country’s leading conservation charity.
A 70-acre site has been earmarked for the business park, which includes both St Fittick’s Park in Torry and Doonies Rare Breeds Farm.
The ETZ, an idea of oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood, is part of radical proposals to reduce the north-east’s economic reliance on oil and gas, by developing new emerging energy technologies.
Despite significant local protest, the council’s proposed local development plan (PLDP) includes both sites within the land earmarked for the zone.
Scottish ministers are currently considering the plan before it is finalised, though already £26m has been pledged to the idea from the Edinburgh government.
Ministers hope the zone will support around 2,500 green jobs by the end of the decade, on top of another 10,000 in related sectors – and similar sums from Westminster have also been committed to the project.
Economic hopes of north-east are tied to energy transition zone – but does it have to be in Torry?
Bosses at the recently founded ETZ Ltd, a firm set up to guide the idea to fruition, claim the close proximity to the new harbour is necessary due to the large number of wind power firms operating out of Aberdeen.
Now, the Scottish Wildlife Trust is calling for the council to show a commitment to biodiversity by ensuring the ETZ is built among the empty industrial units and land elsewhere in the city.
There are hopes brownfield sites, perhaps in already industrialised areas such as Altens, could be an alternative.
David Elston, former chairman of the Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Scottish Wildlife Trust group, hopes an alternative can be found – to protect what remains of the UK’s coastal strip.
He said: “Habitat fragmentation – where different pockets of habitat where species live are successively divided – is a problem and our biggest concern.
“Aberdeen City Council needs to take its environmental responsibility seriously and site the ETZ in a way that doesn’t affect the ecological continuity along the coast.
“The council has an opportunity, in our view, to site the ETZ in a way that doesn’t impact on the coastal strip – it’s our view they should take it.
“We want to protect wildlife and the ability of people to encounter it.
“St Fittick’s Park is a wonderful – and really the only – opportunity for the people of Torry to do that in their daily lives.”
Scottish Wildlife Trust ‘reservations’ on loss of St Fittick’s and Doonie’s Rare Breeds Farm
The trust has outlined “reservations” on the current plans, urging the council to avoid contributing to biodiversity loss, which they say is “inextricably intertwined” with climate change.
Members also believe many other sites identified as possibilities would do more to help nature along the coast and claim it would be “difficult to defend” even the loss of a small part of St Fittick’s given its importance to the Torry community.
Mr Elston said “ecologically disruptive ways of the past” should be left behind, urging more to be done to restore coastal grassland and heathland – while requesting the trust be consulted by the council as plans develop.
He added: “The position paper really asks to what extents is Aberdeen City Council is wanting to be a leader or to what extent is it begrudgingly undertaking its duty to protect wildlife.
“As with all these things, it is not what politicians say but what they do is important.”
Planning convener: ‘We are not going to suddenly abandon’ biodiversity conservation
Council planning convener Marie Boulton “absolutely, totally agrees” with the wildlife trust, as she said it was “always helpful to hear from people with expertise”.
“Any proposed site will be subject to the masterplanning process and will require environmental assessments – and just because the site is identified with a boundary doesn’t mean to say the entirety will be developed,” she added.
“It’s very easy to see a red line on a map and just imagine the space covered in buildings but that is not necessarily the case; there will be wildlife corridors and different elements as well.
“The council clearly recognises the biodiversity emergencies that we have and that is why we recently instructed officers to sign up to new biodiversity accords.
“We are not going to suddenly abandon all of that or ignore it.
“I want Aberdeen to be a leader in protecting the biodiversity – it’s about balance and addressing situations as they arise.”
Mrs Boulton pointed to the council’s Net Zero Plan, currently in development, which will identify biodiversity as one of six key themes.
The fresh pressure emerges as residents and campaigners, including Torry-raised TV actress Joyce Falconer, will gather at St Fittick’s for a community litter pick-up this morning.