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Christopher Booker's notebook
(Filed: 16/01/2005)

Scotland is promised 6,000 wind turbines
Thailand asks for trade not aid
Give them the money, Morley
A bother with bulbs

Scotland is promised 6,000 wind turbines

When Jerry Mulders, a Dutch businessman, and his Scottish wife Anita, a teacher, moved to a remote farmhouse in the Ayrshire hills six years ago, they thought they had found the home of their dreams. Today they are living at the centre of a nightmare which is typical of what is being inflicted on vast areas of rural Scotland in the name of an environmentalism running out of control.

In a few years' time, there could be 307 wind turbines, many of them more than 400 feet high, within 10 miles of where they live. One of the proposed windfarms alone would cover the hills with 103 giant turbines, less than a mile from their farmhouse.

As if this was not enough, last summer up to 10 trucks a day began dumping 33,000 tons of foul-smelling, hazardous 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 planning and waste management rules because, according to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa), it is helping to restore land to be used for forestry.

Yesterday Mr Mulders was in Perth at a conference organised by Views of Scotland, following the publication last week of a study which shows just how much of Scotland's landscape is threatened by windfarms. The Scottish Executive's policy is that, within 15 years, Scotland will exceed EU targets and generate 40 per cent of its energy from renewable sources. The gazetteer produced by the Scottish Wind Assessment Project lists what will amount to the greatest concentration of turbines in Europe. Among the 6,472 currently proposed turbines are 543 in South Lanarkshire, 403 in Argyll and 502 in the Western Isles, including 234 for a vast wind-farm on Lewis. This is folly on an immense scale.

In the case of Mr and Mrs Mulders, it seems barely credible that Sepa, supported by Ross Finnie the Scottish environment minister, should also countenance the dumping of bacterially and virally active sewage only a few hundred yards from their home. Only last month Sepa won a case in Edinburgh to prohibit Scottish Power from processing half the country's human sewage into fuel pellets, used since 2001 by Longannet power station. Sepa argued that under EC environmental law sewage was "waste" and could not be used for another purpose.

It is legal, however, to dump it near the Mulders' home in such a potentially dangerous state that, last month, they pressured Sepa into calling a halt to the dumping pending further tests. As Mr Mulder says: "When my Dutch friends come to Ayrshire they are delighted by the beauty of our unspoilt hills. When they hear we are soon to lose it to hundreds of industrial wind turbines, not to mention our sewage problem, they cannot believe such desecration of a breathtaking landscape could be allowed."

Thailand asks for trade not aid

No industry was harder hit by the tsunami, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation revealed last week, than fishing. Thousands of boats and fishing communities were destroyed, the cost in Thailand alone being estimated at $16 million. Yet it is now a week since, almost wholly unreported in Europe, the Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, told the world that his country did not want financial aid. Above all Thailand wanted the European Union to lift the punitive tariffs on shrimp exports which in recent years have inflicted more damage on its economy than the tsunami itself.

Since 1997, Mr Shinawatra told Jack Straw on his recent visit, the EU's suspension of its preferential tariff system for Asian fish imports has caused exports to the EU to collapse. This has cost the Thai economy 3 billion, double the 1.5 billion in aid that has been promised to the entire region. The purpose of the new tariffs was to give preferential status to the former French colonies of Senegal, Madagascar and French Guinea, the waters of which are fished by subsidised EU fleets, mainly from France, Spain and Portugal, in ways which bring little benefit to the local economies.

Stung by accusations that the EU's protectionism is doing immense damage to the Third World, our new Brussels trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, 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.

The EU is thus happy to promise money, which Mr Shinawatra says his country does not want. 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.

Give them the money, Morley

In a Commons debate on the Carlisle flood, David Maclean, the Opposition chief whip, suggested to Elliot Morley that one way to help Cumbria county council with its clean-up costs would be for his Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to hand over the 6 million it still owes the council for work during the foot and mouth disaster of 2001.

During that crisis the council and its wholly-owned subsidiary Cumbria Waste Management (CWM) bent over backwards to help. CWM lent its offices to Brig Alex Birtwistle as his Army headquarters, and efficiently disposed of hundreds of thousands of carcasses, at a third of the average cost. Every contract was agreed and invoiced. But in August 2002, when the European Commission first threatened to withhold 900 million from the Government on the grounds that it had recklessly overspent on the crisis, Defra's response was to find any excuse not to pay hundreds of contractors, including CWM.

Again and again, after nitpicking that contractors had not produced the required paperwork, Defra has eventually been forced to pay up. On Tuesday Mr Morley was still shamelessly using the same tactic in replying to Mr Maclean, claiming that it would be irresponsible to pay CWM without "proper invoices and agreements that had been properly approved". But the minister should remember what happened last year when, in a related case, his ministry was taken to court by Lakeland Waste Management. After years of similar prevarication, Defra accepted the facts and handed over 1.4 million.

The treatment of these contractors by Mr Morley and his colleagues has been an outrage. If we are ever faced by a repeat of the 2001 crisis, they will find few willing to come to their aid.

A bother with bulbs

How many public bodies does it take to change a light bulb? The Welsh Rail Passengers' Committee has reported that in 2001 the lights on the footbridge ramp at Welshpool station began going out.

Thanks to what the report calls "the fragmented nature of the UK rail industry", originally inspired by the first EC railways directive 91/440, no one seemed to know whose responsibility it was to replace the dud bulbs, Eventually four bodies were drawn into the dispute: the Wales and Border train company (now defunct), Network Rail, Powys county council and the Welsh Assembly. By 2003, as their officials exchanged endless memos, letters and telephone calls, the last bulb blacked out. Finally, after two years of pleas from passengers, it was agreed that the body responsible for replacing the bulbs was the local council. The work was done in a matter of minutes.