The Guardian: The end-of-the-pier show
Wednesday May 12, 2004
Posted 15 May 04
Sara Parkin argues that the storm brewing on a beautiful Hebridean island is down to villagers' anger over plans to develop a huge jetty for Shell oil tankers
As if losing almost a quarter of your oil reserves and a brace of your top executives isn't enough, Shell has got a storm brewing in the tiny, beautiful Hebridean village of Bruichladdich on the island of Islay.
Argyll and Bute council has put in a planning application (to itself) to install a 127-metre oil terminal structure at the end of the existing pier. This is the only way, the council claims, to accommodate the new double-hulled oil tankers that, by law, have to replace the smaller, single-skinned vessels that delivered oil to the island in the past.
Islay's councillors and most of their colleagues have lined up with Shell and all but one of the island's seven operating whisky distilleries, against the distillery in Bruichladdich and its shareholders (including two of the island's main landowners, Bruno Schroeder and Sir John McTaggart), the local shop, most of the villagers, and the fishermen using the existing pier.
Clearly shaken by the number of objections to the planning application, Argyll and Bute held a public meeting on the island just before Christmas. Much of the exchange focused on a threat from Shell UK Oil Products Ltd, cited in the planning application, that the company would stop deliveries after July 2004 if the application failed.
Objectors, coordinated into the Bruichladdich Pier Action Group, made it clear that they were not opposed to the principle of a pier for the environmentally safer tankers, but were against the proposal on the table.
Duncan McCormick, a consultant civil and construction engineer and principal of Ken Wilson Associates, says: "The current proposal not only gives inadequate consideration to the actual impact of the huge metal structure but is also inaccurate". He thinks the plan underplays the size of the metal walkways linking the mooring "dolphins" that will extend 50m (164ft) either side of the existing pier.
Local shop owner Carl Reavey asked why Shell is expecting Argyll and Bute council to pick up the entire £2m bill for what is essentially a commercial decision made by the company. "No one wants the fuel to come by road," Reavey argues. "But no one should be fooled into thinking that Shell's monopoly is secure enough to enable them to blackmail Argyll and Bute council and Islay's distilleries."
In a written contribution, Mark Reynier, managing director of Bruichladdich Distillery agrees: "£2m is coming from the Scottish executive, Europe and Council Capital Programme, yet Shell, making £27m profit a day, is not required to contribute to the cost."
No one from Shell was at the inquiry to answer questions, but the seven councillors who, with their engineers, did attend, claim that none of the alternative proposals were acceptable to Shell. Have other oil companies been consulted? No. Neither are the Argyll and Bute planners and their political masters plugged into the Scottish executive's policy that "developing sustainably means ensuring that our actions today do not limit our quality of life in the future" - a sentiment enshrined in the local structure plan.
This has been interpreted in its application to itself as immaterial. Yet Bruichladdich is surely a model of sustainable development in a remote rural area. Tourism on Islay is hugely important, and has been successfully managed by local people around what attracts tourists in the first place - the island's outstanding environment. The newly re-opened Bruichladdich Distillery employs 24 local people, maintains traditional methods, and aims to become the first fully organic distillery.
The village is happy to host an oil terminal pier; it has done for some years. But objectors argue that the monstrous size, siting and industrial ugliness of what is proposed will end the role of the pier as a focus for the village. It will become a no-go area for children, fewer tourists will want to stay, fewer will want to stop for photographs, to stroll around and visit the distillery and shop, to watch the birds for which Islay is globally famous, and to admire the spectacular view across Loch Indaal to the mountains of Jura.
"Why," Reavey asked Argyll and Bute council, "would we choose to build a pier - costed at nearly £2m - that would blight our distillery, tourist and leisure industry, provide nothing for our fishermen and detract from the conviviality of our community? This does not represent value for money."
Shell says it "would like to continue to deliver fuels to Bruichladdich, but can only do this if the pier is upgraded to ensure safe deliveries. The design of the pier is a matter for the local council."
With so much bother in the boardroom, perhaps Shell could take more care to safeguard its reputation. As Shell's storage tanks at the entrance to Bruichladdich currently have an unimpeded view across the loch, moving the terminal to where the tanks are seems like good management practice and good value for everyone, including the environment.
Sara Parkin, programme director of Forum for the Future, is writing in a personal capacity.