Fury as Beauly power line firm named awards sponsor

THE body representing Scotland’s mountaineers has called for a boycott of the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards after an energy firm was controversially named as sponsor of the event.

• Calls for boycott after Scottish and Southern Energy named as HIghlands and Islands Tourism Awards

• SSE are behind controversial Beauly to Denny power line and a number of wind farm projects

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There has been furious reaction to Scottish and Southern Energy’s role in the prestigious awards.

The company, which is behind the contentious Beauly to Denny power line and a number of controversial windfarms throughout the country, hit back last night claiming they support tourism initiatives in the region.

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland, which represents 11,000 members, has described news that the the power corporation was to sponsor the 2013 awards as “a substantial embarrassment”.

Chief Officer David Gisbon said: “This company is responsible for some of the most undesirable wind farm applications made in Scotland. Its proposals often face fierce opposition from fragile communities which rely on tourism for sustainable local jobs.

“Adding insult to injury is the fact that SSE is sponsoring the awards during the Year of Natural Scotland – during which we are supposed to be encouraging visitors to enjoy the very wild landscapes the company wants to industrialise in order to increase its profits (£1.3 billion in 2011/12).

“We would suggest that potential entrants might think about boycotting the awards this year in the hope that HITA (Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards) will find more suitable sponsors in the future.”

He added: “The news that power corporation SSE is to sponsor the 2013 HITA should come as a substantial embarrassment to all those involved in the tourism industry and those living in the region.

“This company is responsible for some of the most undesirable wind farm applications made in Scotland. Its proposals often face fierce opposition from fragile communities which rely on tourism for sustainable local jobs.

“The MCofS is not opposed to wind farms – in fact we have only objected to 6% of planning applications – but we simply argue that they should not be built in the most precious of our mountains, the places which give Scotland its international reputation as a country to visit for its fantastic open spaces.”

The announcement of SSE being sponsor of HITA was also condemned by the conservation charity, the John Muir Trust.

A spokesman said: “It seems pretty bizarre.

“Of all the energy companies, SSE had an especially cavalier approach to using Scotland’s magnificent landscapes. That is the landscape that brings tourists to Scotland.”

Broadcaster and mountaineer Cameron McNeish also hit out, saying: “This is obviously an attempt by the company to align themselves with Scottish tourism and give the impression they are helping tourism, when in actual fact they are not. They are actually destroying it.

“That SSE, who are doing so much to destroy much of what people come to Scotland to see, should be sponsoring HITA seems quite ironic to me.”

An SSE spokesman said: “SSE has been active in the Highlands and Islands for generations and is a major employer and investor in the region.

“SSE adopts a locally-based sponsorship approach and already supports many community initiatives in the Highlands such as Eco-Schools and sporting events such as the Camanachd Cup and the Hydro Challenge golf tournament.

“We believe our sponsorship of the Highland and Islands Tourism Awards is an extension of this support and is a perfect fit with SSE’s standing as a sustainable company that adds value to the local community.

“We are disappointed but not surprised by the rather extreme stance of MCofS, a single issue body, and their comments should be weighted against the wealth of opinion from business leaders, politicians and, most importantly, those actually involved in the tourism industry, who have all welcomed this announcement.”

A spokesman for award organisers VisitScotland said: “Like McoS, VisitScotland is not opposed to renewable energy, and whilst we understand that it is an emotive issue, this should not impact on Scotland’s hardest working industry’s rare opportunity to come together and recognise the very best in Highlands and Islands tourism.”

Ian Couper, Chief Executive of Energy North, said: “It has been proven time and again that the renewables industry does not impact adversely upon tourism within the Highlands and Islands. Visitors to the Highlands and Islands don’t just come here for the scenery, they want the full package - the people, the towns and villages, the food and drink and the heritage.

“SSE’s appointment as headline sponsor of HITA highlights the positive relationship between the energy and tourism industries and a willingness to work together. Both are vital to the local economy, and in many communities the energy industry is part of their heritage. We should not be ashamed of this fact.”

Jenny Hogan, Director of Policy for Scottish Renewables, said: “We have yet to see independent evidence to support the view that wind farms have an adverse impact on tourism, and indeed, renewable energy projects across Scotland are becoming tourism attractions in their own right. We would urge people to visit an operating wind farm and judge for themselves.”