Hunterston scrapyard brings tourism fears

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By Hugh Boag

A coastal site in full view of Arran is bidding to become one of the UK’s biggest oil and gas decommissioning facilities.

North Ayrshire Council has has already given planning consent to Peel Ports for the decommissioning of oil rigs, offshore installations and large vessels at the former Hunterston Ore Terminal across the water near Fairlie.

Now known as the Hunterston Port and Resource Centre (PaRC) the massive site, which has lain dormant since it closed in 2016, has one of the biggest dry docks in the UK which its owners want to convert to scrap the growing number of redundant offshore oil and gas rigs.

However, some of these structures will be three times the size of any of the commercial shipping which uses the Firth of Clyde and there are growing concern that the scrapage work could have a negative effect on tourism in Ayrshire and Arran.

The plan has already met stiff opposition on the mainland with more than 300 people attending the public consultation earlier this year to voice their discontent with the plans.

More than 2,000 people have also signed a petition calling for a full environmental impact assessment to take place on the effects that the plant would have on the surrounding area as well as marine life in the Firth of Clyde.

CessCon Decom, a Norwegian company established in 2016 and registered in the UK only since January 2018, has been contracted by Peel Ports to carry out the decommissioning.  The company, which already have offices at the Hunterston PaRC site, plan to decommission in excess of 200 rigs over a seven year period at various sites.

Opponent Rhona Cameron, who has lived in Fairlie since 2003, said: ‘This is an area of unparalleled beauty and a mecca for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. We have world renowned whisky distilleries, National Trust destinations, award-winning marinas in Cumbrae, Troon, Arran, the Mull of Kintyre, which will all be threatened by these plans. These popular tourist destinations will also have their views blighted by oil rigs at least three times larger than any other vessels moving up and down the Clyde, and the effect on marine and plant life will be devastating.’

A local group of concerned residents called Friends of the Firth of Clyde who
are petitioning against the plans claim North Ayrshire Council passed the application without requesting an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), required by UK Environmental legislation to ensure all risks to the environment are considered before planning is even applied for.

Ron Gilchrist of the Friends group said: ‘There simply has to be an EIA. There has been a manifest breach of the EIA legislation as the use of the site has changed since the previous environmental assessments. North Ayrshire Council and Scottish Natural Heritage both claim an EIA is not required, and clearly do not fully understand the full boundaries, nature and sensitivity of the SSSI site.’

Friends member and resident Ken Tully added: ‘Our waters and habitat in the vicinity of the Clyde where they are planning this atrocity will be drastically affected by the nightmare that is unfolding here, and who could believe it is with the council’s blessing.’

Peel Ports still require two licences from Marine Scotland  for construction as well as dredging and disposal before any work could start at the site.

West Scotland MSP Jamie Greene is to meet with Peel Ports to discuss the plans. He said:  ‘I’ve had a number of constituents email me and come to my office raising a lot of concerns with what an oil rig decommissioning plant would mean for them.

‘As the heart of our community, it’s vital that their issues are addressed before any progress is made with this plan. It is right that an Environmental Impact Assessment is undertaken before any decision is made. Right now we do not know what impact these plans would have on our local environment, on tourism or for local residents.’

Earlier this year Gary Hodgson, Peel Ports’ strategic projects director, said: ‘With one of the largest dry docks in the UK and over 300 acres of development land, Hunterston PaRC is the ideal location to create a multi-modal decom campus which will lead to additional private sector investment and job opportunities.’

The CessCon Decom sign at the entrance to Hunterston PaRC. NO_B37hunterston01