As far as we know, there has been no study of the potential impact on Helensburgh’s tourism or visitor numbers should there be a wind farm overlooking the town.
We therefore have to draw on evidence from elsewhere. Circumstances in those other places are unlikely to typify the special circumstances of Helensburgh, the National Park and the Clyde Estuary.
There is substantial diversity of results from other studies. Adverse impact of turbines on tourism ranges from 2% to 43%. Such variation is more to do with how the studies were carried out than any universal truth. For example, the 43% adverse effect is from the John Muir Trust survey of attitudes about a large concentration of turbines in a scenic area – 43% of people would be less likely to visit such an area.
Some factors which can affect results are : • how tourism or tourist gets defined • what categories of visitors were included in the sample • size of sample • how like or dislike gets defined • what data were collected, and how and where • if interviews or questionnaire were used, the content of the questions • attitudes (as distinct from expressed views) are difficult to measure • if non-questioning methods are used, how robust they are • how data are analysed and reported • whether originators or funders of research had preferred outcomes • extent to which countryside / landscape was the main tourist attraction • where not, then distance of turbines from main tourist attraction • other factors
The Edinburgh University study (April 2012) rightly warned against extrapolating its results to other, different locations.
However, there does seem to be some consensus on the following.
Extent of research about wind farm impact on tourism in Scotland is limited.
Many people find that man-made structures such as pylons and wind turbines reduce the attractiveness of a landscape and “The evidence is overwhelming that wind farms reduce the value of scenery (although not as significantly as pylons).”
Such evidence as does exist points to a minority of tourists being adversely influenced by the presence of a wind farm.
The evidence that a minority of tourists are put off by wind farms has led some to suggest that such a minority does not matter. But in economic terms it can matter. If there is (say) a 20% decrease in tourist numbers attributable to turbines, that may equate to a 20% reduction in tourist spending.
The paper below by Dr. G. Riddington assesses that even a low and cautious estimate of impact on Helensburgh could result in the loss of over £80,000 a year. That is twice the money being “guaranteed” as cash to the community by the developers. That is in addition to other sources of loss.
Dr. Riddington rightly warns of difficulties in extrapolation, so the loss could be greater – or less. But loss there is likely to be.
The Impact of Wind Farms on Tourism and Retail in Helensburgh
by DR. G. L. Riddington
In 2008 the author was the lead in extensive research carried out for the Scottish Government by the Moffat Centre on the Impact of Wind farms on Tourism (Riddington et al, 2008) . This research reviewed some 40 studies throughout the world and carried out 3 separate analyses
Tourist Vehicle numbers with passing views of windfarms
Likelihood of return to an area with/without windfarms
Premiums that would be paid for views with/without windfarms/grid lines
It found that the population was split with minorities both strongly liking and disliking wind farms and a majority being indifferent. Two economic effects were identified
The value of accommodation to “tourists” with a direct view of the affected area was degraded by around 16%
Around 2.5% of “tourists” would not return to an area because of the presence of a wind farm but it would not affect 39 in 40 visitors.
Both of these figures suggest that the impact is marginal but, if the number of “tourists” is large, it could still be significant to marginal operators.
There have subsequently been a number of further studies. One Poll (2012) carried out an on line Attitude Survey of 2000 for Visit Scotland and found very similar results. The most significant of these was the finding that, although the majority were indifferent, 18.5% of those surveyed “would tend to avoid an area of the countryside if (I knew) there was a wind farm there “.
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (2014) carried out an on-line survey of 970 individuals with interest in hill walking. They found that 68% of respondents found wind farm developments made the area less appealing (25% disagreed), 64% made it less likely that they would return (32%), 73% would avoid accommodation with a view of a windfarm (22% would not) and, importantly, 29% would avoid an area if they knew a wind farm was present. Interestingly 68% wanted a buffer area added to the protections given to National Parks, National Scenic Areas and Wild Country.
These two further studies reinforce the message that to a significant minority (around 18%) wind farms are offensive and will deter some of these from visiting an area. They undoubtedly have a negative effect on Tourism, particularly of the outdoor variety.
Tourism Numbers and Spend in Helensburgh
There are major problems in identifying the number of “tourists”. In the tourism statistics anybody away from home for the night is defined as a tourist. Because of the Base and the nature of the population, many of whom are non-local commuters, a large proportion of the “tourists” will be on Business or Visiting Friends and Family (VFF). These may be unaffected by the wind farm.
One guide to tourism numbers is the accommodation available. An internet study of available rooms showed 65 hotel rooms and 48 B&B rooms. Assuming occupancy of 55% we get overnight numbers of 22,680 p.a.If we assume half of these are on business then overnight numbers that would be affected by the windfarm are 11,340. Typical daily spend of an overnight visitor is £102 but a proportion of this will be outside Helensburgh so a reasonable estimate might be £900,000. A marginal reduction of between 2.5% and 18% would generate a loss of between £22,500 and £162,000.
One particular sector that would be affected by a Helensburgh wind farm are long distance walkers on the John Muir and Three Lochs Ways (viz MCoS study). It is not difficult to imagine that a hostile review of the “views wrecked by a horrific wind farm dominating the town” would put off 20% (it could be 30%) of long distance (overnight) walkers. The Economic Impact Study of the JMW suggested £50,000 would come into the town from this source. Even if you think (as I do) that this figure is exaggerated it is not an unreasonable estimate when combined with the Three Lochs Way. The best estimate from this source is thus a loss to the town of around £10,000.
In reality, because the town is close and very well connected to the Glasgow metropolitan area it is predominantly a day trip or afternoon destination. This is covered by a second set of even less reliable statistics. A team at the Moffat is currently trying to obtain a consistent estimate of tourism in the Lomond Area. Their best guess is currently between 100,000 and 200,000 visitor days. This can be compared with tourist numbers at Hill House of 21,000 (Geilston Gardens is 9,700) and visitor days at Lomond Shore of 1.1m. The average spend on a day trip is £32 per head which includes things like fuel and shopping spend. Because of the nature of the day trips to Helensburgh it is thought that spend of the order of £20 per head is more realistic. The estimated tourist spend is thus of the order of £2m.
A loss of 2.5% of this trade would be of the order of £50,000 spread over all retail and hospitality outlets in the town. Together with overnight tourists we obtain a very conservative total loss from the wind farm of £82,500 per year or around 2 FTEs.
It is clear from the research literature that the Wind Farm would have a small negative impact on the tourist economy of the town. Best estimates suggest of the order of two full time jobs might be lost as a result.