Many thanks for finding space for me at the Port’s AGM. It was an interesting evening and I did learn more about the operations of the port and the current economic challenges we all face. However, a few points about the meeting;
- The management continues to be disingenuous about the nature of the proposed ship to ship transfer operation – saying that it is exactly the same as has happened to date at the Nigg Jetty. It is not. The proposed STS is in much more exposed waters on temporary anchors close to a very rocky coastline. No justification was given in the original application about why the terminal could not be used and again at the meeting no explanation was given.
- Disproportionate time was given over to the utterly paltry community investment that the Port returns to the communities around the Firth – roughly 1% of your profits. The speaker from Ross Sutherland Rugby Club was passionate and eloquent but I’d call his inclusion on the agenda a classic PR device to distract attention.
- The introduction to the Board section was interesting – middle/old aged white blokes from the oil industry – FOBs you could term them – “Friends of Bob”. Perhaps this explains the apparent unquestioning “group think” that seems to characterise the current Port operation. A less monocultural, more diverse Board including perhaps someone who can at least spell the words Environment or Community might be worth consideration.
- Mr Buskie and to an extent your Chairman Mr Russell did come across as rather patronising and to an extent bullying, exasperated that they are simply not getting their own way. The references on your web site to Mr Russell being an expert in “dispute resolution” and “mediation” does make one think “really”? Both seemed surprised at the reaction to the STS proposal, but as a reminder the reasons that this application has raised quite so much heat are;
- it is “the least appropriate location on the whole coast of Europe to undertake this activity.”(Professor Paul Thompson of Aberdeen University)
- that it was submitted in an underhand way (no notice, just before Christmas with a limited initial time for response),
- the original application was deficient in basic information (absolutely no explanation of why the Port was doing this- which only partly came out last week), had no reference to the existing STS at Nigg, with no option appraisal and it was at points utterly laughable in terms of its quality, being fundamentally deficient in terms of its analysis of potential impacts on key habitats and species and insufficient to provide the information required for the Habitats Regulation Assessment (hence the multi objections from statutory and non statutory consultees). I have been involved in preparing, editing, managing and reviewing Environmental Statement for consultants, developers and statutory consultees for decades and this really was one of the poorest quality efforts I have ever come across, lacking in objectivity and scientific rigour. I understand that a couple of academic institutions will be including it in their environmental appraisal curriculums as an example of how not to do it.
The bar that you have to pass is very high, in terms of the evidence required for the HRA. Your original application was deficient, and this is why you have been asked to have another proper go at it by the MCA. None of this is acknowledged in your glossy recent Ship to Ship Update document. Perhaps some recognition by the Port that you could have done a better job would provide some evidence that you are actually listening to stakeholders and the professional experts. Better still, withdrawal of the application would illustrate that you now recognise both the significant data hurdle that you face in terms of an adequately informed HRA for this type of development in this particular location and the strength of feeling against this application from your stakeholders.
- The implication that the quality of habitats and diversity of species around the Firth are actually boosted or enhanced by the activities of the Port, as promoted through Mr Buskie’s presentation and the recent STS Update publication is total, unsubstantiated nonsense. For instance the Paragraph on page 13 of the Update publication which reads “Oil transfers have taken place in the Cromarty Firth safely for more than 30 years. In that time, the Aberdeen University research station in Cromarty Lighthouse estimates that the resident dolphin population has increased.” is a masterpiece in misdirection and spin, conflating two entirely unrelated activities – as Prof. Paul Thompson of the Field Station will no doubt confirm. Mr Buskie’s recitation of various species and the inclusion of a photo of your recent graduate pointing at a piece of poo as evidence that all is perfectly well for the habitats and species in the Port, just comes across as total naive “greenwash”- actually further undermining your credibility and increasing doubt that you understand what you are doing in relation to this application.
- The economic rationale for actually doing STS at sea remains completely unclear. There was no economic impact assessment in the application and again no account appears to being made about the potential negative impacts on the wider economy. The argument now promoted by Mr Buskie appears to be that the Port needs STS to bring in the tugs which will move the increasing number of cruise liners, completely ignoring the fact that the larger newer larger cruise liners that you seek to attract through your Phase 4 development will self park with their bow and stern thrusters as part of their low margin operation- which aim to minimise payments to third party facilitators such as yourselves. Overall, your economic strategy to deal with a continued low oil price and declining north sea oil production comes across as muddled and incoherent.
- Despite the implication in Mr Buskie’s and Mr Russell’s presentations that we are all tree hugging, shouty loons with no understanding of the “real world” in which the port operates, the majority of local people behind the campaign against the offshore Ship to Ship application are actually pro-development, generally appreciate the marine activities in the Firth as a positive attribute, are experienced in industry having been career wise, involved in economic development, energy and oil production. We are generally sane, rational people who are simply reacting against a poorly thought out, low quality, deficient application being developed in a belligerent, patronising manner.
There was a lot of talk at the AGM about this being a Trust port. I think that many of us “stakeholders” in the Firth are losing trust in the way that the Port is currently being managed and I would again ask that you cease attempting to progress the STS application and instead start re-engaging positively with your community stakeholders so that we can help you build a sustainable future for our Firth.
The CFPA produced a glossy brochure last week trying to explain their stance – but all it does is raise more questions than it answers and perpetuates the same half truths they have pedalled for nearly a year. If they did have any regard for, or even a basic understanding of the environment, they would listen to the experts and the communities that will be impacted and remove this application from the table.
- A total of 18 community councils now oppose this application.
- A coalition of major wildlife groups oppose this application.
- 40 men employed at Nigg terminal stand to lose their jobs if this application is approved
- There will be no new jobs created by the Port’s proposal
- The proposal is worth a mere £500,000 to the port compared to the £460 million value of the clean waters of the Inner Moray Firth to local economy