The remote Scottish community of Knoydart unites to oppose construction of environmentally-damaging 4G masts

Inverie, Knoydart
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The Knoydart peninsula is nestled on the west coast of the highlands of Scotland. It forms part of the ‘Rough Bounds’ – an extraordinarily remote and mountainous section of countryside in West Inverness-shire. No roads connect it to the main body of Scotland. Rather, it can be accessed via boat or a 16-mile walk. Because of this, it is also known as “Britain’s last wilderness”.

However, this last wilderness is under a new threat. The government has proposed to install a network of 4G masts to cover the peninsula.  But the plans are being met with fierce defiance from the tight-knit local community.

The Shared Rural Network

The project – called the Shared Rural Network (SRN) – aims to hit 90% mobile coverage in Scotland by 2025. It will run a bill of some £1bn, which the government plans to split with the country’s four largest mobile network providers. The catch is that this could necessitate a swathe of 4G mast sites.

The local community has owned most of the peninsula since 1999. The Knoydart Foundation oversees the area and its wildlife on their behalf. Finlay Greig, one of the Foundation’s rangers, said:

The Knoydart Foundation was contacted by Gateley/Hamer earlier this year and we accompanied them during an on-the-ground survey of potential sites in March.

What was instantly striking was the scale of the project and the sites being discussed for potential masts. It was difficult to see any possible benefit for the community.

Gateley/Hamer is a consultancy that advertises services specialising in the management of compulsory purchase orders (CPOs). CPOs allow the government to obtain land without the owner’s consent, usually on the grounds of serving the greater public.

Read on...

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Following the survey visit, the locals learned that the project was pursuing 11 locations for mast installations. No fewer than three were on community-owned land.

Huge costs, little gain

The SRN’s website claims that it will provide coverage for 16,000km of roads and 280,000 premises. Further, it also indicates a range of potential benefits for these areas, such as reducing health, economic and social inequalities.

However, the sites which have been explored on Knoydart would play only a tiny part in this. It has a population hovering around just 130 people in total, and some 26km of roads.

One of the sites – identified as a potential hub for the network – is located near the village of Inverie. However, the others are in remote, unpopulated glens. Because of this, there is no infrastructure nearby to support the 4G masts.

In turn, this has led to strong speculation that they would need to be constructed and maintained using helicopters and fossil fuel generators that could devastate the environment.

Forester Grant Holroyd stated that:

There’s no justification for mobile coverage in the proposed areas where people don’t live.

I think this is a totally unjustified waste of money and a gross unnecessary contribution to carbon emissions.

These structures will require regular maintenance. For example, if they have diesel generators they will need to be refuelled every 500 hours and these masts will need to be maintained by helicopter which is an outrageous source of carbon emissions.

Already served, thank you

On top of all this, the recent Scottish 4G Infill programme already installed a 4G mast on the peninsula. It grants EE mobile coverage to most of the area where signal was previously unavailable, and boosts emergency services coverage.

A community consultation of the Knoydart residents regarding the proposals for the SRN masts received 104 responses. The opposition to the plans was unanimous.

Stephanie Harris, a manager of the community-owned pub The Old Forge, said:

I have been involved in many community engagement activities over the years, and the level of response we received for this consultation was the highest and most unified I have seen from our community.

Our community has stated very clearly that we do not want or need more masts, and that position must be respected.

It would be an outrage if contractors were to pursue legal action.

The Knoydart Foundation wrote to the Scottish and UK governments, informing them of the locals’ position. It stressed that they would not support building any masts on community-owned land.

Stephanie added that:

We have consulted with our community and the opinion is clear – over 100 residents signed a declaration against these proposals and this must be taken seriously by the Government and mobile network operators.

Our declaration summarises all the reasons we think this project is ludicrous, but for me there is the overarching issue of this being imposed on us, and we’re just supposed to accept it.

Moving forward, we welcome constructive dialogue with those implementing SRN, and will do what we need to to make sure that our voices are heard.”

Knoydart: a community united

Over a hundred members of the Knoydart community joined together to sign a declaration of the reasons behind their opposition. The list stated that the scheme:

  • will not provide any additional benefit to the inhabited areas of the peninsula, now that the S4G Infill mast at Loch Bhraomisaig is operational.
  • is disproportionate in terms of population and landscape.
  • is a wasteful use of public funds.
  • will have a hugely negative impact on the environment and aesthetics of Knoydart’s National Scenic Area and Wild Land Area.
  • will likely become defunct in a short period of time, due to technology advancements.
  • is not necessary to improve safety in the remote areas of the peninsula, and actually has the potential to increase unsafe roaming and accidents.
  • conflicts with the net-zero aspirations of our community and government, requiring extensive use of carbon fuels for construction and operating remote equipment.
  • conflicts with one the Unique Selling Points of the peninsula – “remoteness” – and has the potential to harm our vital tourism economy.

When the BBC approached the UK Government for comment, a spokesperson stated that:

Reliable connectivity is fundamental to making sure all the UK can access the growth and opportunity offered by a digital economy. Delivering this, the Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme tackles the digital divide across the UK – including all of the most remote parts of Scotland – by providing high-speed 4G connections for the first time, supporting the economy while also opening up access to key services like 999 calls.

The location of sites is determined by operators to ensure they are able to reach their coverage objectives, and they will continue to work closely with local communities and planning authorities to ensure new masts go through the proper planning process, and are considerate to areas of natural beauty.

The situation regarding the construction of the 4G masts is far from resolved. However, the locals look set to put up a fight before any further construction threatens their remote wilderness home.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/ Subarite, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license, resized to 1910 * 1000.

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  • Show Comments
    1. Why do you, by default, describe communities in parts of Scotland (and, indeed in parts of England, Wales and the north of Ireland.) as ‘remote’? This word while having a literal meaning has also been loaded with a lot of baggage by media with overtones of ‘primitiveness’, ‘unsophisticated’ ‘simple-minded yokels’ and various other disparaging phrases, in the way that ‘low-paid’ workers are also implied to be ‘low-skilled’, ‘lacking in ambition’, ‘feckless’, only have themselves to blame.

      Knoydart is, indeed, difficult to get to, largely because of the physical geography, but, like other difficult to get to places, it, at one time sustained a much larger community, who were displaced due to ‘clearances’ – a euphemism for ‘land grab’ and forced emigration and starvation.

      Fortunately, the communities in places like Knoydart, Eigg, South Uist, etc are taking control of their areas and their lives. They do, indeed, want improved communication – physical and IT – with the rest of Scotland – but they want to be empowered to enable them to determine what they feel are the most appropriate ways. It is not the Knoydartians who are ‘remote’ it is much of the urbanised world which has been increasingly alienated from the land.

      This action is notrhing new. Google the “land league” and listen to the song ‘The Seven Men of Knoydart’.

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