HIAL’s Remote Towers Project Threat to Future Renewables Developments

There could be a ‘very significant’ negative impact on Orkney’s internationally renowned renewables sector as a result of Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) centralising air traffic control in a Remote Tower system in Inverness.

You can read more about HIAL’s plans and the consequences of the loss of jobs and the damage to Orkney’s economy here: Damning Impact Assessment: ‘significant uncertainties’ in HIAL Remote Towers Project

An Islands Impact Assessment of the HIAL Remote Towers project stated:

Renewables is a specialisation of the Orkney economy and Orkney’s role is important both within Scotland and internationally. Physical developments could be constrained by the surveillance that is introduced. Very significant negative impact. Applies to both ATMS and the local surveillance alternative

Commenting on the very significant impact the project will have on Orkney’s renewables sector, local Green Councillor Steve Sankey said:

“Greens are looking for urgent actions to tackle the climate emergency and a green recovery from the pandemic, yet the report clearly contains a warning about a possible very significant negative impact on renewables development, which is a matter of utmost concern to us.

“Orkney’s renewable potential will be of key importance to the future of our economy, and I’m looking to HIAL to contribute to this success, not threaten it.

“The report is deeply worrying for many reasons, and Scottish Ministers need to step in to halt this madness before it’s too late.”

The Islands Impact Assessment states:

The nature of surveillance to be introduced under ATMS has still to be defined. A number of consultees were concerned that the outcome could lead to planning restrictions constraining:

Renewables development on mainland Orkney.

The proposed expansion of some of Orkney’s harbours to facilitate the change to renewable maritime energy resources.

The huge issue is the resilience of the remote system being pushed through by HIAL which requires a level of connectivity we simply do not have. Kirkwall Airport is scheduled to lose its air traffic controllers in 2024. There are many uncertainties around the provision of secure connectivity that would need to be in place in a space of just 3 years .

Known as ATMS (Air Traffic Management System) remote integrated ATC (Air Traffic Control) services will be set up for the five airports of Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Sumburgh. A Combined Surveillance Centre (CSC) is to be located in Inverness – the building on an industrial estate has already been acquired. A separate contingency facility will also be created.

design of digital connections to/from the CSC [Combined Surveillance Centre] is currently only at a high level. While detailed design cannot be completed until the tender is awarded, this still results in some uncertainty on the connectivity issue. That is in a context where resilience is critical to the remote towers’ successful operation.

The CSC-based staff (Inverness) will undertake remote monitoring of cameras located at each of the five airports.

One of the issues considered critical to the success of ATMS is the digital connectivity between the CSC and the five airports.

The transition of air traffic management from each airport to the CSC will require CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) approval before it can go ahead. That’s not happened yet.

As well as the Tower in Inverness, there will need to be “a location with a sensor to detect aircraft” at the 5 airports.

the form of surveillance to be procured is still awaiting regulatory decisions by the CAA. These could affect the potential impacts on new developments around some of the airports-particularly windfarms.

Orkney has published an ambitious Marine Harbours Master Plan. The provision for the continued expansion of the Renewables sector is a major part of that plan. The Scottish Government is keen on establishing a ‘Green’ version of the UK’s Freeport set ups. Could Orkney Be A Green Port? It would be reasonable to assume that Orkney would be interested in putting itself forward as A Greenport. It is clear from the Impact Assessment that The Harbours Plan and the Greenport could be in jeopardy if HIAL’s Remote Towers system fails to deal with the many weaknesses in resilience highlighted in the report and the issue around new renewable developments.

HIAL is a public company owned wholly by Scottish Government Ministers. The Remote Towers Project has their full support despite widespread fears across the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, over safety, job losses and wider implications on the local economies including depopulation.

The Orkney News contacted the Scottish Government Ministers concerned on the 19th of February 2021 for comment. On 6th March 2021 we received this reply:

” The Scottish Government aim to respond, where necessary, as quickly as possible and within the stated timescale as indicated on our website”

The website states:

“You should receive a response from us promptly and within 20 working days.”

To download and read the Impact Assessment :

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Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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