Thu 30 Jul, 2020

We need to be rapidly moving to a situation where environmentally friendly options like rail freight are the first option rather than something to be explored and considered.

The news that Highland Council has approved a planning application from Norbord to increase the height of two towers at the Morayhill site is, for the most part, to be welcomed.

The development reflects significant investment by the milling firm in the future of the site, increasing production and hopefully ensuring a future for the 130 there as well as hundreds more jobs in the wider Highland forestry industry.

Norbord have been investing in the Highlands for many years now and this latest development provides important reassurance for the future of good quality sustainable jobs in these turbulent times. Sadly though, the expansion is in some ways a missed opportunity. The expanded capacity of the plant will lead to an increase in trucks and lorries accessing the site. Numbers are expected to rise from 340 vehicles per day now to 378 per day by 2027.

On the face of it that may seem a modest increase but in the face of a climate emergency there is simply no room to expand the use of polluting diesel-powered heavy vehicles. Indeed, standing still is also not acceptable. We need to be doing everything we can to reduce the number of vehicles on the road with the utmost urgency.

The likely increase in HGV use is all the more frustrating when, with a little bit of political will, an excellent alternative could be made available. The site is situated close to the Aberdeen to Inverness line and the option of significantly increasing the number of goods conveyed by rail shouldn’t be passed up.

That the company is clearly open to the idea is heartening. It already uses rail freight to move goods to England. I also wrote to the Norbord as well as the Transport Secretary Michael Matheson to raise my concerns regarding the likely increase in HGV use. I was told that Transport Scotland are currently working with Norbord and the rail freight industry to consider options for freight on the Aberdeen to Inverness line.

That is a start for sure, but what is needed is the kind of solid commitment and ambition necessary to really get to grips with the climate emergency. We need to be rapidly moving to a situation where environmentally friendly options like rail freight are the first option rather than something to be explored and considered.

I do not wish to be too harsh on Norbord’s efforts. I have been a vocal supporter of their investment in the Highland economy and their willingness to consider expanding their use of rail freight is positive. But there’s no doubt that the climate emergency is real and demands an urgent response.

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