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Aberdeen Community To Lose Last Green Space In Energy Transition Land-Grab

Above Photo: Climate Camp Scotland, This is Rigged, and Scot.E3.

A marginalised community in Aberdeen are fighting a green land-grab for Scotland’s “Energy Transition Zone”.

On Wednesday 9 August, campaigners from Climate Camp Scotland, This is Rigged, and Scot.E3 demonstrated outside the headquarters of Ironside Farrar in Edinburgh. Campaigners held the peaceful demonstration in solidarity with residents of Torry, Aberdeen. Torry is to be the site of a large-scale industrial development that threatens a precious local park and wetland.

The project developer has commissioned Ironside Farrar to produce a master plan for the site. The coalition of climate groups and energy workers were protesting the advancing implementation of Scotland’s so-called Energy Transition Zone (ETZ).

However, as this deprived community in Aberdeen is finding out first hand, the supposed shift to a green energy future to tackle the climate crisis is far from just.

The Energy Transition Zone

If you’re wondering what the hell an ETZ is, the PR jargon from its proponents won’t provide a clearer picture.

In its 2020 ‘feasibility study’, oil and gas consultancy firm Barton Willmore acknowledged that ETZ “isn’t a universal term”. The company then proceeded to explain that the term:

is a vehicle to promote a particular City to end users who specialise in this market and to prepare the necessary sites and infrastructure required to support that development.

Of course, this is insipid industry-speak for industrial expansion. In this instance, companies are purportedly developing the site to draw in ‘green’ manufacturing. Specifically, this will be for wind power and the nascent green hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.

Conversely, a community campaign group fighting the project has offered a different definition. Friends of St Fittick’s Park argued that:

An “energy transition zone” is, in short, a marketing ploy, a bit of rhetoric dreamed up by a lobbying/consultancy firm to make a dishonest land-grab in a poor area sound more palatable, by selling it as an essential initiative to mitigate man-made climate change.

Their scathing view reflects a soon-to-be lived reality: the new zone will gobble up a local neighbourhood’s final green space. Moreover, it will invite new polluting projects into a community overburdened with harmful industries.

In other words, the council and opportunistic corporations see this deprived and already heavily-polluted area as ripe for the industrial land grab.

Sacrifice Zone

The new industrial development will occupy close to a third of St Fittick’s Community Park. Crucially, this is the last remaining greenspace in Torry. As a result, local residents have vociferously fought the project.

Torry is among the 500 most deprived areas in Scotland. Moreover, according to Scotland’s Index of Multiple Deprivation in 2020, Torry held three out of ten of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Aberdeen City.

In 2021, 22 medical professionals from across Northeast Scotland issued an open letter against the project. In it, they highlighted that the life expectancy of residents in Balnagask – the area of Torry closest to the park – was already 13 years shorter than in another neighbourhood in Aberdeen, which happened to have a mature woodland on its doorstep.

Worse still, Torry residents’ healthy life expectancy – the period of time a person stays in good health – was 20 years lower.

What’s more, residents in Torry face an eight-fold greater risk of admission to hospital due to chronic lung disease than the longer-lived neighbourhood. This is unsurprising given the high presence of polluting infrastructure in the area. For example, this includes a sewage works, a regional waste centre, and an industrial business estate.

Separately, local retired paediatrician Mike Down said that the addition of the ETZ would:

further sicken and impoverish the people who live in Torry.

This is a story familiar to the marginalised communities from the industrial hellscapes of the US’s ‘Cancer Alley’, through to the poor, Black, Brown, chronically ill, and disabled residents breathing in the toxic fumes of waste incinerators across the UK.

In short, the council has designated the area a sacrifice zone, and the people living there as disposable.

‘Just Transition’ For Workers?

Trade unionists representing offshore workers were among the campaigners protesting outside Iron Farrar’s offices. Trade unionists and climate campaigners founded Scot.E3 to call for climate action in their workplaces, and a just transition.

Separately, in March, a coalition of nonprofits collaborated on a report to call for a just transition for North Sea oil and gas workers.

Ironside Farrar’s draft master plan details how the ETZ will help to facilitate a just transition for workers in Scotland. In particular, it is creating a “Skills Campus” to provide education and the upskilling of the local workforce.

However, the project will generate just 2,500 full-time-equivalent jobs by 2030. Comparatively, the offshore oil and gas sector in Scotland currently hosts over 70,000 jobs. The ETZ will therefore offer just over 3.5% of the required transition employment.

Moreover, there’s currently no indication of exactly how many of these jobs will go to local North Sea workers. The draft master plan touts an accompanying jobs and skills plan to support “inclusive job creation”. The jobs and skills plan promotes the meek commitment that investors will be “encouraged to adhere” to “creating local employment and business opportunities”.

What’s more, one ETZ project already throws cold water at the idea that the zone will provide a just transition for local workers. The gas-fired Peterhead Power Station CCS development will create limited jobs for Aberdeenshire’s workforce. The project boasts that it will create 776 jobs during the construction phase. However, it anticipates that it will source up to 75% of employees from outside the area. Moreover, during operation, it will create just 45 direct jobs for people in the local authority.

If the new industrial zone can even claim to be bringing forward an energy transition for workers and communities in Aberdeen, it’s already abundantly apparent that it won’t be just.

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