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5 Jan 2024

Telecoms masts set to damage Scotland’s most beautiful areas

Scottish communities demand serious re-think of £1 billion Government project set to damage the Highlands and rural economy

examples of the Torridon landscapes set to be affected by the SRN proposals

copyright of Rob Bruce and MUST be credited to Rob Bruce

^ Example of the Torridon landscapes set to be affected by the SRN proposals, Beinn Alligin and island at hightide, © Rob Bruce

The John Muir Trust joins Community Councils of the North-West Highlands, plus walkers’ groups, mountaineers and conservation groups, in asking the Rt. Hon. Julia Lopez, Minister of State for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries, to make three key changes to the damaging rollout of telecom masts across Scotland’s wild places.

The rollout is happening under the Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme, a UK Government initiative supported by four of the UK’s  mobile network operators.  

It aims to provide 4G coverage to 95% of the geography (rather than population) of the UK. In the remote Scottish Highlands, this means installing hundreds of masts in places where nobody lives and wasting up to £500 million of taxpayers’ money. 

Many rural communities and businesses require better broadband. However, this poorly thought-out connectivity strategy risks putting masts in all the wrong places and benefitting no-one.

Communities in the Scottish Highlands, together with walkers’ groups, mountaineers and conservation groups, are united in calling for:

  • A proper dialogue with communities to establish the needs of residents and businesses before the masts are instigated. This must include an analysis of what each mast is for and who (if anyone) will benefit.
  • A thorough cost benefit analysis for every mast proposed, including assessment of the damage to the environment and tourism in line with normal good practice.
  • An extension in the timelines for completion of the SRN project to allow the Highland Council to be able to properly exercise its oversight responsibilities.

Hill walker on the summit of Tom na Gruagaich (922m) in winter, Beinn Alligin, Torridon, Scotland © Mark Hamblin / 2020Vision

^ Hill walker on the summit of Tom na Gruagaich in winter, Beinn Alligin, Torridon, Scotland, © Mark Hamblin / 2020Vision

Scotland's rural landscapes are valued by local communities, and renowned for their breathtaking beauty, which draws visitors from around the world. The dramatic mountains and picturesque lochs are not only integral to local communities, they are also a significant driver of the region's economy through tourism and outdoor activities.

Wild places are often cherished for their tranquillity, offering an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Yet under UK Government plans, unnecessary infrastructure will damage the natural harmony - remote glens and lochs will hum to the sound of diesel generators, and peaceful footpaths will be turned into tracks for construction and maintenance. 

The Trust has been concerned about the rollout of this programme since Autumn 2023 when the full scale of it became apparent. We previously wrote to Sir John Whittingdale (who held the Ministerial position for Data and Digital Infrastructure whilst Julia Lopez was on maternity leave) on 14 November asking for a pause and review of the SRN programme.

We subsequently wrote to two Parliamentary Committees (the Environmental Audit Committee and the Scottish Affairs Committee) asking them to consider the potential environmental consequences of this programme with a review and pause of the rollout. The reply we received suggests the Committees may examine the matter further through an inquiry.

We support the communities who have written to Rt. Hon. Julia Lopez MP, the UK Minister responsible for the SRN programme and await a response.

Beinn Eighe ridge, Torridon, Scotland

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