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Mossmorran: 29 years of inaction

Since Wednesday, 14th September, the Mossmorran complex has been in a state of continous flaring which has resulted in fluctuating and at times excessive noise levels throughout the day and night. The flaring on 14th and 15th September was due to an emergency at the plant. The current flaring is due to a planned shutdown of the facilities, which is expected to last 3 weeks.

Unsurprisingly, there has been no public comment to date from councillors within Central Fife.

Cowdenbeath and Auchtertool Community Councils used their facebook pages to warn residents of the planned flaring – Mossmorran’s Community Affairs Assistant Catherine Cubitt will have sent notification to all the community councils in immediately affected areas.

Labour-controlled Lochgelly Community Council however did not publish any warning. To date the Lochgelly CC has made no mention at all of Mossmorran’s current flaring – not on its facebook page nor on its two official websites.

Thankfully, The Courier felt the issue was important enough to be brought to wide public attention on their front page of 21st of September. This coverage appears to have triggered a response from Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Alex Rowley on the same day, who states on his blog:

I have contacted SEPA to seek assurances they are monitoring the site for noise and pollution and that the results of their activities will be made public. The Cowdenbeath Area Committee have in the past looked at emissions from this site and have heard from the site itself, NHS Fife and SEPA. I will be discussing this latest shut down with the Area Chair Cllr Mark Hood who has been to the fore in making sure all data collected from this site is made public.

In case it has missed Mr Rowley’s attention, the Mossmorran PR department has already given numerous assurances in the local press. The PR department always gives assurances about every negative incident and impact from the facilities – it is after all their job. Similarly, SEPA and NHS Fife have over the years assured the public that everything is all right, and that adverse impacts fall within acceptable limits.

What isn’t needed now is yet more assurances. What is needed is clear action to limit and reduce the damaging impacts the plant inflicts on residents and communities. And where damaging impacts cannot be mitigated, action needs to be taken to compensate affected residents and communities.

Mr Rowley also says that “Cllr Mark Hood has been at the fore in making sure all data collected from this site is made public“. This is stated as a matter of fact but evidence backing this claim is thin on the ground.

The vast majority of data that has entered the public domain has come from the continous campaigning over five years by several volunteers at the community website Loch of Shining Waters.

They have made repeated Freedom of Information requests for accident reports, contingency emergency plans, air and noise pollution data, minutes from relevant meetings and permit conditions for operations to Fife Council, SEPA and NHS Fife. They have had to take the sometimes arduous FOI route to obtain this information because these bodies do not routinely publish such information (Mossmorran itself is not subject to FOI). All the data obtained under FOI was promptly published on the Shining Waters site, where it continues to be available.

Cllr Hood’s own website only contains two articles relating to Mossmorran. One article published in October 2012 calling for Air Quality Monitors was triggered by the Loch of Shining Waters campaign for the same. This campaign is ongoing, with the latest action from Loch of Shining Waters being to call for monitors on the current Fife Council consultation Oor Bit Fife (You can add your support by registering on Oor Bit Fife).

Cllr Hood’s has been markedly silent about the campaign for air quality monitors in recent years.

The other article published in November 2011 concerns a brief survey which includes four questions about Mossmorran among other questions about Fife Council’s performance as well questions pertaining to the survey’s real purpose – which was to collect personal data about participants who were minded to vote Labour in the upcoming Council election. The results of Mr Hood’s survey, in particular residents’ responses to the Mossmorran questions, have never been published.

Every time Messrs Rowley and Hood have made a statement about Mossmorran, it is only after there has been a public push by Loch of Shining Waters and their volunteers. For the last 26 years, during their terms as councillors and Mr Rowley’s latter term as an MSP, Messrs Rowley and Hood have failed to be pro-active on the Mossmorran issues which concern their constituents.

In 2015 a Lochgelly resident sent their constituency MSP Alex Rowley a report by SEPA on noise monitoring at their home. It recorded multiple serious breaches to guidelines for safe noise levels. Mr Rowley showed some initial interest, “passed the case” to Fife Council and dropped the correspondence.

Attempts by the same resident to get Councillor Hood to take up their case of excessive and health-damaging noise also went nowhere.

In October 2012 Loch of Shining Waters conducted a Mossmorran Perception Study. 206 residents completed a survey covering a range of issues connected to the Mossmorran complex, including health & safety, the local environment, transparency & accountability of community councils and councillors, and gift-taking. All the data collected was shared with local representatives across Central Fife and the corporate bodies connected to the Mossmorran facilities. All the relevant councillors and community councils ignored it.

View Report: Survey spreadsheet – XLS file.

Of the issues addressed by the survey, gift-taking is the one which local representatives could most easily have addressed. Yet it remains a problem.

Councillors and community councillors continue to accept freebies from Mossmorran, attending six-nation rugby matches, slap-up meals, box office visits to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo among other treats. Meanwhile, meeetings of the Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay Community and Safety Committee are still closed to members of the public, and minutes are not readily available despite earlier agreement that they should be.

The minutes of the meetings should be made publically available to members of local communities through community council meetings and local libraries.

Source: https://www.sepa.org.uk/regulations/air/air-quality/mossmorran-and-braefoot-bay-complexes/

I firmly believe that accepting even the smallest of gifts compromises the integrity of representatives. During my own time as a member of Lochgelly CC,  I routinely declined gifts such as the Burns Supper at Balbirnie House, including even so-called trivial ones such as the yearly diary. Together with a minority of members of Lochgelly CC, I was able to persuade the community council to refuse all future gifts from Mossmorran. Whether the LCC is continuing to refuse gifts is unknown.

Balbirnie House

Balbirnie House. Image copyright – Air Reel Media

The chair of Mossmorran Community Safety Liason meetings Councillor Peter Lockhart felt it was unacceptable for representatives to accept gifts, but he had no issue with attending lavish functions at Balbirnie House on the basis that this was a “networking opportunity“. I find it disturbing that a representative from a community high on the index of multiple deprivation is happy to accept such corporate largesse when some of his constituents are forced to rely on food banks.

Of course gift-taking hasn’t been confined to Labour party members: former chair of the Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay Community and Safety Committee, George Kay has admitted that he attended a Scotland rugby match at Murrayfield in 2009 at the invitation of the Mossmorran operators.

Regardless of party colours, no local representative should be accepting gifts from a corporation whose activities have such an adverse impact on the life of residents and our local communities.

Over three-quarters of residents who took part in Loch of Shining Waters’  Mossmorran Perception Study found gift-taking unacceptable:

Accepting gifts compromises the integrity of representatives
Answerspercentage

Strongly Agree

66.29

No Answer

16.85

Slightly Agree

11.24

Neutral

3.37

Strongly Disagree

2.25
Representatives should be providing a full disclosure of what gifts and events they have attended
Answerspercentage

Strongly Agree

69.66

No Answer

16.85

Slightly Agree

10.11

Strongly Disagree

2.25

Neutral

1.12
I do not trust the representatives that have accepted gifts and hospitality events
Answerspercentage

Strongly Agree

55.06

No Answer

20.22

Neutral

8.99

Slightly Agree

6.74

Strongly Disagree

4.49

Slighty Disagree

4.49

While I am not suggesting that local politicians and community representatives have allowed themselves to be bribed by Mossmorran, it is hard not to imagine that the gifts and hospitality they have enjoyed for decades have not contributed to a certain reluctance even to speak about residents’ multiple concerns about Mossmorran’s adverse impacts.

Their abject failure in getting Mossmorran to implement effective mitigation or compensation for the immediately affected communities since the plant began operating in 1986 has undermined trust in local councillors and community councils more generally. This is the wider context of decades of inaction which Mr Rowley’s blog, and no doubt forthcoming words from Cllr Hood, need to be seen in.

Flaring is always temporary, so its negative impacts are dismissed as exceptional one-offs, when in fact, as local residents know to their cost, it is merely one particularly visible emanation of a host of damaging environmental impacts which the plant has been emitting on a daily basis for over a quarter of a century. The issues which will remain when the current flaring stops are: air quality, light pollution, noise pollution including cumulative noise impacts from the plant operations, A92 and Little Raith Wind Farm, lack of community investment, lack of openess and transparency into the operations of the plant, and most importantly, quantifying the health impacts on Central Fife communities arising from air, noise and light pollution.

On 20th September, I met with two SEPA representatives at an affected resident’s home. My aim was to get SEPA to conduct continuous noise monitoring at two residences in Lochgelly and one in Auchtertool during the current shutdown of Mossmorran. As yet, there has been no final agreement from SEPA to conduct further monitoring as they are “currently collating other data that has been collected” and have agreed to share this data together with their conclusions next week.

Both the local MP Roger Mullin and the constituency MSP Annabelle Ewing have been separately in touch with me about Mossmorran following the Courier publicity and I am meeting both in the coming week. I will be raising multiple issues connected with Mossmorran but I will also be asking our representatives what solutions can be put in place to lessen or remove some of the negative impacts, and where they cannot be satisfactorily dealt with, what pressure can be brought to bear on the operators to ensure that communities and residents are compensated.

If Messrs Rowley and Hood are genuine in their support for the residents and communities who are suffering adverse impacts from Mossmorran and noise pollution (regardless of what proportion comes from Mossmorran, Little Raith Wind Farm or the A92), then I welcome their contributions and look forward to seeing a more pro-active, community-focussed campaign by the councillor and MSP. Anything less is just spin designed to manage and dismiss local concern.

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Tech geekery, blogging, volunteering, graphic/web design, photography, digital activism and community-based campaigns are some of the things that I am passionate about.

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  1. Pingback: Mossmorran – Press Release | James Glen

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