The Scottish Government is facing criticism after handing £4 million to a billionaire’s bottled water firm. Emirati tycoon Mahdi Al-Tajir’s Highland Spring received the cash for a train depot at his factory in Perthshire after claiming it will reduce the carbon footprint of the business.
But bottled water has been criticised as a massive and unnecessary contributor to global warming and plastic pollution. Labour MSP Neil Bibby said: “It is important we shift freight from road to rail as part of efforts to decarbonise the transportation of goods.
“The sums of public money involved in this are substantial and the burden for such investment should not always fall entirely on the taxpayer, particularly when they benefit large companies making substantial profits. There are questions for the Scottish Government to answer on the level of private investment that was sought and secured for this project.”
Al-Tajir is one of the UK’s richest men, with an estimated fortune of over £1.65billion. He owns the Park Tower Hotel in Knightsbridge, London, and a £250million home located close to Buckingham Palace.
The Highland Spring rail freight terminal is designed to take thousands of HGV journeys off the road. The firm said almost half of its stock dispatched from the bottling plant in Blackford can now be sent to their main warehouse by train, saving thousands of tons of CO2 every year.
The 10-year development celebrated its first journey in August after being officially opened by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Documents released through freedom of information revealed the depot received £4.47million of Scottish Government investment from an environmental fund.
That is despite a study earlier this year finding tap water is thousands of times better for the environment than bottled water. The Barcelona Institute for Global Health found it takes three times as much water to produce a plastic bottle as it can hold.
They found the impact of a bottle of water rather than tap water was 1400 times worse for ecosystems and 3500 times worse overall for the environment.
A spokesman for the FM said: “The Scottish Government invested £4.47million in this project. Removing more than 10million lorry miles from Scotland’s roads in the first 10 years of operation will go a long way to improving the environment.”
Highland Spring said: “The Blackford rail freight facility, in partnership with Transport Scotland, Network Rail and the Scottish Government, has been in development for over 10 years, with a total cost of £20 million. We appreciate their support in delivering this project.”
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