The mixed response to the launch of Fife’s Mossmorran...

An artists' impression in 1979 of how the new plant at Mossmorran in Fife might look.
An artists' impression in 1979 of how the new plant at Mossmorran in Fife might look.

In August 1979 the announcement that Fife was to be the location for a new petrochemical plant was met with joy and fury in equal measure.

The complex, to be built at Mossmorran by oil giants Shell and Esso, was hailed as a huge boon for the region, with Fife Regional Council and Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline District Councils seeing it as a massive boost to employment in Fife.

But objectors to the plant said it was a “time bomb” which could threaten the lives of thousands of Fifers and threatened to take legal action to stop it being built.

The £500 million project was given the green light by Secretary of State for Scotland George Younger, more than two years after a public inquiry into the development was first held.

The two-part complex – a natural gas liquids seperation plant and an ethylene cracker – was to be the first in Scotland to be supplied directly from the North Sea gas fields.

Mr Younger’s decision after a hard-hitting campaign by protestors, who lodged 31 official objections to the site, set his seal on the conditional approval given to the project by his predecessor in the Labour Government, Bruce Millan, in March of 1978.

The final go-ahead had been deferred for more information on the possible risk of hazard from radio wave transmissions -a danger pin-pointed by the Aberdour and Dalgety Bay Joint Action Group, who had consistently fought the Shell-Esso proposals.

At a press conference Jay Dalgetty, Esso Chemicals’ director in charge of the ethylene plant, told the Fife Free Press: “I am recommending to my management now that we pull out all the stops and go.

“We have already spent £5 million on the development of this cracker. We won’t be on that site until the middle of 1981, and before that, we will be spending up to £76 million.”

He added: “The plant we will install will be safe, it will be safely operated and it will not constitute any unacceptable hazard, either to our employees or people living in the area.

“If this were not the case, we would not build such a plant.”

In giving his approval, Mr Younger had written in tough safety conditions for the running of the plant, but that failed to allay the protestors’ fears.

They said that if the worst came to the worst, My Younger had “signed the death warrant” for the Aberdour and Dalgety Bay communities.

At their own press conference they announced that they planned to take their case to the Court of Session to have the project stopped, and added, if that failed, they would go the European Commission on Human Rights.

Co-chairman said that Mr Younger had “swept our considerations under the carpet with a callous disregard for the safety of the communities beside the Forth”.

His co-chairman, Dick Mehta, added: “We believe the lives of members of the public on both sides of the river are at stake.”

Despite their actions, the building of the plant went ahead and the complex was opened in 1985.