Pressure grows on Allan and MacNeil as Comhairle’s SNP group declare support for crofters

The clock is ticking. We are on a rapid countdown to the deadline for objections to EDF’s Section 19 application to the Scottish Land Court, which would allow them to build a giant wind farm around Stornoway and give them the economic and development rights to the common grazings for generations.

EDF and Amec-Foster-Wheeler, their multinational partner in ‘Lewis Wind Power’s ‘Stornoway Wind Farm’ — sarcastic quote marks because the only thing ‘Lewis’ or ‘Stornoway’ about this is the location —  are hoping to build a 36-turbine development in the full knowledge that four crofting townships want to build ones of their own and will not be able to if the corporates get the green light.

Objections to ‘Stornoway Wind Farm’ — Application SLC 59/17 —should be submitted in writing to The Principal Clerk, Scottish Land Court, George House, 126 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4HH by Thursday, August 24.

I wrote about this application in yesterday’s blog post, A few days to save the next 70 years, and tried to explain the implications of what is going on behind the scenes.

Essentially, this is a very big question of who, legally and morally, should have the development rights and ultimately get any economic benefit from such developments. A multinational utility headquartered in Paris? Or the crofter shareholders of the common grazings? You would think it’s a no-brainer.

You would think.

In that blog, I addressed the fact that virtually nobody is helping the crofters. I wrote: “This is a complicated issue but it’s a hard fight for the people involved at community level as they feel unsupported by their landlord, the Stornoway Trust; unsupported by most of the councillors at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar; unsupported by their elected parliamentarians who won’t get off the fence; and unsupported by the Crofting Commission whose purpose is surely to protect the interests of crofters. Talk about being up against it.”

This morning, I received an email from Councillor Gordon Murray, saying: “Have you seen our group’s response to the wind energy debate? We are in favour of the crofters, just so you are aware.”

He directed me to the Comhairle’s SNP group’s blog and their post of August 11, which declared: “The Comhairle Group wholeheartedly supports Crofters in their aspirations to own and operate Wind Energy Companies which pertain to their grazing rights.”

This is very, very welcome.

Further statements in their blog post were also heartening.

“The SNP Comhairle Group will seek to assist crofting groups to establish Wind Energy Companies which are set up to distribute profit to its shareholders.”

“Development by multinationals on crofters’ grazings will disinherit the crofters with rights in the grazings on a multi-generational basis and alienate them from their resources.”

“It is our aspiration to have this energy sector owned by Islanders with the profits recirculated in the Islands’ economy to form to basis of a resurgent, secure and sustainable economic future.”

About time, too. But the most pressing question now is: will our local MP and MSP follow suit?

URGENCY

They have been accused of sitting on the fence and that’s a fair accusation. In Angus Brendan’s case, he stands accused of actually helping EDF by advising the crofters to lay off pressing their claim until the matter of the interconnector has been settled. The interconnector issue is way down the line but the legal debate over whether EDF should be granted the development rights under Section 19 is with us right now.

The train is about to leave the station.

The urgency of the situation is pressed home in a news release I’m about to put out. In it, Calum MacDonald, the former MP for the Western Isles who now develops community-owned wind farms (he’s the brains behind Beinn Ghrideag, pictured above), is warning crofters they will lose the rights to their common grazings “for generations” if EDF get their way.

He is also urging MSP Alasdair Allan and MP Angus Brendan MacNeil to intervene, for the sake of their constituents. I have asked both Alasdair and Angus Brendan on previous occasions what their positions are and they have both played neutral. In Alasdair’s case, he made it clear that he felt unable to ‘take sides’, given his position.

‘AMADANS’

That shows us there is a further problem of perception. Not just of the crofters being amadans* who couldn’t possibly have the wit or wherewithal to bring about a big development themselves — they only managed to source £13million finance for Point and Sandwick Trust’s Beinn Ghrideag — but also the perception that the two sides involved are both of this community.

They are not. There is a natural reluctance against upsetting the Stornoway Trust and I get that, but this not a Stornoway Trust project. They just signed the lease to the ground. The development, as a business, will be EDF’s and Amec’s. The registered office for Stornoway Wind Farm Limited is EDF Energy, GSO Business Park, East Kilbride. Not Perceval Square.

In the news release that’s going out just now, Calum is warning crofters of the implications of EDF’s Section 19 application and urging them to object or lose all rights to the grazings.
He said: “Crofters in the Point and Sandwick area of Lewis should be aware that EDF’s Section 19 application currently before the Land Court will remove any and all development rights they have over the common grazings for at least the next 70 years.

“This will be a huge loss of their rights for crofters and will affect not just the current shareholders but their children and even their children’s children as well.

“It is virtually a permanent loss of their economic rights and control over their grazings.  These rights currently belong to the community but if EDF’s Section 19 application is approved by the Land Court, all these rights will belong exclusively to EDF or to whichever other multinationals and financial institutions they sell these rights to in the decades in the future. The community opportunity will be lost for generations to come.

“I find it shocking that this massive transfer of rights and power is being pushed through without any proper discussion or debate. I therefore welcome the recent statement by the SNP group on the Western Isles Council backing the crofters against EDF.

PERPLEXED

“I call upon our Parliamentary representatives, the MP and MSP, to now follow the lead of their colleagues on the Council and to intervene urgently with EDF and to get them to withdraw their Land Court application unless they can demonstrate that they have the support of the local crofters and townships for their action.

“I am particularly perplexed that the MP, Angus MacNeil, has told crofters that they should wait until the argument over the interconnector is decided before debating the rights of the communities versus EDF.

“He must know that if the current Section 19 application is approved by the Land Court, there will be no further debate. The big multinationals will have gained all the development rights to the Point and Sandwick grazings and there will be nothing that any crofter, Grazings Committee or village can do about it for the next 70 years.

“I appeal to the MP and the MSP, therefore, to stand up for the economic rights of the communities before it is too late. They must ask EDF to withdraw their Section 19 application until after we know what is happening with the interconnector. That would allow a full and fair debate over the best way to develop turbines on the common grazings to secure the best benefit for the local economy.

“As things stand, unfortunately, EDF appear determined to railroad their claim through the Land Court leaving the Point and Sandwick villages with zero economic rights in the future.

“That is why I urge all crofters in the Point and Sandwick area, if they haven’t already done so, to write to the Clerk of the Land Court at 126 George St in Edinburgh and to let them know of their concern at the way this is being pushed through.

“If enough crofters write in, the Land Court will have to hold a hearing, probably in Stornoway, and these issue can then be properly aired and debated by the crofters and their representatives.  But if they don’t register their concern now before the 24th, the opportunity will be forever lost and they will find themselves reduced to the status of second-rate citizens on their own land.”

Alasdair, Angus Brendan… it’s time to decide. Whose side are you on?

* Amadans (a bit of Gaelic) = fools 

Katie

Comments 2

  1. Windfarms, Crofting Communities and Crofters.
    For the last three centuries and more, these Islands (and much of the highlands) have been ruthlessly, or at times, benignly, exploited for profit – from the debilitating wretchedness of the kelp industries to land clearances for the creation of sheep farms, from the erosion of our fishing industry by default to the more recent non-realisation of any real economic benefit from the 1970’s/80’s/90’s oil related businesses that were engaged in support of the exploitation of North sea oil.
    Whether crofter or feu holder, crofting communities continue to struggle to maintain a way of life that of itself is uniquely far removed from urban concepts of land or property ownership or indeed lifestyle. Crofting land is worth more than the value placed on it, not least in terms of sustaining our most rural populations, but in contributing to our Island’s long-term growth and survival. As Islanders by birth or by choice, we are arguably tied to the land one way or another, whether or not we are crofters and even if we do not always recognise this.
    How will the proliferation of wind farms, owned, in the main, by non UK companies enhance the sustainability of crofting communities in the longer term when they seek to erode the rights of crofters in the process? These ‘major’ developments will fundamentally change our landscape, our culture and our environment for generations to come but they will not be held accountable by us or to us – merely their share-holders. As many have already said, the bulk of their profits will not be re-invested in our Islands or indeed in Scotland or the UK (except perhaps through any tax revenues that will accrue to the UK exchequer). Any production, maintenance or related jobs will be short-term and ancillary as has been the case with such developments elsewhere in the UK.
    It is well known, that to survive, crofting must be combined with decent living standards and job opportunities. All Islanders have a right to participate in the opportunities available to the wider Scottish society as equals – and that includes crofters. Croft land is more than a resource, it is a way of life, that depends on all the other activities and jobs that crofters must take on to sustain their crofts. Consequently, recompense in financial terms, is not comparable with anything that seeks to limit, in any way, crofters’ control over their crofts or common grazings or indeed depletes the inherent value and worth of natural crofting resources – including wind. Moreover, the crofter has an inherent duty of care to their communities and to the generations to come which is (understandably) far removed from the minds or responsibility of major or multi-national companies.
    Despite any assertions to the contrary – and some may be very well meaning – companies are not primarily committed to sustainability or deriving community benefit from their actions. What they do, is not out of the goodness of their hearts, but then why should it be? They run businesses after all. Rather, they have increasingly realised the simple but powerful connection between the alignment of environmental and social factors with pure economics and profit – this is far removed from the driving forces that motivates the majority of crofters and our crofting communities.
    The Section 19 application by French owned EDF to develop on the common grazings around Stornoway (with or without the consent of the crofters) is not consistent with the rights or obligations owed to crofters. It is further suggested, that EDF’s application is in-consistent with the Scottish Government’s aspirations for the new Planning Bill to be brought forward at the end of this year (2017). If passed, the Bill will bring about legislative change that aims to strengthen planning’s contribution to inclusive growth and empowering
    communities – the link between spatial and community planning having been pursued separately for too long.
    Legislative change will take some time to take effect however, and so we need early actions to support inclusive growth priorities. It is understood that the Comhairle, and other partners, are exploring the creation of a vehicle to allow the Outer Hebrides community to generate renewable electricity and retail it locally. It would appear that their ultimate objective is the supply of local energy to local customers through the creation of a community owned Energy Supply Company (ESCO), or similar vehicle.
    Unfortunately, the Comhairle appears to be predicating all success on the multi-national developers providing ESCO with a percentage of their generation which in turn is predicated on confirmation of a Radial Connector to enable large multi-nationals to export their energy – and it will be their energy – to the National Grid.
    From a National Grid perspective however, the radial connector is not dependent on multi-nationals or on the size of any proposed development and does not preclude community ownership schemes pursuing the installation of an interconnector as a separate consideration to any local ambitions.
    Given the stark revelations of population decline published recently in the local press and the high levels of fuel poverty on our Islands, surely the delivery of community owned, low cost power to our communities should be our first and foremost priority? So far however, ESCO have been pretty silent on ‘Island solutions for Island problems’ in terms of how to enable more innovation around local energy management, supply and storage measures and in generating assets or power purchase from community generators – a case perhaps of putting all our eggs in the basket of multi-national companies?
    There is potential to do things differently. Electricity generation and supply should remain (and be taken back) into community ownership so that the associated economic benefits can be made available to crofters and communities on an ownership and profit yielding basis.
    Our crofting forefathers fought hard for the land – for equality of opportunity – can we not learn from past experiences of such schemes?
    Communities must be in full control of the land, wind and other resources if we are to achieve lasting change for the better and increased well-being for all of our communities. This is something which successive profit driven commercialisation schemes have demonstrably failed to deliver over successive generations.
    How ironic it would be if our Leaders, in a rush to secure wind power development at any cost, further diminish our crofting communities and, in the process, hammer home another nail in our Islands painful path towards subsidiarity and self-determination as envisaged through the introduction of the ‘Our islands – Our future’ Bill, the enactment of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2013 and other reforming legislative agendas including the proposed reform of spatial planning?
    Objections to ‘Stornoway Wind Farm’ — Application SLC 59/17 —should be submitted in writing to The Principal Clerk, Scottish Land Court, George House, 126 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4HH by Thursday, August 24.
    Postscript: It should be noted that 2020 Renewables, which was set up in 2010, to develop onshore wind projects principally in Scotland and who are the company behind Druim Leathann Windfarm Ltd (DLWL) which is part of Velocita (an independent European developer, owner and operator of wind and renewable energy projects) are looking to vary two of the planning conditions attached to the planning approval for the ‘major’ development of 14 Wind Turbines at North Tolsta. They also want the timescale for development changed to no later than five years from the date of permission rather than three years. This approval was granted in 2013 against Officer advice and contrary to the Comhairle’s own Development Plan. It is another development that will have a huge environmental impact, with no local management and relatively little financial gain. Each individual turbine will have a hub height of 80m, a rotor diameter of 93m, a blade tip height of 126.5m and it will ‘frame’ the western part of the village. 110 properties will be within 1.5km of turbine locations with the nearest homes being some 1km distance from certain turbines. The most pressing question is perhaps whether the timescale for commencing this development should be extended? For further information – contact the Comhairle’s Planning Department.
    Stornoway Trust Resident.

Leave a Reply