Questions of governance at Stornoway Trust

So Lewis Wind Power were consulting yet again last week, on their fourth proposed version of Stornoway Wind Farm. What a complete mess this whole thing is. 

What I’m going to deal with in this blog, however, is not LWP’s latest proposal – although, with just three months to go till the CfD auction, it smacks of desperation – but with what appears to be a fundamental failure of governance at Stornoway Trust.

Let’s go back a couple of weeks, to when the news broke that someone was planning to develop a six-turbine, 24MW project, at Tol Mor in Upper Barvas, beside the Morven Gallery.

The developer, we learned, was David Still – incidentally, the man who was in charge of the big Lewis Wind Power project back in the early 2000s before it was thrown out by the government.

Back to current day, though, and Mr Still was quoted in the first story to appear about the project as having described it as “small” in scale. Small it is not.

In planning terms, anything over 20MW is categorised as a big project and the turbines would be significantly bigger than any currently operating in Lewis, with a 150m tip height.

Then it emerged that the land owner behind the scheme was Norman Maciver and that this would be his own private project.

On one hand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Mr Maciver is a businessman and he owns the land where he wants to build his wind farm.

LAND

As a business proposition, it seems straightforward and he is perfectly entitled to seek to make a profit from his land – the same as anyone else would be. That is his right. 

But on the other hand, Mr Maciver is also the chairman of the Stornoway Trust. And this is the Stornoway Trust that has repeatedly rubbished the four crofting townships which are trying to develop community-owned wind farms on their own common grazings, even implying they are being selfish.

See my previous blog, The Stornoway Wind Farm Thumbscrews, for more about that. 

“Pure brass neck”, as someone described it to me, but this points to a deep problem with how our estate is managed. And in the Barvas project, we have a question about basic governance. 

The question remains: Did the chairman of Stornoway Trust properly and timeously declare what is, on the face of it, a potential conflict of interest? The four townships sent a measured letter to the Stornoway Trust’s factor, Iain M Maciver, questioning this.

INTERCONNECTOR

They began their letter with the fact that “there will be limited space on the local Lewis grid – even after any grid upgrade or new interconnector”.

As such, anyone seeking to develop a wind farm in Lewis “is in competition for the limited potential space on that grid with other developers”.

In other words, the fact the scheme is in Barvas, outwith the Stornoway Trust area, is irrelevant – it is still in competition with every other scheme in Lewis and Harris, seeking to get space on the grid, and this competition exists whether or not there is a big new interconnector, and regardless of whether it’s labelled ‘transmission network’ or ‘distribution network’.

The townships’ letter argued that there was a clear potential conflict of interest “between Norman Maciver’s position as a private wind farm developer and his role as Chairman of the Stornoway Trust….when he is involved in decision making by the Trust, or in making comments on behalf of the Trust, which pertain to any other wind farm developments seeking to use the Lewis grid”.

The various responses from the Trust to this letter do not seem to have addressed any of these points substantively. They seem to amount to little more than a declaration of ‘fake news’ and are accompanied by the usual swipe at those daring to ask a question. 

Let’s look more closely at what the responses actually were. 

First, on the timing of his declaration of interest.  

In the Press and Journal, Mr Maciver said: “There is no conflict of interest, it is false and untrue to say so. As a private individual some 17 miles away from Stornoway, I am undertaking a scoping exercise for a wind turbine. I told my fellow trustees at the earliest opportunity.”

In the coverage on Hebrides News, he said: “The trustees of Stornoway Trust were all informed of my plans when the scoping was lodged with the Comhairle, which was the appropriate time.”

In a bid to establish a timeline, I phoned up developer David Still and asked him when he started having discussions about the possible Barvas project.

“We were approached by the landowner towards the end of last year,” he revealed.

So that is weeks if not months before the chairman informed his fellow trustees.

I put it to you that the real “earliest opportunity” of informing his fellow trustees would have been as soon as business discussions had begun about the private windfarm. Not after a planning notice was made public by the Comhairle.

Second, on the subject of his declaration of interest, Norman Maciver said the trustees of Stornoway Trust were “all informed”.

Not according to one of Mr Maciver’s fellow trustees.

BBC

I have a copy of the email in which Mr Maciver informed fellow trustees of his wind farm plans. 

It was sent on Wednesday, January 16 at 4.03pm and it reads: “I am contacting you all, to inform you that a Wind Farm Scoping application has been submitted to the Comhairle in my name, through Wind Farm Consultant /Developer Stillwind Ltd.

“This proposed development is located on my farm at Barvas…I have already been contacted by Eilidh Macleod from BBC Radio for comment, which I have given. I do not see a conflict of interest with my position with the Trust, BUT (his capitals) if anyone (sic) of you feels different, then I am more than happy to meet to discuss.”

Leaving aside the matter of Mr Maciver informing his fellow trustees just when the story was about to break in the press, the email did not even go to all of the other trustees.

It was never received by Colin Maclean – who has been elected to represent the people of the Stornoway Trust estate just as the other trustees have.

Given that Colin Maclean is the trustee most likely to ask the awkward questions, and least likely to  follow the party line, there are questions to answer about why he was left out of the loop. He is the dissident voice. 

I asked Colin directly about the Trust’s claims that “all” the trustees had been told and “all” were apparently supportive of the Trust chairman’s position.

FACEBOOK

He told me that nobody from the Trust had been in touch with him about it – and that he had learned about the Barvas wind farm plan from his boss at Woody’s Express, on January 31, two weeks after the email was sent to the other trustees.

“It was Woody that told me about it. He basically said that it was on Facebook. I said, ‘what are you on about, a wind farm in Barvas?’ ‘Norman DHM’. ‘First I bloody heard of it,’ I said.

“I basically get kept in the dark and get told what I need to get told and they tell me nothing. You probably know more about it than I know because I don’t know anything. It’s unreal.

“How can all the trustees be supporting it when I don’t know anything about it and nobody’s saying anything to me about it? I certainly haven’t supported it. It’s a joke.”

Sadly, though, it’s no laughing matter.

This appears to be a serious failure of governance in an iconic organisation which should be at the heart of healthy public life in Lewis – a glowing example of what community ownership can achieve – but is falling short. 

CONFIDENCE

Stornoway Trust – that same trust that holds no public meetings, publishes no public accounts, and has no website – is not doing too well on the governance front. 

And if it is not exercising due diligence on a matter as simple and straightforward as this, how can it expect to have the public’s confidence when it comes to its dealings with a mighty multinational?

See Lewis Kermack’s guest blogs on this site – Who Is Your Landlord? and Who Is Your Landlord 2: The Facts – about the lease with Lewis Wind Power for more on that.

The apparent failure to apply due diligence, to enforce good governance, and to ask questions, falls short of the standards we have a right to expect from our community landlord.

On current evidence, its governance is not fit for purpose.

Stornoway Trust has broken down.

Katie

Comments 5

  1. You might find the other ‘supportive trustees’ will now submit their own wind turbine projects . It is almost like the Chairman recognises his lot are going to lose the argument. The agreement with EDF and Company should be cancelled and a new trustees who have the crofters interests at heart be selected. EDF can be tricky on a good day.

  2. Go Hebrides Writer – saying what most of us know…but how the heck do we change it? The Trust did they best to extract extra cash from me unfairly when I bought my croft until I threatened them with the land court…No wonder we have ZERO faith in the one organisation that is supposed to support and look after crofters.

  3. The Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) provides comprehensive information and advice concerning the roles and wide-ranging responsibilities of charities and Trustees. Much advice is given on matters of governance, ‘conflicts of interest’ and ‘best practice’ in these regards. Where the Stornoway Trust is concerned, It is difficult to find any evidence that the OSCR’s requirements have ever been acknowledged, never mind followed.

  4. Anyone with common sense can see that there is a ‘perceived’ conflict of interest if nothing else. The Trust takes no external advice on matters of governance it would seem. They advise and interrogate themselves. They operate in a complete bubble and there is nothing that anyone can say or do that seems to have any impact. That’s democracy for you – it’s like something out of the dark ages.

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