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?
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.
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.
“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