I’ve been blogging on this so it’s only right that I post this update: hundreds of objections have been sent to the Scottish Land Court over EDF’s plans to build a 36-turbine wind farm on crofting land in Lewis without the crofters’ consent.
These plans for the Stornoway Wind Farm scheme, by multinational engineering firm EDF and their current partners in the scheme, Amec-Foster-Wheeler, have gone in under Section 19 of the Crofters Act.
As I’ve said before — see ‘A few days to save the next 70 years’ and ‘Pressure grows on Allan and MacNeil as Comhairle’s SNP group declare support for crofters’ — the Section 19 application is significant because it seeks approval for a development on crofting ground regardless of the actual views of the crofters themselves.
It doesn’t matter whether they are in favour or not; the power to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ lies with the Land Court. In this case, we know there is strong opposition because four of the crofting townships whose land is earmarked for EDF’s development want to develop their own community turbines in the very same places.
At a meeting last night, representatives from the townships counted the number of known objections so far. They came to more than 200. They know about these because they’ve literally gone round the doors in their villages but they also understand that crofters from neighbouring villages have submitted objections as well.
It’s a story that is gathering a groundswell of support and is getting national attention. Yesterday, it featured on page eight of The Herald and in the online magazine Scottish Energy News. It also featured in the Daily Mail last month. It is virtually always described as a “David versus Goliath” battle.
High-profile figures are coming out in support of the crofters on social media, including mountaineer and broadcaster Cameron McNeish, who appealed to Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse to intervene on Twittter, while journalist Lesley Riddoch and environmental campaigner Alastair McIntosh have also tweeted about it. Many others have also done so.
Meanwhile, the crofters from the four townships — Melbost and Branahuie, Sandwick East Street, Sandwick North Street and Aiginish — have written to MP Angus Brendan MacNeil to express their “extreme disappointment” at his lack of support for their case, particularly in the light of the recent statement in their support from the SNP group of councillors at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. They have written to SNP group leader Gordon Murray, formally thanking him.
The letter to Angus Brendan has been copied to MSP Alasdair Allan and Gordon Murray. It is signed by representatives from the four common grazings committees. They are Donald MacDonald (Aignish), William MacFarlane (Melbost), Calum Buchanan (East Street) and Rhoda Mackenzie (North Street).
In the letter, the townships reminded the MP that there was “a very tight time scale” for action over EDF’s Stornoway Wind Farm, as the deadline for objections to the application is Thursday, August 24.
They reminded Angus Brendan that they have applications with the Crofting Commission under Section 50B which are still to be determined and pointed out that, if Section 19 is approved by the Land Court, the townships will instantly lose their development rights to the common grazings for the next 70 years.
If Section 19 is approved first, their Section 50B application will be dead in the water and if / when the interconnector and CfD challenges are overcome, EDF’s development will be first in the queue.
They wrote: “It is with dismay and concern that we have to bring to your attention that with or without a decision on CfD, or indeed the interconnector, the effect of a Section 19A will remove the potential aspirations of crofters of these townships to develop their own wind turbines on their common grazings.
“We therefore once again request your parliamentary support.
“Also we now urge you to publicly call upon Stornoway Wind Farm Limited, being the multinational conglomerate between EDF and AMEC, to immediately withdraw their Section 19A application from the Land Court and not resubmit until after your lobbying for Scottish Islands on-shore CfD, along with the proposed new Western Isles interconnector, have come to a resolution.
“We are confident that Scottish Wind Farm Limited will not openly defy a direct call from you as our elected parliamentary representative MP in the House of Commons.”
The SNP group of councillors at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar posted a statement of support for their crofters on their group blog on August 11. It said: “The Comhairle Group wholeheartedly supports crofters in their aspirations to own and develop wind energy companies which pertain to their grazing rights.”
In terms of the number of objections to the Land Court, Willie MacFarlane of Melbost said: “We are delighted at the response of crofting shareholders and indeed of many other members of the community to EDF’s attempt to seize control of our grazings without the consent of the crofters. It is clear that people are disgusted with the attempt by EDF to try and remove our development rights over our own grazings.
“We are determined to use our grazings for community-owned development and not for EDF’s plans and this striking response from the community shows that clearly.”
Rhoda Mackenzie of Sandwick North Street said: “From the reports we are getting from individual crofters and their families, it seems that there have already been hundreds of objections sent to the Land Court to the EDF proposals.
“This is the clearest possible proof of the strength of feeling in the communities about the attempt by EDF to deprive us of the right to manage and develop our own grazings, including building community-owned turbines which will use the profit for the benefit of the whole islands community.
“We are grateful for the strong support we have received from the SNP Group on the council and we have written to them to thank them. However, we are extremely disappointed at the failure of the MP and the MSP to support the crofters on this issue.
“They must realise that they are effectively colluding with EDF to rob the communities over their rights to the grazings. I hope this massive number of objections is a wake-up call to them to swing their support behind the crofting townships.”
When asked for his position this week, Angus Brendan said he was “working hard” with UK government to get the ‘island’ category of wind projects included in the next round of the Contract for Difference (CfD) — a government scheme which guarantees electricity prices for renewables projects and is seen as essential for new developments.
“Otherwise nothing happens,” he said, refusing to answer the question of whether he would intervene on the crofters’ behalf over EDF’s Section 19 application to the Land Court.
Asked for his response, Alasdair Allan said: “There will be a variety of views about how to get the maximum community benefit out of potential future wind projects across the isles.
“However, for now the priority is ensuring that the interconnector actually happens and that the UK Government finally gives the go-ahead to island CFDs. Our efforts are focussed on getting the right political decisions about the interconnector and making sure that the development takes place within an acceptable timescale.”
Watch this space.
Featured image: Community wind farm developer Calum MacDonald and campaigner Roddy Cunningham, a resident of Sandwick East Street, surveying the lie of the land. Picture by Murdo Maclean and used with thanks.