Straight news today, for those of you following the ‘David and Goliath’ battle between French multinational EDF and the crofters fighting them for the rights to develop wind farms on their common grazings…
The Scottish Land Court has announced dates for its first hearing of the case between Stornoway Wind Farm Limited – the name for the Lewis Wind Power (EDF Energy and Wood group) project of 36 turbines – and the crofters who want to build their own turbines on the same grazings.
The hearing is for Stornoway Wind Farm’s Section 19A application under the Crofting Act – which seeks final permission to go ahead with their plan, despite opposition from crofting shareholders – and will take place in Stornoway on December 12 and 13. December 14 is also reserved in case it runs beyond those two days.
The hearing, to be held in the Rev MA Macleod Memorial Hall on Kenneth Street, will begin at 10am and will be open to the public.
Before then, though, a public exhibition is to be held in Stornoway Town Hall by the four townships seeking to develop their own community-owned windfarms, in opposition to Lewis Wind Power’s project.
The townships of Sandwick North Street, Melbost and Branahuie, Sandwick East Street and Lower Sandwick, and Aignish will have displays about their plans in the Town Hall on Monday and Tuesday next week, November 26 and 27, as part of public consultation over their planning applications which have now been lodged with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
Representatives from planning consultancy Aquatera, which is supporting the crofters in technical aspects of their planning applications, will also be on hand to answer questions and everyone is welcome.
The Land Court hearing next month, which will be about procedure, is the beginning of its examination of the dispute between Lewis Wind Power and the four townships who want to develop their own schemes.
The townships had applied to the Crofting Commission to develop these schemes under Section 50B of the Crofting Act, which allows for the development of common grazings land for non-traditional crofting use. The conditions are that the development has to be sustainable and all crofting shareholders have to be in agreement – which they were.
But the Crofting Commission rejected three of the four applications – it is still deciding on the fourth – after taking at face value the landowner Stornoway Trust’s claim that these projects would be to the Trust’s “detriment”, as it favours the bigger project from Lewis Wind Power.
However, the townships have already lodged their appeals over that decision with the Land Court and it is expected to consider the Section 50B appeals as part of the whole wider issue raised by the Section 19A later on down the line.
The convergence of these two planning applications before the Land Court, and the fact the hearing will examine who has the right to develop on crofting land – a private company given a lease by a landowner or the crofting shareholders of the common grazings – means this is being regarded as a test case for crofting rights across the Highlands and Islands.
The townships, who are seeking a total of 21 turbines across their four plans, argue that their case is economically preferable as community-owned projects return 20 times as much money to the local area as do private projects, such as the Stornoway Wind Farm, which belongs to Lewis Wind Power – a partnership of French multinational EDF Energy and the Wood Group.
It will be the Land Court’s decision that determines which developments go ahead in the Stornoway area – and arguably what type of project, community-owned or corporate, will have advantage in crofting communities across Scotland.
Official documents from the Land Court cite the respondents to Stornoway Wind Farm’s applications as “crofters having rights in (the) Stornoway Wind Farm site”. In reality, this means the 116 or so people who objected to the scheme.
The objectors, who largely come from the four townships planning their own schemes, will be represented at the hearing by Edinburgh legal firm Gillespie Macandrew.
Rhoda Mackenzie, spokesperson for Sandwick North Street, stressed what the townships were fighting for was control of the profits for the good of the whole of the Outer Hebrides. If the townships prevail, the Community Benefit fund from their wind farms will follow the same principles as Point and Sandwick Trust’s Community Benefit fund, which goes to causes throughout the island chain.
She said: “We are doing this for the benefit of the Western Isles and that’s what’s focused everybody here over the years. That’s what’s driving them.”
Referring to the fact Stornoway Trust had signed the lease with Lewis Wind Power without any public consultation at all, she stressed “the moral issue” of apparently losing control of the land that had been gifted to the people of the Stornoway Trust estate more than 100 years ago by Lord Leverhulme.
“It’s our land. It’s our grazings land and it’s been taken off us. It’s community land ownership in reverse.”
She was speaking at the top of Beinn Ghrideag hill, where the township representatives had gathered for a group photo on Monday.
Looking out over the Pentland moor with its views across Stornoway, Point and Arnish and over to the mainland hills, Rhoda said: “It’s quite emotional to be up here. To think every square inch of this ground was precious to the people here – for grazings, for peat – and it’s been taken off them.”
Kenny Morrison, one of the representatives from Sandwick East Street and Lower Sandwick, said: “If the Stornoway Trust had only come and talked to us at the outset away back, a lot of this would have been avoided. Everybody is desperate to keep the money on the island. It’s not just for this generation; it’s the generations to come – 70 years to come.”
Kenny added that in all the correspondence sent from his township to the Stornoway Trust, including letters sent by recorded delivery, the Factor had never once replied. Not since 2007 or 2008, when they began corresponding with him.
“We’re still waiting for a trustee to come to talk to us,” he said. “The only time they’ve talked to us was at the two public consultation meetings in the Town Hall about EDF’s plans. They were trying to sell it to us.”
Like the others, Kenny believes their Land Court case is “very much a test case”.
He added that Stornoway Trust needed to “come clean and tell every single person in their electoral area, who can vote, what they have actually done – what they’ve signed up to with EDF”.
Calum Buchanan, grazings clerk for Sandwick East Street and Lower Sandwick, added: “They are giving away our land from under us. It shouldn’t have reached this stage in the beginning, to have to fight for your own rights. It seems unfair.”
Angus Campbell, grazings clerk for Melbost and Branahuie, said the rights to develop the disputed turbines should stay with the community. “Then the money that’s going to be generated would stay in the island – and not like EDF, where it’s going to go down to pay for Hinkley Point.”
He also questioned where the Stornoway Trust and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar would get the money from, to buy the stakes of 20 and 30 per cent in Lewis Wind Power’s two schemes – Stornoway and Uisenis in Pairc – they have been offered.
Of the four townships, Aignish is the only one that has not had its Section 50b application rejected by the Commission – although the crofters won on six of the seven objections lodged by Stornoway Trust.
Donnie MacDonald, Aignish grazings clerk, said they had been informed by letter that the Stornoway Trust had objected to the Section 50B for Aignish – and that the township were getting the opportunity to respond, which it has done.
Donnie said: “I am encouraged that the Commission has given us an opportunity to respond to the Stornoway Trust’s feeble attempt to derail our Section 50B application. The best objection that the latter could come up with is that the community turbines would be to the ‘detriment’ of the Trust.
“They make no attempt to define the meaning of ‘detriment’. In point of fact, Aignish would pay the Trust the same, annual, rental sum as any other party would. Additionally, the rest of the income would remain within the community. It certainly would not find its way into the pockets of a French multinational.
“As is well-documented, community-led wind farms provide 20 times more income for the community than corporate projects. Inexplicably, the Stornoway Trust does not appear to grasp this fundamental fact.
He added: “The Stornoway Trust, while in scaremongering mode, continues to remind everyone that without their favoured French partner, the case for the interconnector is jeopardised. Nonsense! While the Trust gets its oversized granny’s knickers in a twist over this matter, the fact is that National Grid and SSE have publicly stated that they have no preference which developer applies for the interconnector as long as the megawattage is there to justify it.”
In conclusion, Rhoda said: “We are simply trying to replace 21 multinational turbines with 21 community ones. The overall total of turbines will remain the same. The interconnector case is not affected – if anything it is strengthened by having community turbines as part of it. We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think we were morally right and that the Trust were morally wrong in what they have done. The most prevalent comment you hear is, ‘they can’t do that – it’s our land’.”
• Pictures are by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos.
Ps. Since we were out there with a tripod and a camera with a timer, Sandie and I couldn’t resist a photobomb…It was all part of the craic. For anyone involved in something like this, it can be personally very difficult. So you keep each others’ spirits up whatever way you can and keep having a laugh.
It was a beautiful afternoon on the hill. Keep smiling, folks… x