The crofters of Aignish Township on the Isle of Lewis have, resoundingly, voted in favour of submitting a Section 50b application to the Crofting Commission, following a shareholders meeting on the 20th of October.
The Aignish Grazings Clerk, Donnie M MacDonald, said: “This is a wonderful result and I’m grateful for the faith that the community has shown for the work of the Grazings Committee.”
The application, together with those already submitted by Melbost & Branahuie and North Street Sandwick townships, will directly rival wind turbine development plans on the same grazings by a private consortium led by energy giant Electricité de France which is 85% owned by the French Government.
The Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2007 allows for a wide range of community developments to go ahead on crofting land and gives powers to the Commission to override landowners who may be opposed.
If approved by the Crofting Commission, the application would be seen as a major boost for Aignish crofters to develop their own land in a manner of their choice.
The Community Landlord, The Stornoway Trust, is expected to oppose the application, as the Trustees signed away all development rights over Point and Sandwick grazings in 2003, to Lewis Wind Power, the multinational consortium led by EDF and Amec Foster Wheeler.
This 25-year lease was negotiated without any consultation with the crofters and prevents them from developing their own energy schemes.
Section 50b makes provision for crofters to use their common grazings for any sustainable development, even when the landlord is opposed, so long as a majority of crofters have voted in favour.
The Aignish Clerk commented “I’m astonished at the gross incompetence of the Stornoway Trust in accepting the derisory offer by LWP (about £600,000 per annum community benefit) while the two multinationals will enjoy profits of up to £30 million per annum over 25 years.
“In sharp contrast, the existing community wind-farms in the Western Isles produce nearly £2million of community benefit per annum.
“Surely it makes more sense for all of the townships (working together) to develop the land which is, rightfully, theirs and keep what is a huge sum of money for the benefit of all the people of the Western Isles.
“This is a terrific opportunity which we must all grasp. I note that the Council continues to support the LWP project.”
Mr MacDonald rejected claims by LWP (which has plans for 36 large turbines) that their application threatens the case for the proposed grid inter-connector between the Western Isles and the mainland.
In a recent statement, National Grid made it perfectly clear that they would have no preference as to which group applies for the inter-connector.
A spokesman for National Grid said: “We have an obligation under our Transmission Licence to treat all customers in an open and fair manner and we have no preference on which projects drive the Needs Case for the link and we are happy to discuss options for connection to or use of the Transmission System with any parties looking for a connection.”
The Clerk stated: “An example to emulate would be the Beinn Ghrideag project, which is the largest community wind-farm in the UK and all of whose profits from its three turbines (on Sandwick grazings) are distributed to the larger community.”