A call has been made for new legislation to give crofting communities the same rights as landowners when it comes to developing renewables projects on crofting land. At present only landowners have the legal right to develop hydro or wind energy projects, even on common grazings that has been used by crofting communities for generations.
The call has come from Calum MacDonald, the former MP for the Western Isles and the author of the Crofter Forestry Act in 1991 which gave crofting communities a similar right to develop forestry schemes. Mr MacDonald claims that the reform will “revolutionise the development of renewables in the Highland and Islands and put local communities in the driving seat of a key industry of the future.”
Mr MacDonald’s proposal is twofold:
first, to give grazings committees a new right to apply to the Crofters Commission to develop a renewables project on their common grazings, similar to crofter’s current right to apply to develop forestry projects. The landowner would be asked to give his or her consent as currently happens with crofter forestry
second, if the landowner declines consent, Mr MacDonald proposes that the grazings committee would be entitled to take their case for development to the Scottish Land Court in the same way as landowners are currently entitled to do.
Normal planning consent would also be required, as for any renewables project. Mr MacDonald is the Development Director of the biggest community-owned renewables company in Britain, Point and Sandwick Power, who have a consented 9 MW wind project on the Isle of Lewis and who have recently submitted plans for a second 18 MW wind farm outside Stornoway. The net community income from the two projects is estimated to be in excess of £3 million a year and will be used to support a range of community and job-creation projects in the Western Isles. Mr MacDonald said:
“Under the current law, only a landowner can initiate renewables projects on crofter grazings, even when that land has been worked by a crofting township for countless generations. Crofters’ legal rights are restricted to cutting peat, grazing animals and planting trees. This is a ridiculous Victorian arrangement which is completely out of step with modern Scotland.
“We need a Crofter Renewables Act to do for renewable energy what the Crofter Forestry Act did in the 1990s for forestry. Crofters should have the same right to harvest the wind for energy as to cut peat for fuel, and the same right to plant turbines as to plant trees.
“We would see an explosion of community enterprise as a result of this one, simple reform. It would liberate local initiative, benefit the environment, create a new industry in the Highlands, and act as an inspiration to the rest of rural Scotland. I am therefore appealing to all MSPs in the Highlands and Islands to take up this challenge and work together on a cross-party basis to achieve this change. It is not a complicated change to legislate and would be ideal for a back-bench initiative.”