Battle lines set over Spiorad na Mara

​A decision by crofters in Shawbost to refuse access for a meteorological mast vital to the Spiorad na Mara offshore windfarm seems to signal a protracted battle over the project’s delivery.
Northland hope to develop the site just off the coast of Lewis.Northland hope to develop the site just off the coast of Lewis.
Northland hope to develop the site just off the coast of Lewis.

The decision to refuse the request from Northland Power for a strip of common grazing close to the shoreline for siting a 120 metre mast was taken unanimously by an unusually well attended meeting of shareholders in New and North Shawbost grazings.

One of those who attended told the Gazette: “We were all given an opportunity to say what we felt. Everyone was wholeheartedly against Northland siting the mast on our common grazings”.

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Asked whether the decision was specific to the application or reflected wider hostility to the project, our source replied: “It was a bit of both. The majority of reasoning was that if we allowed this to happen, it would open the door to the development, which nobody wants.

“There were financial incentives to accept so it was a considerable decision for people to turn it down. However, when set against the principle of the wider development, it was a unanimous ‘no’.”

The stance taken by the grazings committee will support the view that Northland have failed to win “hearts and minds” on the west side of Lewis, opening the prospect of each component part of the proposed offshore wind development running into similar challenges.

Even supporters of the project say Northland need to step up their communications and clarity about community benefits.

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The next front is a planning application which has been lodged for a small meteorological unit in what opponents say is “an uninhabited domestic property” in North Shawbost.

They claim the fact Northland is behind it was not made clear in the initial application and are calling on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to extend the period for objections.

Meanwhile, Northland have started a round of meetings with community councils.

Tanya Davies, project director of Spiorad na Mara, commented: “We are aware of the decision taken by the Shawbost grazing scommittee, a number of months ago, to end discussions with us in relation to the potential placement of a meteorological mast on their land. We fully respect and accept this decision.

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“This is one of a number of locations that was considered for this temporary structure and discussions are continuing with other landowners. If an agreement is finalised, an application will then be submitted for permission to erect the temporary mast and we will make the community aware of this process”.

Ms Davies continued: “We have previously communicated that we are committed to delivering a community investment package over the lifetime of the project – with the scope and size of this package yet to be determined.

“Further details on how our community benefit work – and work on all other aspects of the project – is progressing will be provided during our public consultation later this year and local communities will have an opportunity to provide their feedback at that time.

“We recognise that people have questions and concerns about the project and we are committed to providing opportunities for all sections of the community to share and discuss with us. We are broadening our community engagement and communication and will continue this throughout all phases of the project.”