All voices should be heard in Tolsta energy debate

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After Tuesday’s Community Council meeting in Tolsta when villagers discussed the proposal to build 14 wind Turbines, someone suggested that I seemed to know nothing of the pressures on Crofters today.

Another person suggested that the majority of views expressed at the meeting were from ‘incomers’, the inference being that their views were less relevant as a consequence.

From my experience of the welcome we received in moving to Tolsta, then, from my perspective, these views are not representative of the majority of people who live in Tolsta.

As far as my crofting heritage goes, then my grandfather was drowned on the Iolaire. My grandmother brought up a family seven whilst running a croft in the days when there was no social security, no NHS or crofting subsidies.

My father was a weaver and along with my siblings, we helped with all manner of ‘crofting’ activities.

Does any of this make any of my views more relevant? I think not.

As Islanders by choice or by birth, each and every one of us who lives here has a right to have our voices heard. We all have stories to tell.

Everybody’s unique and diverse heritage should be something to be shared and celebrated if we want to evolve and grow together as a community - a community that is facing a stark future in terms of depopulation and a lack of workers in critical professions such as Health and Social Care.

Dotted around this Island are memorials to the various land struggles.

The landowners of the past who cleared the land for sheep have moved on.

Many of the descendants of those who fought for the right to become shareholders and tenants of the land now seem to be telling those of us with homes and lives here (but no land) that the way ahead is to clear vast tracts of land so as to build such ‘risk free beauties’.

Some have even suggested that this is one of the few ways left to us to put bread on our tables and/or secure a better future for us all.

I am not sure that I agree:

1 - Crofters supporting this proposal and the Stornoway Trust seem to be doing so purely on ‘financial’ terms.

I have not seen any independent ‘economic’ assessment of the value to our community (far less these Islands) from this development in terms of the actual number of local jobs that will be created and sustained long term, how the so called community benefit element will be managed and redistributed in a way that personally benefits everyone, whether there will be any reduction in everyone’s (all Islanders) fuel bills given the levels of electricity that will be generated on our doorsteps from this and other developments and so on.

2 - Sadly, Tolsta is already on track to becoming nothing more than a retirement village or commuter settlement situated along the road to a beach with poor facilities for families, never mind visitors.

Are young people really going to want to come and settle in a place that may soon have no school, where the shop would close if it wasn’t for the generous subsidy it receives from the local Trust, where the majority of houses may soon be closer to a turbine than a majority of their neighbours?

3 - The original support for this development came from shareholders ie Crofters. The majority of people who have already written in to the Comhairle support the application are shareholders (i.e. Crofters).

Arguably, they have a vested interest. The rest of us can, of course, write in to support or oppose the application - whether any of us will bother to do so by the deadline is another matter.

As one with doubts, I wonder what the point is in objecting when the Government of the day is promoting and supporting such developments over planning considerations in any appeal process - and when the Comhairlie has a history of going against the safeguards and provision set out in their own Development Plan in approving applications such as this.

4 - Is it just me, but what level of crofting is actually being undertaken - anywhere? Why do we still have such outmoded, crofting laws that give more of a voice to people who do not work the land or who sub-let it?

Where is the voice of the Trust and especially the new members who promised so much during the recent elections? Has anyone heard anything from them?

The words openness, transparency and consultation all come to mind? I feel as I am living in a bygone era - in the realms of ‘Master and Factor’ and landowning feudal dictate.

Finally, no-one is really saying anything about the elephant in the room which concerns the money that some of our neighbours who are Crofters will receive.

The rest of us - their neighbours - will receive no compensation.

Sadly, we just face the prospect of low frequency, monotonous noise, a skyline of incessant, red flashing lights at night, visual disturbance during the day, property devaluation (based on current research), the environmental impact which is being downplayed in my humble opinion - to say nothing of the damage to village relations which is, perhaps, the saddest thing of all.

Disappointed of New Tolsta

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