Crofters remain hopeful

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A Crofting Commission’s decision last week on the right of three Isle of Lewis townships to develop their own community-owned wind farms is being hailed as a major step forward for their campaign, despite the fact the Commission rejected their applications.

Campaigners claim that the ruling by the Commission has confirmed the principle they were fighting for – that crofting communities have the power to develop wind farms on their common grazings land without the landowner’s consent.

They say the grounds on which the Commission turned down their applications was not on this key question of principle but on a separate argument as to whether their wind farms would be ‘to the detriment’ to the landowner, a point which the crofters dispute because they have offered to pay the same rent as any private developer.

Rhoda Mackenzie, a township representative, said: “This Commission decision, while disappointing in its final conclusion, is a major breakthrough for the rights of crofting communities and leaves us much further ahead than we thought we would be at this stage.

“This is such a revolutionary use of the law that we always knew it would have to be confirmed in the Land Court at the end of the day, but at least we now have the Commission’s endorsement on all the substantive points of principle.

“Our outstanding disagreements with the Commission are on a point of fact and of procedure which we are happy to let the Land Court decide.”

In its decision last week, the Commission rejected the landlord’s objections to the principle of using 50B.

The Commission decided that Section 50B was not limited to agricultural uses only and said there was no “express restriction in the uses to which the part of the common grazings can be put, other than that the use must not be detrimental to the interests of the owner”.

The townships are now preparing their appeal to the Scottish Land Court, to overturn the decision that their developments would be detrimental to the landowner and also on the grounds that the landowner’s objection was submitted a year late.

But the townships believe they have already achieved a major victory in demonstrating that 50B can be used in principle to develop any large community project on the common grazings – not just community wind farms – without requiring landowner consent, provided the detriment argument can be met.

Calum MacDonald, former Government Minister and MP for the Western Isles as well as founder of the UK’s largest community-owned wind farm (the Point and Sandwick Trust wind farm at Beinn Ghrideag), said: “The Commission’s decision is historic as it begins to reverse the traditional relationship of landowners and crofting communities in Scotland.

“Crofting communities have stewardship over half a million hectares in Scotland and some of the most spectacular and treasured landscapes in Europe.

“Now, for the first time, these communities can take the initiative in the sensitive and sustainable development of this land whether or not they have the landowner’s consent.”