Hope for community control over Uist fuel depot

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The possibility of community control of the fuel depot in Uist is now being explored after the Gazette discovered the lease costs just £5,000 a year.

Information obtained from the Ministry of Defence, which owns the site at Loch Carnan, revealed that Certas Energy (formerly known as GB Oils) has been paying £5,000 per annum for use of the depot.

The price has stayed the same since 1986 and Certas Energy have occupied the site on a year by year basis since 2007. Currently a new lease between the MOD and Certas Energy is being prepared.

Cllr Uisdean Robertson, who is chair of the newly established Uist Association of Community Councils, said the idea of the council or a community group taking over the fuel depot is now being explored, with the Comhairle legal department looking into the lease.

He said that the price of road fuel in the Uists can be up to 10 pence per litre more than prices in Lewis and Harris, with the islands also suffering hugely from fuel poverty.

“Anything we can do to help that situation we should do,” he said.

Cllr Robertson said there is a feeling that the Uists had been left behind when fuel prices fell in Lewis and Harris and competition was introduced to the market. The changes in the northern Isles have been widely put down to the actions of Gordon ‘Diesel’ Maclennan, who broke free of his contract with GB Oils.

In the Uists, however, only Certas Energy currently have access to the fuel depot at Loch Carnan, and although Highland Fuels have started delivering heating oil, there is still a monopoly in regards to road fuel.

The idea of community controlled fuel depots has been raised several times, including by Gordon ‘Diesel’ at the recent fuel meeting held by the Competition Markets Authority (formerly called the Office of Fair Trading). Similar hopes for the community taking control of the Stornoway depot are less likely as the Shell Street Depot is owned by Certas Energy.

Cllr Robertson described it as ‘extraordinary’ how little the Loch Carnan site lease cost and said it could be in reach of the Comhairle or a community group.

“It’s not much really,” he said. “But it depends what costs you would need to add to it.

“We would certainly need a feasibility study.” He continued: “What we are really concerned about is the state of the tanks [at Loch Carnan]. The tanks, as far as I know, need significant investment.”

The information gained by the Gazette also reveals how much the site of the fuel depot cost the MOD. There are various land transactions between 1959 and 1970 that make up the ownership and leasehold interest at Loch Carnan.

In 1959 part of the site was bought from private sellers for the price of £40. In 1982 another area was purchased from the South Uist Estate for £100. While in 1967 a section was purchased for just £1 from a private seller.

The remaining parts of the fuel depot are leased by the MOD from the Crown Estate and are then sub-leased to Certas Energy. These parts of the depot cost the MOD £850 per annum and £10 per annum. Both leases between the Crown Estate and MOD are currently being negotiated as part of a new master agreement.