Island residents of South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula, are celebrating a decade of running their own estate, by unveiling ambitious plans for creating jobs and growth.
Purchased at a cost of £4.6 million, Stòras Uibhist is the largest community buy out since the Land Reform Act passed in 2003, giving crofters and communities the right to buy the land they live on.
With a population of 3,500 people, everyday affairs are now managed by a community company, Stòras Uibhist, led by a board of directors each elected to serve for a three year term.
Stòras Uibhist has now started planning for the next decade with a focus on strengthening the local economy with major infrastructure investments and grants to support job creation.
At a special conference titled: ‘Creating, attracting and retaining employment in remote rural areas’ in South Uist last Friday, Storas Uibhist announced plans to build a new distillery with micro brewery, to create an enterprise zone to boost sales of island food products and to further extend the harbour at Lochboisdale to accommodate a new ferry terminal for the next generation of ferries. This will include a commercial pier for industrial use and visiting cruise ships.
The strategy also includes a new village around the harbour, the renovation of dozens of derelict homes for low cost housing and tourist rentals and a heritage trail celebrating local history.
The chairman of Storas Uibhist, Angus MacMillan, who also led the successful buyout campaign ten years ago, said: “The next decade is about growth. With 25 staff now working for the Estate, we have set in place strong foundations for the future.
“The economic future of the islands is in our own hands and our focus will be on creating jobs, stemming outward migration and increasing the population.
“We have a huge opportunity to use the natural resources of the islands, at land and sea, for the benefit of the people who live here.
“We need to build more houses, attract new people to the islands and increase tourism.”
In the first ten years of its existence, Stòras Uibhist has led the development of a £10 million wind farm with profits reinvested locally.
It has also raised funding for the creation of a £10 million marina at Lochboisdale and redeveloped the Old Tom Morris links course at Askernish, which attracts golfers from all over the world.