The struggle to establish new community owned windfarms on the Isle of Lewis takes a step forward

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Plans by crofting townships for two new community wind farms on the Isle of Lewis have taken a new turn with initial planning documents for the developments being submitted to the Comhairle.

Sandwick East Community Wind Farm and Melbost and Branahuie Community Wind Farm would be developed on common grazing lands on two sites on the Pentland Road, outside of Stornoway, with 18 turbines generating up to 90 megawatts of electricity.

But the plans are opposed by The Stornoway Trust and local wind power development company, Lewis Wind Power, which already has planning consent for its own development on the same site.

In September, the Grazings Committees of Melbost and Branahuie, Sandwick East Street, and Sandwick North Street lost their initial battle with The Stornoway Trust for use of the sites, under a process known as a Section 50b Application.

The Crofting Commission, which decides such cases, sided with the Trust over the rights to develop the land, concluding that success for the Townships in their application would be ‘detrimental to the interests of the Stornoway Trust’.

The Township applicants rejected the Commission’s refusal and vowed to fight on, taking the matter to the Scottish Land Court.

This week a spokesperson for the Townships said: “The submission of planning applications does represent an optimism and a determination, not just with the planning applications, but about the principle of crofting communities rather than landowners having the rights to decide what happens on their grazings land.

“That is a fundamental principle, and we have won on six out of the seven objections raised by the landowner in the Section 50b application. The Crofting Commission upheld one of the objections and that’s why the Commission rejected our Section 50b application.

“We believe the Crofting Commission was wrong in law as well as wrong in principle and that is why we have already submitted appeals to the Land Court so that the matter can be decided there.

“This is too important in principle not to be pursued to its final conclusion.”

The Townships’ interpretation of the Section 50b decision was previously dismissed by The Stornoway Trust as ‘disingenuous’.

The Trust is working with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Lewis Wind Power to develop the wind farms at Stornoway and Uisenis, and they claim that the large scale development is central to the economic case being made to secure a subsea interconnector cable to transport the energy generated to the mainland.

The Trust and the Comhairle also claim that the development they are backing would secure the best returns for local communities on the islands – claims disputed by the Township developers.

The Township developers have also organised public consultation events on 26 and 27 November in Stornoway Town Hall prior to submitting full planning applications, and their spokesperson confirmed: “There will be representatives of the four townships there throughout both days to answer any questions.

“There will be displays and there will also be representatives there from Aquaterra, the environmental studies and planning co-ordinators, who will be able to answer any questions about the planning applications.”

In October Lewis Wind Power held public events to update on their plans for the wind farm, including increasing the heights of the proposed turbines to 155 metres for those closest to Stornoway, and 187 metres for those in parts of the development furthest from the town.