Monday, 24 December 2007

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

An afternoon at Gress Beach

On Monday afternoon, I went to Gress, with the aim of locating some of the wargraves in the local cemetery. Having achieved that objective, I ambled down to the beach along the river. Although it was barely above freezing, the cloudscapes and light were magnificent.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Lichen mottled gravestone, set against the dunes"][/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Light over the Gress River, overlooked by Lighthill, Back"][/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Gress River from the old road bridge"][/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Lines of surf on Gress Beach"][/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="240" caption="Ice in the verge of the road at Na Creachan"][/caption]

Friday, 7 December 2007

Golf on Sunday

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Stornoway Golf Course under snow, March 2006"][/caption]

Stornoway Golf Club have applied to their landlord, the Stornoway Trust, for permission to play golf on Sunday. A previous application, 2 years ago, was turned down with a unanimous vote. Having sought legal advice, the Golf Club have announced that another refusal to play golf on Sunday will result in a legal challenge.

Quite frankly, I do not see what harm a game of golf does on Sunday, bearing in mind that the golf course lies outside the town centre.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Economy and environment

These two factors in island life are presently on a collision course.

The North Lewis Windfarm, which would see 181 turbines scattered over the 40 miles between Stornoway, Bragar and Port of Ness, has been billed as the salvation to the economy of the Western Isles. The developers of this windfarm, Lewis Wind Power, claim that it could bring 400 jobs to the islands. The project is worth £512 million.

On Tuesday of this week, a deal was struck between LWP and the current operators of the Arnish Fabrication Yard, who are working under the name Camcal. Under the terms of this agreement, the Yard would manufacture the turbine towers as a whole. This would generate work for 50 to 70 workers over a period of 5 years.

This is of course depending on whether the Scottish Government approves the scheme. One of the major objectors, the RSPB, has threatened to take the UK Government to court if the Scottish Government does give the green light to the windfarm. The RSPB alleges that the environmental impact study, a requirement for the windfarm planning application, was not carried out properly. If the European Court finds in favour of the RSPB, the UK government is liable for a multi-million pound fine.

It is probably more likely that a public inquiry will be held into the whole scheme.

A parallel can be drawn between a certain golf course development some 200 miles east of Lewis, sponsored by a certain billionnaire whose roots lie a few miles north of Stornoway. When this development was voted down by the local council a week ago, all hell broke loose in the local community, who found themselves deprived of a £1 billion business opportunity. The Scottish Government got involved, and the whole process is going to take rather longer than originally anticipated.

The parallel is about the influence of big money.

I have made my personal opposition to the windfarm clear in many previous posts. One of the reasons is the economic and monetary benefits for the Western Isles. Fifty to seventy jobs stand to be generated at Arnish for 5 years, which (objectively speaking) is a good thing. Other jobs will be generated through the construction of the towers on site. To my layman's eye, the promise of 400 jobs will never be met.

The compensation to the local community, £5 million per annum, is derisory, when compared to the amount of money that will be made by the developers. LWP stands to make huge gains, and represent a company with multi-billion pound assets. These factors have given them the leverage to sway councillors' opinions; it meant that they got away with an incomplete planning application - if the RSPB are anywhere near right. The environment comes a paltry last on the balance-sheet for big money.

The local council sold us down the river. I hope the buck stops at Holyrood.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

The money pit

The Western Isles Health Board, currently nearly £4 million in the red, will not be handed a pot of money by the Scottish Government. Instead, the Health Secretary has announced that the Board will be assisted in moving forward in a constructive fashion. Health Board staff have demanded an inquiry, alleging weak management and lack of budgetary control. The Minister has not ruled out that such an inquiry could yet be held.

It is a bit disappointing that 15 months after a new management team was installed, nothing has changed on the financial front. Methinks it does need looking into, even though it was stated during the annual review yesterday that NHS Western Isles would remain autonomous.