Saturday, 25 April 2009

Walls and schools

I don't have any kids, so should not really comment on the schools row that continues to smoulder like a moorland fire. However, I am just wondering what the object is of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar running against the brick wall that is the Scottish Government. If they say the review regarding closure of S1/S2 schools was not carried out correctly, then it wasn't carried out correctly? Why can't that just be accepted graciously? At the end of the day, the government is boss.

To rehash, CNES plans to close four rural secondary schools in Lewis. These offer first and second year secondary education, for later years the pupils go to the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway. The savings made by these closures are to be used for five new schools. There has been an ongoing row between the Scottish Education Minister and CNES, and the latter are now urged to go to court to seek a judicial review of the process. I'm not an expert on these matters, but it looks to me like a waste of money. If the procedures were not followed correctly by CNES, they were not followed correctly.

The last line in a report on Hebrides News (source for post) says it all - please note I am copying verbatim:

It does not make any rhythm or reason

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


The Environmental Services Committee of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has decided to approve the planning application for a 26-turbine windfarm in the Pairc area of Lochs. Subject to approval by the Scottish Government, the windfarm will be constructed in moorland south of Habost, Kershader and Garyvard to Gravir. Full council are likely to ratify the decision next week. The project costs more than £100m, is expected to create several dozen jobs, and have a great impact on the environment of South Lochs. Personally, I'm quite opposed to the scheme - I am among several thousand who have lodged objections with the Scottish Government.

Outline planning permission has also been granted for the new Nicolson Institute buildings along Springfield Road. The Health & Safety Executive have advised against the proposals, as they lie on the outer edge of a blast zone of the Scotia LPG plant further east along Sandwick Road. It is possible that the Scottish Government will call in the scheme, which will lead to delays. It is worth stressing that HSE only have an advisory role, and cannot torpedo any proposals. Their advice does weigh heavily though.

Above stories courtesy Hebrides News, with a sprinkle of my own take thrown in. I would like to link to a reaction, submitted by a Lemreway resident to the news that the Pairc windfarm was likely to be rubberstamped by the Council. It quite adequately summarises my opinions regarding the Comhairle on the matter of windfarms.

Out of town - Uig

Last Saturday, I returned to Ardroil and Timsgarry in Uig. I had not been there for nearly 3 years, if memory serves. My primary objective was to photograph wargraves in the cemetery at Ardroil, then walk across to Timsgarry to photograph the war memorial opposite the former church. The area, fronted by Traigh Uige, is one of the most scenic areas of the island. There was not a noise to be heard.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450" caption="View from Ardroil Cemetery"]View from Ardroil Cemetery[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450" caption="Farmhouse at Ardroil"]Farmhouse at Ardroil[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450" caption="Baile na Cille from Traigh Uige"]Baile na Cille from Traigh Uige[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450" caption="Bay behind Baile na Cille"]Bay behind Baile na Cille[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450" caption="Roadsign at Timsgarry"]Roadsign at Timsgarry[/caption]

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Out of town - Barvas

Old Church at Upper Barvas

Croftlands off Loch Street, Barvas

Loch Mor Barabhais, with Brue on skyline

Shoreline at the machair, Barvas

Out of town - Bragar

For the third time this year, I have ventured beyond the cattlegrid. In January, I went to Tolsta; in February I visited someone in Ness and this month I've gone wild on the buses. Well, we've been having some absolutely fantastic weather this week. So, I dusted off my wargrave photography file and found that I still had a number of cemeteries that require my attention. Apart from the (in total) 80 wargraves that I located in the graveyards at Bragar, Barvas and Ardroil, I naturally took advantage of my visit to capture the scenery. At its best in the sun of course.

I started off in Bragar on Wednesday.

Croftlands at Bragar

Old winch at Bragar beach

Teampull an Eoin, Bragar Cemetery

Butterflies on a stone

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Talking up or down

The Harris Tweed industry has suffered serious setbacks in the last few years, in terms of capacity. The Kenneth Mackenzie mill on Stornoway's Sandwick Road has been mothballed, after owner Brian Haggas said he did not need it to make anymore tweed for his line of jackets - which are selling like antonymic hotcakes. Not, in other words.

I am not being negative for the sake of it, but in recent times I have watched with total bewilderment how Harris Tweed has been talked up by everyone from the Scottish Government down, with fashion parades in An Lanntair in Stornoway as well as in the Big Apple, New York. That is all fine and dandy, and I should applaud the promotion effort. But what is the use of promoting a product for which there is not the production capacity? Correct me if my facts are way out, but I though that the KM mill in Stornoway had 80% of capacity. So, if that is out of commission, how on earth is all that demand, being talked up out there, going to be met? Maybe that should be addressed as a matter of priority. But how?

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

105 years ago

On 29 June 1904, SS Norge ran aground on a rock near the islet of Rockall, 200 miles west of the Scottish mainland in the Atlantic. The ship, which carried 750 emigrants from eastern and northern Europe to a new life in America, sank within minutes. 635 people drowned, 160 managed to escape in lifeboats. One of these was located by a fishingboat which put the survivors ashore at Stornoway. Nine succumbed to their ordeal and lie buried at Sandwick. Although I'm remembering this ahead of the date, I am flagging it up in order to remind that there were other maritime disasters with high casualty figures.

SS Titanic sank 97 years ago today with the loss of more than 1500. Although that is the worst loss of life at sea in peacetime, and should be remembered appropriately, the Norge and the Iolaire must not be forgotten either.

I have no hesitation in reposting on this subject (original post)

Eishken Windfarm

Hebrides News reports that the Energy Minister, Jim Mather, will NOT make an announcement on the Eishken Windfarm when he visits Stornoway on Thursday (16th). We will not hold our breath waiting.

Monday, 13 April 2009


Is probably an understatement to describe my state of mind upon hearing more and more information on the hazards of the LPG plant in the Newton area of Stornoway. A former emergency planning officer at the Comhairle has written a letter to Hebrides News, outlining the actual hazards and risks that the plant poses for its immediate environment, should the worst happen. It doesn't make for nice reading. Do nip over, and see what you think. If you like, leave a reaction here, or wherever you feel appropriate.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Gas holder as seen from Sandwick Road filling station"]Gas holder as seen from Sandwick Road filling station[/caption]

Friday, 10 April 2009

Safety regulations

The Nicolson Institute along Springfield Road in Stornoway is due for replacement, as the buildings are at the end of their useful life. For the last few years, various locations have been proposed for a newbuild school. The latest plans (NB: PDF-file) have hit a snag. Apparently, they lie within the so-called blastzone for the gasholder, about a quarter of a mile away. The Health & Safety Executive have raised an objection for this reason.

The Comhairle are going to apply to the Scottish Government to overrule the HSE, as otherwise planning permission could be denied.

Now, I can see that the planned school, along Matheson Road and Sandwick Road, is further away from the gasholder than the Comhairle's own offices. You could even argue that the present day school is closer to it than the new proposals. However, after the explosion at the Buncefield Depot in Hertfordshire in December 2005, I feel that HSE should be listened to at the very least.

Windfarms and powerlines

At the moment, one windfarm in Lewis (Eishken) looks set to get the go-ahead from Scottish Ministers next week; the other one, Pairc [South Lochs], is still subject to public consultation. Following an error, the term for submitting objections to it was extended until 17 April (next Friday).

Any electricity generated by on-shore windfarms in Lewis will have to be transmitted off the island to its mainland consumers. The current link, which reaches the Western Isles through Skye, has nowhere near the capacity to cope with the projected output of the 53 turbines in Eishken as well as 26 turbines in South Lochs. A subsea cable will have to be laid to the mainland, Dundonnell on Little Loch Broom, and from there underground to a powerstation near Beauly, just west of Inverness. From Beauly, the electricity will be taken south to a major switching station at Denny, near Stirling.

This requires the entire infrastructure to be upgraded. The regional press is reporting that Highland Council is opposed to an expansion of the site at Beauly, in its current form. The upgrade of the lines to Denny has been subject to a public inquiry, and the outcome of that is awaited.

The relevance to the Lewis windfarms of all this is, that should the infrastructure upgrade not get the overall go-ahead, the windfarms cannot be built.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Spring is springing

No, I have not been out of town in recent times, so no images of lambs. Yet.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Saturday 4 April 2009

Arnish Fabrication Yard

I am pleased to note that a deal has finally been reached for this site of heavy industry to be reopened. Sixty jobs are set to be created when Fife-based firm Bi-Fab moves in on a 12-year lease. I would like to refer to this article on Hebrides News for the finer details on the deal. The reason for my previous cynicism on this deal lies in the poor track record of previous tenants of the Arnish site - Altissimo was the third operator to have pulled out last December with the loss of 45 jobs at the time. Basically, the reliability and sustainability of previous operators was shown to be poor. It is not clear to me whether a clause compelling Bi-Fab to keep the site open for meaningful economic use is part of the contract. In other words, whether the jobs at Arnish are sustainable or not. At present, Bi-Fab have a bulging order book and are apparently desperate for capacity.

I wish them, and their workforce, well.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Eishken Windfarm

It was reported in a Scottish Sunday newspaper that Scottish Energy Minister, Jim Mather, looks set to announce the approval for the 53-turbine Eishken Windfarm within the next two weeks.

I have commented extensively on this windfarm in the past, and made my opposition to it clear. Justification in terms of economic benefit has been rendered empty by the continued vacillation of the Arnish Fabrication Yard, where the turbines were going to be made. They will not. Current negotiations with Fife firm Bi-Fab will, if successful, result in the yard reverting to fabrication for the oil industry. The talks have been on-going for 6 months without result.

I find the hypocrisy of the Energy Minister breathtaking. He has allowed the closure of the Lighthouse Caledonia fish processing plant at Marybank with the loss of more than 100 jobs. Its assets have been shipped to a fish processing plant in Mr Mather's constituency in Argyll. He has promoted the continuation of a windfarm producer at Machrihanish, again in his constituency, who in all likelihood will produce the turbines for Eishken. Of course, this all subject to the usual tendering process (sic) and approval for the Beauly to Denny powerline, which is essential for exporting the power to the Scottish Central Belt. Because, are we in Lewis going to get any cheap electricity out of this? Get real.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Buses continuing

The first week of the new bus timetables has seen much moaning and groaning around the islands, and justifiably so. However, I don't think it is quite fair to gripe at "three timetable changes in as many days", when there has always been a different service on Saturday, no service on Sunday and then a weekday service on Monday. That is taking it a bit too far. However, I have been reading some ridiculous stories this week about even the drivers not knowing when to go where, how, and at what time. And I resent playing the man rather than the ball, but it's not terribly clever for the person in charge of public transport to go on holiday at the time the timetable changes.

I am also a bit flabbergasted why this has come as a bolt out of the blue. As far back as last December (see this link from Hebrides News) these intended changes were already being publicised. Looks like they were not publicised widely enough with all the gnashing of teeth and bashing of heads against walls that I have been witnessing over the past week.