Thursday, 29 October 2009

Faux pas

According to the Press and Journal newspaper, Scotland Office minister Ann Mckechin went flying on the proverbial banana-skin on Tuesday. She spoke in Parliament in Westminster, criticising the rejection by the Scottish Government of the Lewis Windpower Plan for North Lewis. You'll remember, 180 turbines, each 450 feet tall, stretching the 45 miles from Port of Ness via Bragar to Stornoway. The planning application was turned down as the windfarm violated an area, subject to a European Habitat Directive, which, would have subjected the UK government to very large fines indeed. The Scottish Government was therefore correct in rejecting the application.

It is a pity that our MP did not quote these reasons when replying to the Minister, instead saying that you can't foist something on people if they don't want it.

Ms Mckechin stated that the windfarm would have made a large contribution towards the renewable energy targets, set by the UK government. I am fed up to the back teeth with "targets". The same argument has been bandied about in relation to the Beauly to Denny powerline upgrade, and it appears to be a justification for not following proper procedures in the planning process. The RSPB suspects this also to be the case with regards to the Pentland Road scheme.

I want to make it clear that I am not opposed to windfarms perse - I just prefer to see them offshore rather than onshore.

St Kilda Centre

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="Cliffs at Mangurstadh"]Cliffs at Mangurstadh[/caption]

BBC Highlands & Islands announced this afternoon that the St Kilda Centre is to be sited at Mangurstadh, Uig in the west of Lewis. There were two other sites, Cleitreval (North Uist) and Leverburgh (Harris). There is also to be a St Kilda trail throughout the Outer Hebrides. The remoteness of St Kilda itself, 45 miles west of the Outer Hebrides, makes the siting of the centre in that island unpracticable.

All sites were commended by the working group for putting forward a strong case for themselves, as all 3 sites had great development potential. I am pleased that Mangurstadh, one of the remotest townships in Lewis (40 miles from Stornoway), will be the site of this centre. It will also boost tourism and visitor numbers to the district of Uig.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Windfarms and pylons - II

An update on the two stories I mentioned in my previous two posts.

The approval for the Pentland Road windfarm, 6 turbines near the Achmore junction, has elicited expressions of deep concern from the RSPB. They suggest that the siting of the turbines will adversely affect the golden eagles that live in the area. An environmental impact study, which accompanied the planning application, was described as shoddy, as not conducted in accordance with standards laid down for that type of investigation. The RSPB will now closely scrutinise proceedings and decide on a course of action. As I said last week, a poor exercise in accountability and now, it would appear, an even poorer exercise in planning.

The Beauly to Denny upgrade story from Monday appears to have been a leak, and has blown up into a bit of a storm. One person has alleged that approval for the upgrade was already decided on before the public inquiry was held. I am not at all surprised, bearing in mind the UK government's policies on renewable energy targets. What surprised me was the assertion that all of Scotland's energy needs could be met from renewables, without recourse to nuclear (which I don't much like either) or other technologies, such as clean coal.

What these two items have in common is an arrogant administration, whether it be Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, or the Scottish Government, thinking they are so powerful that they can ride rough-shod over the due planning process, and just making the right noises at the right time, without taking any account whatsoever of public opinion, scientific evidence or legislation.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Windfarms and pylons

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="203" caption="Beauly to Denny powerline (image courtesy BBC)"]Beauly to Denny powerline (image courtesy BBC)[/caption]

The BBC is reporting that the planned upgrade to the power-line between Beauly (near Inverness) and Denny (near Stirling) is recommended for approval by MSPs. The current line carries 132 kV, which will be increased to 400 kV. The pylons are expected to be 200 feet / 60 metres tall each, and there will be 600 of them along the length of the current powerline. The planning application for this upgrade has been the subject of a public inquiry, the report of which was submitted to Scottish Ministers 8 months ago. The application attracted 18,000 objections.

The upgraded powerline is important for renewable energy projects across the Highlands and Islands, as it will convey electricity, generated by these projects, to users in the Scottish Central Belt and into the UK National Grid.

Objectors have stated that this will irrevocably harm the iconic landscape of the Scottish Highlands, and adversely affect tourism. They also think that alternative options have not been sufficiently explored.

This issue is controversial, and involves high stakes, politically and economically. The Beauly to Denny powerline is part of a policy to cover Scotland's [sic] energy needs, without recourse to new nuclear powerstations.

The relevance to Lewis is high. As previously reported on this blog, a number of renewable energy projects are in the pipeline for this island, including a 39-turbine windfarm at Eishken, and a smaller 6-turbine project some 5 miles outside Stornoway. Similar schemes have been mooted for North Tolsta, Ballantrushal and the West Side between Shawbost and Dalbeg. Other schemes include a tidal barrage at Shader (although is probably only going to generate electricity for local consumption) and a wave-energy project off Great Bernera. In order to get this power to mainland consumers, a powerline will also have to be constructed between Little Loch Broom (Dundonnell) and Beauly, as well as a subsea cable (referred to as an interconnector).

Should final approval be granted by Scottish ministers (very likely), then we are likely to see the construction of the Eishken Windfarm go ahead at pretty short notice, and the same will apply to the Pentland Road scheme.

This blog has consistently voiced an opinion opposed to large scale windfarms, and in disagreement with the arguments mooted in favour. I do not believe that windfarms will bring long-term, sustained employment to the Isle of Lewis. There will be short-term work in the construction of the windturbines and electricity infrastructure. Once the turbines are in place, only a handful of people will be needed to monitor and operate the windfarm. The community benefits of the Eishken windfarm are spurious, in my opinion, as they require a massive cash injection from said community - and Lochs is not exactly the most affluent area in this part of the world.

The environmental impact will also be substantial, and I would like to take this opportunity to oppose the opinion, voiced in comments on the previous post, that windfarms do not harm eagles. They do. In California, dozens of the raptors are being killed by a massive windfarm in the desert there. I am also restating my assertion that although nobody is entitled to a view, views is what attracts tourism. That being a mainstay of the island makes a shore-based windfarm a good example of a shot in the foot.

Although the final decision rests with Scottish Ministers, I cannot imagine that approval for the powerline upgrade through the Highlands will be taken lying down by its opponents.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Pentland Road windfarm

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Pentland Road"]Pentland Road[/caption]

Not often mentioned on this blog, although very much on the radar for the past couple of years. And I use the word 'radar' advisedly. Four times, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have debated this windfarm, consisting of 6 windturbines off the Pentland Road, some 5 miles west of Stornoway. The Scottish Government had previously called in the planning application, as there were objections from air traffic control bodies. It now appears these difficulties have been overcome, with the advent of improved technology. The other minor difficulty, namely that this area of the island, just south of the Barvas Hills, is a habitat where golden eagles live, appears to have been conveniently overlooked.

Scottish Ministers have indicated the plan no longer requires their final approval, and a one-page sheet of paper, advising approval, has been circulated to councillors. This proposal predates the last Council elections in 2005, and quite a few of the councillors currently in office were not at the time the Pentland Road scheme was first launched. Neither are they, therefore, fully conversant with all the pros and cons of the scheme. None of this material is included on the single A4. Hardly surprising - each time I'm in Stornoway library, I need stilts to step over the mountain of paperwork that is the Eishken planning application, and this one (about 1/6th the size of the Eishken project) can't be much less.

I don't think it's an exemplary exercise in democratic accountability. I do think it is a blatant demonstration of this Council's rubberstamping policy where shorebased windfarms in the Western Isles are concerned.

Source: Hebrides News

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

800 years ago

According to Hebrides News, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is aiming to have new school premises ready at Tarbert, Stornoway and Balivanich by 1212. If you spot the mistake, all I can say is well done. Hardly anybody spotted it by the look of it. Certainly not the journalists at the Press and Journal newspaper, who do a regular copy and paste job on newsitems from Hebrides News, without rechecking facts themselves. You can see that for yourself.

I rarely have cause to complain about our local and regional news media, but this is a bit of an editorial failure.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Queen Mary II

This cruiseliner, the largest passenger vessel afloat, came blasting down the Minch on Sunday afternoon at 20 knots. It is on a round-Britain cruise, in celebration of the 5th anniversary of its launch. The first time I encountered it was in June 2005, when its waves disturbed the placid waters of the Sound of Shiant in thick fog. This time round, it was visible, but at a distance of 12 miles from Stornoway. As I type, the QM2 is docked at Greenock, and will depart for Liverpool later this evening.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Queen Mary II passing down the Minch, as seen from Stornoway"]Queen Mary II passing down the Minch[/caption]

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Extended summer service

Our MP has asked for the ferry summer timetable to be extended into November. Its current validity runs out next Saturday, October 24th. He states that the slashing of ferry fares, due to RET, has promoted ferry traffic last summer. Mr Macneil appears to be unaware though that the tourist season tends to end at the close of the midterm break, i.e. by the penultimate weekend in October. Five years ago, when I was travelling western Scotland, I could not help but notice that everything ground to a stop by October 24th or thereabouts, and that was not related to the ferry services. Being in the Isle of Skye at the time, which can be reached by bridge, it was very noticeable. Also, the Stornoway to Ullapool ferry service is the same right through the year. Other services in the Western Isles do see a reduction in service though.

However, if the summer service is extended in November and leads to an increase in tourist traffic to the islands, I'll be the last to complain.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Eigg and chips

That is the title of an excellent article on the BBC News website about the island of Eigg, situated about 90 miles south of Stornoway, 15 miles southwest of Mallaig off the coast of western Scotland. The islanders have gone from strength to strength since they gained ownership of Eigg in June 1997. Before that, they had suffered 30 years of maverick landlords who were only interested in the place as a playground or tax dodge. Said lairds were not prepared to make substantial improvements to the island. So, since June 1997, the islanders have done it themselves. In February 2008, they went live with a 24/7 electricity grid, after having to rely on capricious diesel generators for decades. Three windturbines, a handful of hydro-electric schemes, photo-voltaic cells - you name it they have it. And now the Eiggeachs want us all to join in. I can just about see them winning this Big Green Challenge for which they are shortlisted.

I have supported the islanders of Eigg for over a decade. And continue to do so. Go for it, guys!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Fly me to school

After following a link from Fletcher Saga (Stronsay) about inter-island flights in Orkney, my jaw dropped. S1/S2 pupils from Eday are flown to school on Mondays on a dedicated flight. Similarly, itinerant teachers are flown round the islands on dedicated flights as well. Oh well, go to Orkney for unusual air movements...


It was announced a few days ago that a major producer of farmed salmon in Scotland was planning to establish large fishfarms in the open seas of the Minch. Up till now, fishfarms have been sited in sealochs around the West Coast of Scotland. The fishfarms would be double the size of the present fishfarms and carry accommodation for its workers. Such units apparently already exist in Norway and Canada.

Whether this is a good idea or not is difficult for me to judge. Salmon farming on an industrial scale carries environmental risks, such as those posed by the toxicity of substances used to treat infestations and infections in the fish; the amount of effluent generated by the fish and the problems of dead and escaped fish. The abovementioned proposals quote a shorebase at Barra, but I cannot imagine that this would generate much employment for these islands. The processing plants, such as existed in Scalpay and Stornoway, have been either closed, mothballed or downgraded - for the simple reason that they are not on the mainland.

I am posting this entry very much as a discussion piece, and welcome considered comments.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Who is who?

Reposting this entry due to technical problems - apologies

Researching the two Rolls of Honour for the Isle of Lewis yielded a strange piece of confusion. Although I have requested assistance from the Historical Societies for Uig and East Loch Roag, I do not expect this to be cleared up anytime soon.

The two servicemen pictured below are both described as John Macleod from 1 Enaclete and Finlay Maclean from 36 Breasclete.

[caption id="attachment_1079" align="alignnone" width="269" caption="Finlay Maclean, Breasclete - Roll of Honour 1916"]Finlay Maclean, Breasclete, Roll of Honour 1916[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1076" align="alignnone" width="450" caption="Finlay Maclean, 36 Breasclete - Roll of Honour 1921"]Finlay Maclean, 36 Breasclete - Roll of Honour 1921[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1078" align="alignnone" width="262" caption="John Macleod, Enaclete - Roll of Honour 1916"]John Macleod, Enaclete - Roll of Honour 1916[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1080" align="alignnone" width="450" caption="John Macleod, Enaclete - Roll of Honour 1921"]John Macleod, Enaclete - Roll of Honour 1921[/caption]

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Scottish Islands Federation

About 8 years ago, I got involved with the Scottish Islands Network, which sought to bring all the Scottish islands together - the Hebrides from Islay to Lewis, as well as Orkney and Shetland. The aim was to pool knowledge and resources to combat the challenges faced by all islands, irrespective of their location. A funding crisis brought this laudable initiative to its knees, as only Argyll & Bute council were providing finance, with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar issuing rebuff after rebuff, and Orkney and Shetland equally disinterested.

SIN was reborn as the Scottish Islands Federation in 2006, and although they appear to be static I have been reassured they are not. So, I have been asked to relay a request for people in ALL Scottish Islands, not just Lewis, to get in touch. SIF is looking for new members, individuals as well as community groups. There is an application form on the website.