Sunday, 27 December 2009

End of year

I am posting this off island, until my return in the New Year. Keeping abreast with developments from afar by virtue of this medium, the Internet.

I was concerned to read of the larger than normal number of chimney fires in the Hebrides. The advice was to sweep the chimney at least twice a year if you're burning coal, and more frequently if you use peats or wood. The latter cause a lot of soot to accumulate in the chimney, which in turn can catch fire if you decide to fire up well.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have posted a video which shows what the refurbished Town Hall will look like if the proposed work goes ahead. You need the Quick Time program to view it, which can be downloaded free from the linked webpage.

You may remember the 14-year old army cadet who drowned in Loch Carnan, South Uist, in August 2007. Kaylee Macintosh was pinned under an overturned craft by her buoyancy aid. Her parents are planning to sue the Ministry of Defence for £525,000 compensation.

Finally, the news that the Pairc Windfarm has hit yet another stumbling block. Scottish and Southern Energy, the developers of the project, have moved £25 million to another project, putting back the construction of the South Lochs windfarm back a number of years. If it gets planning permission in the first place.

To all readers, in the Hebrides or elsewhere, best wishes for a good, healthy and prosperous 2010.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Friday blogpost

A very good Friday to you all as we enter the final week in the annual Christmas Countdown, which started - at the end of the last Christmas. The weather has turned suitably Christmassy a week early, and I fully anticipate a miserable, grey, wet and mild Christmas morning this time next week. When I venture into town later today and/or tomorrow, the shops will be heaving and the people overburdened with overexpensive Christmas gifts. Where have the days gone that you could get someone a prezzy for five quid and they'd be overjoyed? Here in Stornoway, and indeed elsewhere in the Hebrides, we can all shop in safety. It has just been revealed that citizens of the Western Isles of Scotland are watched over by the largest number of CCTV cameras per head of population: 8.4 per 1000. Our august capital city Edinburgh has to get by with fewer than 1 per 1000. There are other benefits associated with living in northern Scotland, you know. Up here, people know how to deal with 6 inches of snow. OK, I grant you, there are many more people in southern England than in Highland Scotland, which is home to 220,000. And snow is more of a rarety down there than up here, but still: 6 inches of snow and the entire shebang grinds to a halt. Here in the Western Isles, with its grossly overstated reputation for bad weather, we're having a quiet day with light, variable winds and the odd light shower. Granted, when the weather does get bad (statistically speaking once every 7 days), it can get really nasty. But people are prepared for it, used to it happening, and all the more grateful for the return of the sun. Even if, in December, she only appears for 6½ hours in the day. Another aspect of life in the Hebrides is that news tends to be relatively benign. Spats over the Town Hall refurbishment and the location for a centre about St Kilda assume high levels of importance, not to mention the fact that our local radiostation (Isles FM) may finally get a decent home. At present it is located in a former boatshed on the seafront at Newton Street. When there is a hailstorm (common in winter), the presenter can get drowned out by the noise. In summer, when the door is open, you can hear the binlorries going by, planes flying overhead, and people having a natter outside. In the middle of the newsbulletin. Which tends to miss all the local news that really is of importance (with the odd exception), and instead focuses on the deeds of our elected representatives to the Scottish and British parliament. Oh, they actually do something?? Must listen out. Isles FM can be heard on-line, using the link above. Well, must go for lunch.

St Kilda Centre in Mangersta

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have decided this evening to site the proposed St Kilda Centre in Mangurstadh, in the Uig district of Lewis.

Apparently, there was a lively debate (read: the feathers fairly flew) where those in favour of Uig said there was nothing wrong with the way the decision was reached, and those against (mainly North Uist and Harris representatives) said there actually was something wrong. The final vote afterwards showed 17 votes against and 14 votes in favour of running the entire selection process again - so Mangersta it is.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Stornoway Town Hall - II

On Saturday (12th), about 100 people demonstrated outside Stornoway Town Hall against the proposed changes to the building's interior. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, who I have freely criticised on other issues in the past, has finally spoken out to clarify what the refurbishments plans will and will not entail.

  • A removable stage, to be deployed when needed for performances

  • Sales of work and craft fairs can still be held, benefiting from (in fact) an increased floor space area

  • The community functionality will continue

  • Office space is already present in the building, the Council Service Point (off Point Street), which was very much in demand at the time of its opening

The overall aim is to increase usage of the building.

An on-line facility is to be provided to allow people virtual access and a walk through facility, to see what the proposals would actually look like.

More information on Hebrides News.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Community buy-outs

After the historic news of the Pairc ballot, as reported in previous "breaking news" post, the movement of community buy-outs in Scotland is moving into new territory. Previous buy-outs in Scotland were always reached in amicable agreement with the sitting landlords, starting with the Assynt buy-out in 1992, followed by the Eigg buy-out in 1997 (which succeeded as the sitting landlord forfeited his estate through absence of funds) and the Galson and South Uist buy-outs in the Western Isles. I am aware I am omitting a number of other estates where buy-outs were successful. The Pairc Trust has announced it will now launch a hostile buy-out bid.

The Scottish Government has recently been accused of allowing the community buy-out movement to lose impetus. It is to be hoped that Scottish Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham will adopt an attitude, more supportive towards us in the Outer Hebrides. Her ill-advised comments on Harris Tweed (which she described as a garment for the landed gentry of the Victorian era) and perceived lack of enthusiasm for issues pertaining to this part of the world only lead me to hope that there is change on the horizon on the part of Holyrood.

Returning to the issue in hand, I want to point out that it is five years ago since the Pairc residents voted to mount a community buy-out for their estate. Since then, the Galson and South Uist estates have successfully moved into community ownership, whilst Pairc languished in the doldrums of legalistic minefields, laid by the estate owner. The issue of a potential windfarm most likely prompted this course of action, as the prospect of a windfarm greatly increases the value of the land.

I would like to congratulate the Pairc Trust on this great result, and the people of South Lochs on their wisdom in voting for this historic move.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Pairc buy-out ballot: In favour

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Garyvard, as seen from Caversta"][/caption]

This evening, the votes were counted in the ballot on the hostile community buy-out bid for the Pairc Estate. I have informally been told that 52% of voters were in favour, and 48% were opposed. A close result by any standards, and certainly in the context of South Lochs, which only has a few hundred people as residents. Those 4% equate to about 10 to 15 people.

This means that a hostile buy-out bid will now be pursued - if the current talks with landowner Barry Lomas do not achieve the results, desired by the Pairc Trust. The stakes are higher than may appear on the surface: should the planning application for a windfarm on the Pairc Estate receive approval from the Scottish Government, then the value of the land will skyrocket.

Once I have formal confirmation of the results, I'll post that in the comments section of this entry.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Town Hall plans

I've had a good look at the refurbishment plans for Stornoway Town Hall, and have taken note of the opposition to the plans. I can understand that people don't like change - it's not always for the best. However, I have to say that I find the opposition to the refurbishment plans, with all due respect, ill informed. As I understand it, the current stage will be replaced by an exhibition area. Access to the groundfloor of the Town Hall is to be given from the square to the west of the Town Hall (if anyone can remind me of the name of that square, which has a fountain in a rock in it, I'd be much obliged). Obviously, the entrance from Cromwell Street will be kept. The floorspace will be retained. Upstairs, the seating is to be removed, but the balustrade will be retained and turned into a functional area. Disabled access lifts are to be installed (high time). Upstairs, offices will actually be merged into more functional areas.

Personally, I am not opposed to the refurbishment plans. I understand and respect the wish of people to retain the stage in the Town Hall, which has been the focal point for many of the island's key historic moments. However, its current functionality is reduced from what it was 5 years ago. The An Lanntair cultural centre has taken over as the main venue for cultural events, and the Town Hall is being used on only a handful of occasions each year. I cannot remember whether a retractable stage is on the cards to take the place of the current fixed one (maybe wishful thinking).

I realise that, with 1200 people signed up to the Facebook group, opposing the refurbishment, including well-known names like Phil Cunningham, I'm going to be in the firing line. But I'm allowed my opinion, and have not shied away from controversy before.

Anyone wishing to register their opinion (for or against) can do so on the Council's website. There is no timelimit on objections.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Refurbishment plans for Stornoway Town Hall

This post is to raise awareness of a planning application for a refurbishment of Stornoway Town Hall. They can be accessed on the planning website of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and it is possible to leave feedback before 13 January 2010. Initial reactions on local blogs and websites is scathing, and a Facebook group has already been set up in protest.