Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Coastguard update

Some good news regarding the campaign against cuts in the coastguard service. I quote from Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon:
Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth): From his visits to Cornwall, the Prime Minister will appreciate the high regard for the coastguard service there and around the UK. I am reassured that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), has said that the current modernisation proposals are not a done deal. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is very important to get the plans right?
The Prime Minister: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. She is a Cornish MP, and I am sure that she and the whole of the House would want me to say how much we feel for our colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who lost her husband in a tragic fishing accident. That demonstrates the extraordinary risks that people in coastal communities take, and our hearts should go out to her and her family.
We want to make changes only if they improve the coastguard support that people in fishing communities and elsewhere get. That is what the reform is about: trying to ensure that the real impetus is on the front line. If that is not the case, we will obviously have to reconsider the reforms, and that is why they are being reviewed. What I would say to everyone who cares about this issue is: work with us to make sure we get the maximum amount in those lifeboats and other ways of helping our fishing and other communities.
This would appear to indicate that the proposals to downgrade or close Stornoway CGS are dead in the water.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Road closure

Between 11 April and 18 July, Sandwick Road in Stornoway will be closed to eastbound traffic (heading towards the airport and Point) between Matheson Road and Smith Avenue / Island Road. Westbound traffic will be unaffected. Diversions will be put in place, going along Island Road or Smith Avenue. The council recognises that the tight corners which will have to be negotiated turning into Island Road from Newton could pose problems for large vehicles like HGV and buses and coaches. This map shows the possible diversion routes.

Bus timetables

Today, 25 March, the summer timetables for the buses in the Western Isles came into force. Until yesterday, all bus routes in Lewis and Harris had their timetables combined into a handsome little book, which was handed out free to all who were interested. As of today, timetables are handed out a route at a time (there are nearly two dozen different bus routes in Lewis and Harris). This may be convenient for residents (I doubt it), but is thoroughly inconvenient for visitors who may wish to use several different routes.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar advises that it has stopped producing the timetable booklets for reasons of cost. I find that poor service. £160,000 is being spent on slopping some emulsion paint and ceiling tiles on the reception area of the Comhairle’s HQ on Sandwick Road, but providing a service for one of the pillars of the local economy costs too much. Even if the costs were prohibitive (how much does it cost to produce a glossy, full-colour, 52 page A5 sized booklet?), a small charge could be levied to cover the costs.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Pairc buy-out: approved

I am very pleased to learn that the Scottish Government have now approved the right of the Pairc Community to force their landowner, Mr Barry Lomas, to sell his estate against his will. It is understood that Mr Lomas is considering legal action against this decision.
An independent valuation of the land will be carried out, after which the Pairc Trust has six months to come up with the money. If this is successful, projects for the regeneration of the area can be implemented.

This saga has dragged on for more than 6 years, starting in November 2004 when the community voted to go for a buy-out. The estate owner has used every delaying tactic in the book, trying to frustrate the legal right of the residents to buy the estate.
A complicating factor has been a proposed windfarm for the Pairc Estate, which (upon approval) would send the cost of the estate spiralling out of the reach of the Pairc Trust. Whether this will be given the go-ahead remains in the balance, particularly now that the Scottish Parliament is about to rise for elections on May 5th.

I would like to join with the Rural Affairs Minister in wishing the Pairc Trust every success in raising whatever funds are required for the purchase, and in their endeavours to regenerate the Pairc area of Lewis.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Coastguard protest

At 2pm, a march was held from the centre of Stornoway to the Coastguard Station, just down the road from my position. It was well attended, about 200 people were on the march, with a police escort and the pipe band keeping up the spirits in the face of inclement conditions. Local politicians held short speeches once outside the CGS. The march was in protest against proposed cutbacks to the Coastguard service. The below video shows the march as it files past the Tesco supermarket on Shell Street.

March passing along Newton Street

Rally at the Coastguard Station

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Harris Tweed

I am very late in flagging up the fashion show in Harris Tweed that took place in An Lanntair last Saturday. The occasion was the 100th anniversary of the Orb trademark. Those who have read my postings over the past five years will be familiar with my stance on the matter, but I have given myself time to come up with an approach that is looking more to the future rather than the past. Else you’d be going forward in reverse.

It is good to see that there are still people about who are willing to give Harris Tweed a place in world of fashion and beyond. It is certainly laudible that the range of garments is being expanded beyond the old jacket ranges. I sincerely hope that this brings a demand for the Clo Mor, a demand that will be met by supply.

Harris Tweed is not just about the product, it is also about the production. It can only be called Harris Tweed if it was hand-woven in the Outer Hebrides, and verified under the Orb trademark. There is a movement afoot to train new weavers, after many of the old weavers ceased operations. I hope that Harris Tweed can regain the place it so nearly lost after the disastrous mismanagement of the recent past.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Double summertime

Plans for another trial of double summertime have recently been put back on ice. Having the United Kingdom in the same timezone as continental (western) Europe was trialled around 1970, and turned out to be a non-starter. Certainly here in the Western Isles, which are 7 degrees longitude west of London, this would lead to a very skewed day, particularly in winter. On the shortest day of the year, it would leave sunrise at 10.15 am and sunset at 4.34 pm.

So, I’m glad things are going to stay the way they are. If only because of the following words of wisdom:

When told the reason for Daylight Savings Time, the Old Indian replied: “Only the Government would have you believe that by cutting a foot off the top off a blanket and sewing it onto the bottom you’d have a longer blanket”.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Renewables expo

Attended the Martins Memorial Hall this afternoon to view an exhibition by Stornoway Wind, where proposals for a windfarm west of the town of Stornoway were put on display. It is for 47 turbines in the area broadly between the Barvas Hills and the Grimshader road. If all goes according to plan, the windfarm will be operational by 2015.

The expo also expounded on the community benefit, which includes economic and environmental benefits, such as jobs and reduction of carbon footprints.
There were several photo montages, showing how the windfarm would look from various parts of the island, from Ranish in the south of Barvas in the north. And I still don’t like the prospect of a flurry of 300 ft turbines barbed-wiring the skyline. Call me a nimby, but I have not changed my mind since the large AMEC windfarm hit the buffers a few years ago.
On a more positive note, I was pleased to see plans afoot to install a Pelamis (sea-snake) wave energy generator north of Great Bernera. This has virtually no visual impact, although I can imagine that it would be in the way of local fishery. Whether such is the case needs to be investigated.

The only drawback to this project, (and additionally to the windfarm project as well) is that the energy, generated by these renewables assets has to be exported to the National Grid, necessitating the building of a submarine electricity cable, colloquially referred to as the Interconnector. I have expressed my opposition to this project in previous posts - in summary, it would industrialise the village of Gravir (where the cable would come ashore in Lewis), burden the Lochs district with large electricity pylons and have a substantial impact on the West Highlands (from Dundonnell to Beauly).

Monday, 14 March 2011

Pairc buy-out

The community buy-out of the Pairc Estate has been in progress, if that’s the correct expression, since 2004. Although the people of Pairc have voted in favour of the community buy-out twice, the estate owner has gone out of his way to frustrate, thwart and delay at every twist and turn.

The Scottish Government has been in a position to make a decision on the buy-out since October 29th, 2010, and has repeatedly made noises that an announcement was imminent ever since. Today’s article in Hebrides News that we can expect a move from the Scottish Government merely elicits the following reaction from this blogger: seeing is believing.
The one complicating factor is a proposed windfarm on the Pairc Estate, which, if approved, would send the price of the land beyond the reach of the Pairc Trust.

This is an unholy saga which shows the Scottish Government in a most unfavourable light, with regards the community land ownership issue. Apart from procrastinating over major decision in the renewables and land ownership issues, possibly trying to reach the decision that curries most favour, the Scottish Government is also singularly passive with regards the actions of the Pairc landlord. He has been employing all possible means to frustrate the buy-out process - including fomenting trouble in the community of Pairc. I have seen (written) evidence of that with my own eyes, so am not reluctant to make that statement.
Before we descend into the political caterwauling ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections on May 5th, I hope the Scottish Government will keep its promise and make a decision on Pairc.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Coastguard services

It was announced today that the consultation period on the revision of Coastguard services around the UK coast is to be extended by 6 weeks. This move has been welcomed by campaigners, who were displeased by the postponement of a debate in the House of Commons on the issue until just before the old deadline of 24 March. The deadline is now 5 May - the date of elections to the Scottish Parliament.

Plans as they stand at present would see the closure of the Coastguard stations at either Stornoway or Shetland, with the remaining station only open during daylight hours. The CG station at Aberdeen would be the only one in Scotland open 24/7. An active campaign has been waged since January against these proposals.

On Saturday 19 March, a march and rally will be held in Stornoway in support of the campaign against the reduction in Coastguard services. The march will start from Stornoway Town Hall at 2pm, and will lead along Shell Street and Newton Street to the Coastguard Station at Battery Point. The distance is 1 km, or just over half a mile. The rally will be held at the Coastguard Station at 2.30pm.