Sunday, 29 December 2013

Pairc buy-out

After ten years, the community buyout of the Pairc Estate in South Lochs finally appears to becoming a reality. With the contribution of several hundred thousand pounds by public bodies, the Pairc Trust has now the funds available to take over the estate from present landlord Mr Barry Lomas. The way was rocky and unpleasant, but it is the result that counts. Whether the proposed windfarm will ever be built is dependent on the interconnector, and I recently learned that it could be quite a few years before that comes about - if at all. The winds of change are blowing through the renewables sector, with increasing numbers of people realising that windturbines are not as green as they are made out to be. Also, their output is not reliable, and requires back-up generation through other sources like nuclear, shale gas and the like. I don’t think the interconnector will come about - but only time will tell.
I wish the community of Pairc luck and sagacity with the acquisition of the land, and trust they manage it more in the interest of their residents than the outgoing landlord did.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Christmas lights switch off

On Thursday 5th December, there will be no Christmas lights in any of the streets of Stornoway. Only the Christmas tree in Perceval Square will be lit as a token gesture to the fact that the year is nearly over. After we lost some of the inter island flights and primary schools, we are now facing the dullest and most dismal prospect in years. Christmas spirit? Well, the only spirits around this year will be the ones in a bottle <chokes>.
Hey, AL, don’t be such a misery guts. Santa will be in his grotto in the former WeeW store, the pipeband will play for a quarter of an hour in the town centre and the shops are open late that day. December 5th? That’s the eve of the nameday of St Nicholas, Santa Claus. Ach, I’m sure everybody will have a whale of a time.Here are a few pics from Xmas decorations from years gone by…
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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

In clear contravention

It is a duty of our elected representatives to make decisions on our behalf, sometimes going against public feeling. Our elected representatives have more information than we, as individuals, may have. A council, like Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, has established policies to deal with (e.g.) planning applications for windfarms. To just throw those policies to the winds leaves the council, to my mind, with serious questions to answer. But will anyone ever ask those questions?

I am referring to the decision by the CnES planning committee to allow 14 turbines, each standing 126 metres (just over 400 feet) tall, to be built inland from North Tolsta, between Tolsta Glen and Diridean.
The scheme:
  • is too close to habitation
  • breaks the Western Isles Development plan
  • carries significant impacts on landscape, amenity and homes
  • endangers golden eagles at its northernmost point
In spite of that, a letter campaign by 53 residents (with only 1 against) was sufficient to sway the decision against all of this. The community was held to be unanimously in favour of the scheme. Councillors also stated that objections from people faraway should not be given much weight.

To my mind, having observed the saga of windfarms on Lewis over the past decade, it wasn’t the popular vote that swayed the planning committee. It was the fact that the scheme and its 42 MW output would provide the electricity needed to make the proposed interconnector to the mainland economically viable. SSE, who have spent this year dragging their feet over the issue, is due to make a decision before the end of December.
As ever, full council is expected to rubberstamp the planning committee’s decision later in the week. Oh, the community benefit will amount to a mouth-watering if not eye-watering £294k per annum.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Pairc buy-out

I have received information regarding the amicable buy-out of the Pairc estate, which was agreed to at a public meeting last Thursday (21st). One line stood out like a sore thumb.

The present Landlord will only consider the amicable purchase of the estate providing he will still benefit from any wind farm development post purchase, as if he was still the Landlord.

There is an interposed lease between PRL (Pairc Renewables Ltd) and SSE regarding the proposed windfarm. The SSE part has been taken over by the neighbouring Eishken Estate. Do not forget, in this context, that the Eishken Estate already has a windfarm (Muaitheabhal) ready to be constructed. They now stand to gain even more, once the Pairc Windfarm is up and running.

The outgoing Landlord will receive the same income from the 26-turbine windfarm as the Pairc Trust, namely £330,000 per annum. In spite of the fact, that (as outlined above) he no longer owns any land. £330,000 is not a small amount of money for you and me, but actually only amounts to £1,000 per person per year. That won’t go awfully far if we’re talking about economic regeneration. Two individuals will become very rich, gaining £8.4m over the 25-year lifespan of the project.

There are currently only 26 windturbines in the planning, but if the community wants more (thereby increasing their revenue), they can get more.

This is all depending on the construction of the interconnector (the sub-sea high-voltage electricity cable to the mainland). I am told informally that this is a done deal.
I feel, very strongly, that the people of Pairc have been sold down the river for a chest of beads and mirrors.  How on earth, after all these years of obstruction, divide & rule and non-cooperation from the Landlord, could people acquiesce to such terms?

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Pairc buy-out

On Thursday 21st November, a meeting will be held for residents of South Lochs and members of the Pairc Trust to determine whether the community of South Lochs will endorse a voluntary transfer of the Pairc Estate to the Pairc Trust. This would be in the place of the current Part 3 compulsory purchase, against the landlord’s wishes. The asking price is actually higher than under the compulsory purchase, and the difference is expected to be raised from the public purse.

Whilst an amicable transfer would of course be preferable, I am by no means convinced that in this case it is to the benefit of the community. The delaying tactics from the landlord have dragged this saga out since 2004, admittedly serving to show up all the weaknesses in the legislation. A favourable settlement would involve the same asking price, to name but a thing. However, full details on the T&C’s for this agreed transfer will be provided at the meeting.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Ferry tales

Our old freight ferry Muirneag sailed from Stornoway on 3 October to reach her new home in Turkey a fortnight later. On approach to Istanbul, she passed the Dardanelles, site of a bloody 9 month battle in 1915 which claimed half a million lives. Twelve of these were of men from the Isle of Lewis. I wish her well in her new life in the Black Sea.
Our new ferry Loch Seaforth is taking shape on a shipyard in Germany, and is expected to take over from the Isle of Lewis in July 2014. On Monday 11th November, the Pier & Harbour Commission will have an open day at the Stornoway ferry terminal for displaying their plans for the new ferry terminal. As the Loch Seaforth is larger than the Isle of Lewis, reclamation works will have to be undertaken to accommodate all the traffic. I’m wondering why this is only now being thought about, 8 months before the new ferry comes into service.
And although the Loch Seaforth is supposed to take the overnight freight runs as well, the relevant report on Hebrides News mentions that the linkspan on Pier #1 is to be refurbished - to take a future freight service. A prudent measure. During the summer, the ferry to Ullapool sails three times a day on Wednesday and Friday, leaving Stornoway at 6.00 am and completing the service at 1.45 am. Leaving just four and a bit hours to do the freight run which takes 8 hours back and forth. Well, I’m sorry, but even in the Outer Hebrides, a day only has 24 hours, not 29.

Saturday, 21 September 2013


On 19 September, the replacement for our freight ferry Muirneag, the Clipper Ranger arrived in Stornoway. Today, Saturday 21 September, the Muirneag was taken off charter for Calmac from V-ships and was tied up at the Arnish pier. The Clipper Ranger took over at the same time.

Muirneag has come in for an unfair bit of stick over the years, acquiring the nickname the Olympic Flame (because she never went out). The vessel has brought all our goods to the islands, in all weathers (remember that storm in November 2005, when she ended up 60 miles north of the Butt of Lewis?) and all seasons.

P9195296 The Clipper Ranger
P9195286 Muirneag at Arnish

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Windfarm subsidy approved

The UK government has announced that renewable energy schemes based on Scottish islands (like the Western Isles) will be given a higher subsidy than its mainland counterparts. This effectively is an incentive to build onshore windfarms in the islands.
This means that the interconnector, the subsea electricity cable taking the power to the mainland, will now be constructed as will the windfarms in Eishken and elsewhere.
This blogger has consistently spoken out against onshore windfarms in these islands. This decision is particularly galling, as the groundswell of public opinion has changed markedly in recent years. An increasing number of onshore windfarms on the mainland have been denied planning permission in the face of mounting public opposition. To my mind, the British government have designated the Scottish islands as the dumping ground for those renewable energy projects (read: windfarms) that nobody else wants, and which are nothing more than paying lipservice to the notion of green energy. Windfarms are inefficient and unreliable sources of energy (the last few days have shown how variable our windspeeds are).
This is a bad decision for our islands, who don’t stand to gain anything like what the development companies will be getting in terms of subsidies and revenue. We’re getting the beads and mirrors whilst our resources are being plundered. I’m not talking about wind energy. Having windturbines around destroys the wilderness aspect that lures so many tourists to these islands. It’s tourism that’s the mainstay of these islands’ economy, stupid. The windfarm in Eishken will yield a few million pounds in community benefit, once Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have worked out how to apply for charitable status for the relevant trust body that is supposed to receive those benefits.
Over the next two years, we’ll see a large fleet of construction vehicles on our roads. Over the next quarter century, the skyline of the Long Island will be marred by a large number of windturbines. Employment prospects for island workers will be low during the construction phase and negligible afterwards. We will not have the benefit of lower electricity prices. We only stand to lose from this announcement.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Interconnector: information meetings

SSE are holding two information meetings about the subsea electricity cable they are planning to lay across the Minch, between Gravir and Dundonnell. The meetings will be held at the Resource Centre, Ravenspoint, in Kershader (South Lochs) on Thursday 5th September, and at the North Lochs Community Centre in Leurbost the next day, Friday 6th September.

On both days, the meetings are open to the public from 10am until 7.30pm, with SSE staff on hand to explain what their plans will entail.

Please pass this information to anyone who is interested and in a position to attend.
The interconnector is a high-voltage cable for transmitting electricity to the national grid, which has been generated by renewable energy schemes in Lewis. The main one will be the Eishken windfarm, but other schemes (such as the Pentland Road windfarm, as well as tidal and wave power schemes) will also be able to use this cable. It is essential for the renewable energy sector to take off in this part of the Outer Hebrides.
If the interconnector is built, it will require additional electricity infrastructure in Lewis, such as a spur to the switching station at Arnish [by the Creed Bridge], a sub-station at Gravir and high-voltage power lines across the island.

Sunday, 25 August 2013


Where emptiness once ruled
The towers now stand
where inertia lay
mills now rotate

The hills stand bemused
at the intruders
in their ancient
bogbound realm

A fast roadway is carved
where moorland once lay
in my slow ascent
of Meannan

Two dozen years
they’ll stand there
though turning

The wilderness’s gone
reduced to tussocks
beside the roadway
to the windfarm

Friday, 28 June 2013

Liam Aitchison

The two men convicted of the murder of this 16-year old in November 2011 have been sentenced to life in prison, with at least 18 years before they can apply for parole. Justice has been done. I cannot comment further.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Pentland Road windfarm (2)

This morning’s news brought a jaw-dropping clanger. The Pentland Road windfarm is not able to operate at the moment, because the local electricity grid is not able to handle its output. Excuse me? When the windfarm was designed and put up for planning permission, wasn’t the local grid infrastructure taken into account? Or more to the point, the fact that it wouldn’t be able to accommodate the output from this windfarm? So why wasn’t the grid upgraded? Or were we waiting for the interconnector by any chance?
The blame game, between developers, power company and local council, is in full swing.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Pentland Road windfarm

Last Saturday, I went for a stroll out to the Pentland Road windfarm. From the centre of Stornoway, it is about 5½ miles (9 km). From the Castle Grounds, it is possible to follow the road to the dump - but during weekdays, this is very busy with refuse trucks. From the gate of the dump, the distance is a little less than 3 miles. The track is not tarmacked, but is easily followed - stout footwear is advisable due to a lot of loose stones.
A shorter walk can be achieved from the junction on the Pentland Road, where the branch to Achmore forks off. A track angles off from the junction, and after a mile, the track to the windfarm is reached.

The windfarm is located at an altitude of 600 feet above sealevel, and is position on the slopes of Meannan, the second line of hills to the south of the Barvas Hills. I remember the area from a walk in 2005, and could clearly see the lochans from the track.
I am grimly pleased that the windfarm will in all likelihood remain as it is at present - idle. Although the track is a convenient way of gaining the interior of the island, I am saddened that the wilderness aspect has been violated.
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Monday, 3 June 2013


Two men have been found guilty of the murder of Liam Aitchison in November 2011. Liam, originally from South Uist, was 16 at the time. His battered body was found in a derelict building in Steinish a week after he first went missing. The facts of the case have been widely circulated in the news media. There are two comments I would like to make.
The guilty verdict against the two 22-year olds will not bring Liam back to life. It serves to show that justice is seen to be done, and will hopefully bring a measure of closure to Liam’s family and friends.

I did not know this young man personally, but (as an observer) I am acutely aware of the impact that this case has had in these islands. Postings on local social media resonate with intense relief and satisfaction. As the police have stated, the Western Isles are a safe place to live and visit.

Sentence will be passed at Edinburgh High Court on 28 June.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Strawberry Hill

A new path has been made up in the Castle Grounds, linking Strawberry Hill with the Marybank Lodge. I have been exploring Strawberry Hill for a wee while now, and it’s not an easy area to access. However, the new path skirts the hill to its south, then veers north to join the path that leads from the Marybank Lodge to the Castle College. At time of posting, there are still signs out asking walkers not to use the path as heaving machinery is in use, but all the work (on culverts) seems to have been completed, and no heavy plant was in evidence along the route.
Starting at the gates of the Castle College, a driveway leads up into the woods. A path is signposted heading uphill to the right, marked as “Strawberry Hill”. As the path crests the hill, clearances appear to the right, where rhodondendrons have been removed. Just as the route starts a steep descent, another track branches to the right, which skirts Strawberry Hill proper. After a couple of hundred yards, a very rough track angles off to the left, leading to a gate - this goes into the Marybank Quarry and is off-limits. Our track now hairpins downhill, to continue in the direction of the houses of Marybank, some distance ahead. It describes a long curve to the north, approaching the main road (from Tarbert), once more hairpinning down hill through an area of woodland, before finally ending up outside the Marybank Lodge.
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Thursday, 16 May 2013

Interconnector disconnected

Another posting on the subject of the interconnector. This morning, I grabbed a copy of the Press and Journal and was pleased to read that the interconnector will not now be built until 2017, if at all. It became grimly amusing when I subsequently picked up a copy of the Stornoway Gazette, which was still highlighting a report, which promised 3,500 jobs in the Western Isles out of the renewables industry - provided problems like the interconnector are addressed. The problem will not be addressed in favour of the renewables industry, as the economical case is too weak, in a nutshell.

A decade has been spent by (amongst others) Comhairle nan Eilean Siar trying to get large, shore-based windfarms to these islands. The writing was already on the wall as far back as 2008, when the 180-turbine Barvas Moor windfarm was torpedoed. This was to have been the salvation of the Western Isles economy, with the diaspora flocking home to the 400 jobs at the Arnish Fabrication Yard.

The Eishken windfarm was rubberstamped in a much reduced form, with beads and mirrors being dangled in front of us in the shape of the community benefit - which although fairly substantial, was in no proportion to the profits to be generated by developers and landowners. This too is now dead in the water, as its output requires the interconnector.
I am not going to sit here being accused of wanting to keep these islands back. Far from it. I fully back the Comhairle in its attempts to attract sustainable, long-term and large-scale employment to the Outer Hebrides. Embracing the renewables industry in the way that the Comhairle has done thus far has turned out to be a non-starter. I acknowledge that the geography has proved to be a major stumbling block. But a single focus, rather than taking a diversified approach, did not help either.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013


Once more, our esteemed MSP is busy trying to push Scottish & Southern Energy into committing themselves to building the interconnector. The interconnector is the subsea electricity cable that is supposed to take the electricity, generated by Western Isles renewable energy schemes, to the National Grid. It is pencilled in to run from Gravir (South Lochs) to Dundonnell on Little Loch Broom on the mainland, and on to Beauly. There it will connect with the Beauly to Denny high-voltage powerline into the National Grid.
SSE are reportedly reluctant to invest £700 million in the interconnector, uncertain that this investment will yield a return equal to it or greater. Associated problems are the transmission charges, which tend to increase the further away from the Scottish Central Belt or England you are.

The reason for all this political pressure have become very clear in recent months. This blogger has been disgusted with the appearance of several windfarms around Stornoway. One now defiles the gentle slopes of Meannan, a southern foothill of the Barvas Hills. If the interconnector is never built, this windfarm will remain idle, practically useless. Its output would outstrip local demand and overpower the local grid infrastructure.

It will become a monument to the folly of putting up windturbines before the requisite electricity infrastructure is in place. Should our MSP fail in his bid to get the interconnector built, there will be quite a few people with egg on their faces - himself, the Leader of the Council and many others. The mere fact that the help of senior members of the Scottish Government is being enlisted says enough.

Battle of the Atlantic

This month sees the 70th anniversary of Black May, the height of the Battle of the Atlantic (BOA) during the Second World War. The Royal Navy is commemorating the event with a series of events in London, Liverpool and Derry-Londonderry. More than 30,000 Naval personnel were lost during the BOA, a good many originating from the Western Isles; some 400 from the Isle of Lewis, and most of those served in the Royal Naval Reserve.
Today is also the 68th anniversary of VE-day, when the fighting in Europe ceased towards the end of WW2. The fighting against Japan continued for a little over 3 months, until two atomic bombs convinced the Japanese empire that surrender was the best option.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Flights take flight

Just a commentary after the event on the recent saga surrounding the axing of flights in and out of Benbecula.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar decided to axe flights between Benbecula and Barra, saving £148,000. This has had certain consequences, and in my opinion not all of them were foreseen by our local authority. Although the flights were poorly subscribed, they fulfilled a lifeline function. Transporting urgent medical supplies, and patients back and forth to the Uist & Barra hospital is but one that came to mind. Yes, there is the ferry from Eriskay to Barra, but I can’t imagine that many recently discharged patients from the U&B relish the prospect of a potentially bumpy 40 minutes on the high seas.
However, I really do wonder if CNES foresaw the logistical consequences - I doubt it. Withdrawing the Barra flights from Benbecula also resulted in a reduction in flights from Benbecula to Stornoway (to just 3 days a week) as well as in flights from Stornoway to Inverness and Edinburgh. I found it wryly comical when our MSP started to squawk at the prospect of his Friday flight from Edinburgh being axed so he couldn’t go home for the weekend. Cutting the Benbecula - Stornoway flights means that consultants coming from Stornoway can only do so on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, unless they are prepared to drive 75 miles (in total) and sit on a ferry for a whole hour to get themselves to the U&B in Balivanich, Benbecula. And do the process in reverse at the end of the day.
I am not convinced that CNES consulted with Loganair prior to implementing the decision to cut the flights. Reading the media reports at the time, everybody seems to have been caught out by the consequences. Another consequence is the loss of a subsidy from the Scottish Government for this lifeline service.

Cutting costs, which CNES has had to do to the tune of £6m, is a necessary evil in this time of economic stagnation. But cutting costs without due regard for the consequences is not good local government.

Angus Macleod memorial lecture

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Mr Kenny Macaskill, is to give the 10th Angus “Ease” Macleod memorial lecture on 25 October 2013 at Gravir. The lecture, entitled “Opportunities of Independence for Island Communities”.

Without prejudging Mr Macaskill’s speech, I want to log a few observations. I have previously disagreed with one of the lecturers; if memory serves, Mr Bill Lawson postulated in 2006 that Lewis had not been very badly affected by the Clearances. Putting forward that opinion in South Lochs of all places grated with me. The extreme south of South Lochs (Eishken) was wholly cleared of permanent residents in the 1820s, resulting in gross overcrowding in parts of Lochs further north; also, the cruel way in which people from this island were selected for “encouraged emigration” by the chamberlain of James Matheson in 1851 puts Mr Lawson’s opinion in a strange light to say the least.

Although I appreciate that Kenny Macaskill has family connections to South Lochs, I find it equally grating to have a Minister of the current Scottish Government lecturing in South Lochs on opportunities for island communities under independence. For the last 10 years, the residents of the Pairc Estate have been frustrated in their efforts to mount a community buy-out of the land. It is my opinion that the Scottish Government has done very little to expedite the process in favour of the residents, particularly as the landowner has deployed each and every trick in the book to delay the process, and divide the community. Legislative powers should have been created or invoked to counter these methods. It is even worse now that the MSP for the islands is a junior minister in the Scottish Government.
What puts a wry slant on it for me is the recent idea that Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles could break away from an independent Scotland to become a crown dependency, like the Isle of Man. A poll, however, did demonstrate that the idea only carried the support of about 10% of all islanders involved.

Monday, 28 January 2013


The British government have announced that HS2 will produce tens of thousands of jobs in the UK economy. On their Number10gov twitter account, the tweet reads: is a ‘catalyst that will help secure economic prosperity & support tens of thousands of jobs’ says PM

HS2 is also the postal code for rural Lewis, an open goal in this context.
Well, it’s good to finally see some recognition of the contribution made by the men and women of the rural parts of this island. Whilst not negating the similarly worthy contributions from the folk of Stornoway (HS1), it is particularly rewarding, after so many years, decades and centuries of neglect from Westminster, wilful or otherwise.
We can now look forward to the construction of some proper infrastructure, with HS2 being the high speed rail link, running from Butt of Lewis station in the grounds of the lighthouse down the west coast machair, or parallel to the A857, to Barvas Junction, where a low-speed spur runs over the moors to Stornoway. HS2 continues southwest to Carloway, where a subsea tunnel will take the line to Miavaig and Timsgarry Central. After rounding the bay, the line is expected to pass through Mangersta Outer, Islivig and Brenish. Another tunnel will take the trains under the outflows of Lochs Hamnaway and Tealasbhagh to Huisinish, from where HS2 will run down the fifteen miles to Tarbert Central.
HS1 meanwhile will also start at the Butt of Lewis, and speed south along the east coast of the island to North Tolsta. Hugging the line of the main road into town, the line will cross the Cockle Ebb from Tong to Steinish, and enter the town of Stornoway along the line of the Sandwick Canal. Stornoway Central will be located on the seafront, outside the ferry terminal. In order to mitigate the inclines that are met upon leaving Stornoway in a southerly direction, the line will retrace its course as far as Tong, then veer off to the west and south, gradually gaining height through Laxdale. HS1 will then run fairly straight across the moors towards North Lochs and South Lochs, crossing Lochs Leurbost and Erisort by bridge. Finally issuing along the shores of Loch Seaforth, the line will then make for the Harris Hills. The Clisham range will be tunnelled under, meeting the HS2 at Ardhasaig Junction before making for Tarbert Central.

Ach well, we can but dream…

Monday, 14 January 2013


Best wishes for a prosperous and healthy 2013

Where the vagrant prince
once refuge sought -
he was declined
yet not betrayed

The old farmhouse
on the peninsula
just off the moorlands
overlooking the town

Were it to return
it would be suspended
many feet
in the air

The tranquil loch
laps the shore
by the side of the road
under the monument

A path runs on its banks
to a remote
yet beautiful
quiet inlet

The lighthouse beyond,
at the peninsula’s end,
signalling the entrance to
the harbour bay

Its light never reached
to where many were once lost
although but a mile away
at the reefs of the Beasts

Heavy industry thunders
shrieks and grinds
cutting and welding
for oil, wind and wave

A revolving door
closed open shut
not reliable for
the island’s future

Not for that
will the diaspora return
Not for a phantasmagora
dreamt up in a distant room

The island remains
Its people come and go
Twice a day, and at night
past Arnish Point