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…
2005-12-04P0584 2005-12-04P0582 2005-12-04P0583 PC094696 PC094693

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.