Category Archives: Island News

EU resolution on islands signals positive change

NEW EU resolution on islands passed on 4 February 2016

Article 174 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) recognises the special nature of island territories. However, very few concrete EU measures have aimed to support islands to date. Several insular regions and municipalities call for the development of an ‘insular dimension’ in EU policies, and for EU regional policy to take insularity factors, that affect them disproportionately, into account. They also claim that due to the European Commission’s established method of regional funding – based on GDP – certain islands and insular territories are severely penalised.

The Scottish Islands Federation hopes this may change if the measures proposed by the new resolution on islands  (see  below) are implemented:   the resolution calls  for new statistical indicators besides GDP  that can reflect the economic and social vulnerability arising from being an island territory.  An island desk, special financial instruments aimed at islands, an agenda for the islands, a White paper to monitor the situation,  a European Year for Islands and Mountains are amongst other welcome proposals to ensure that the island situation is considered as it should.

However, such resolutions have to be supported by all EU member states. Therein lie the problem of the Scottish Islands: the UK government cares little for its island territories and will care even less if voters decide to leave the EU.

European Parliament resolution of 4 February 2016 on the special situation of islands (2015/3014(RSP))

The European Parliament,

  • –  having regard to Articles 174 and 175 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),
  • –  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1301/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013, on the European Regional Development Fund and on specific provisions concerning the Investment for growth and jobs goal and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1080/2006,
  • –  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006,
  • –  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on support for rural development by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005,
  • –  having regard to the Commission’s Sixth Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion (COM(2014)0473),
  • –  having regard to the European Economic and Social Committee’s opinion on ‘Specific problems facing islands’ (1229/2011),
  • –  having regard to the question to the Commission on the insularity condition (O-000013/2016 – B8-0106/2016),
  • –  having regard to Rules 128(5) and 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,
  1. whereas islands, classified as NUTS-2 and NUTS-3 regions, have common and permanent specific features, which clearly distinguish them from mainland areas;
  2. whereas Article 174 of the TFEU recognises the permanent natural and geographical handicaps specific to the situation of islands;
  3. whereas the reduction in economic, social and environmental disparities between regions and polycentric harmonious development are the main objectives of cohesion policy, in close connection with achieving the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy;
  4. whereas the economic crisis has impacted dramatically on the national and regional budgets of many Member States by limiting the availability of financing in many sectors and leading to a 20 % collapse of public investment; whereas, as also pointed out in the Sixth Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion, the impact of the crisis has seriously affected the potential development of many disadvantaged regions, including islands; whereas the economic crisis has reversed the long-term trend of convergence of GDP and unemployment rates across the EU, resulting in increased poverty and social exclusion and preventing the achievement of the Union’s long-term objective of economic and territorial cohesion;
  5. whereas EU islands are also peripheral regions situated in some cases on the EU’s external borders and are particularly vulnerable to the challenges which Europe is currently facing, such as globalisation, demographic trends, climate change, energy supply and, especially for the southern areas, exposure to increasing migration flows;
  6. whereas European islands contribute to the diversity of the Union in both environmental terms (specific habitats and endemic species) and cultural terms (architectural heritage, sites, landscapes, agricultural and non-agricultural features and geographical identities);
  7. whereas European islands can contribute to strengthening sustainable development in the Union, given their high potential for producing energy from renewable sources due to specific exposure to wind streams, ocean swell and sunlight;
  8. whereas the accessibility of regions and connections within islands are key factors in making island areas more attractive for skilled workers and businesses; whereas there is a need to attract investment, to create new jobs and to reduce maritime and air transport costs for people and goods, in accordance with the principle of territorial continuity, while also making efforts to reduce emissions and pollution deriving from maritime and air transport;
  9. whereas agriculture, breeding and fisheries constitute an important element of local island economies, which are a source of supply for a significant part of the agro-industrial sector, and whereas these sectors suffer due to lack of accessibility, particularly for SMEs, a low level of product differentiation, and climate conditions;
  10. whereas intensive tourism is, for most islands, an important part of their local economy but tends normally to be concentrated only in certain periods of the year and not adequately planned outside the season, and this may entail risks for the environmentally sustainable development of island regions;
  1. Encourages the Commission to provide a clear definition of the type of geographical, natural and demographic permanent handicaps that insular regions can suffer from, with reference to Article 174 of the TFEU;
  2. Asks the Commission how it intends to implement the wording of Article 174 of the TFEU regarding the permanent handicaps of insular regions that hinder their natural development and prevent them from achieving economic, social and territorial cohesion;
  3. Recognises the importance of providing support to tackle the significant depopulation trend in island regions; recalls that certain handicaps are more difficult to cope with for islands, in proportion to their small size and their remoteness from the European continental coasts;
  4. Requests that the Commission launch an in-depth study/analysis on the extra costs incurred as a result of being islands, in terms of the transport system for people and goods, energy supply and access to markets, in particular for SMEs;
  5. Is of the opinion that islands should have a proper definition/categorisation that will take into account not only their differences and specificities but also their specific situation; invites the Commission, on the basis of Article 174 of the TFEU, which recognises the special situation of islands, to set up a homogeneous group made up of all island territories; calls on the Commission, furthermore, to take into account, besides GDP, other statistical indicators that can reflect the economic and social vulnerability arising from natural permanent handicaps;
  6. Recalls that, in accordance with Council Directive 2006/112/EC, certain European islands have been granted special tax arrangements as a counterbalance to their natural and demographic permanent handicaps; stresses the importance of those special tax arrangements for local communities and economies, and calls for their continuation, especially in those Member States that are under economic adjustment programmes;
  7. Recalls especially the need for better connectivity through maritime routes, improved access to ports and better air transport services; considers that particular emphasis should be placed on transport hubs, inter-modal transport and sustainable mobility; stresses also the need to support balanced territorial development of island regions by promoting innovation and competiveness in these regions, which are remote from the major administrative and economic centres and do not benefit from ease of access to transport, and by strengthening local production for local markets;
  8. Stresses that digital capacity is a vital means of counterbalancing the connectivity handicaps of island regions; emphasises that investments in infrastructure are required in order to ensure broadband access on islands and the full participation of islands in the digital single market;
  9. Recalls that many islands in the Mediterranean have seen huge numbers of migrants arriving and are having to deal with this situation; underlines the need for a holistic EU approach, which should include EU support and a joint effort by all Member States;
  10. Underlines the importance of providing education at all levels, where necessary also by making more use of distance education systems; recalls that islands are also facing serious

climate change impacts, with particularly serious consequences, including increasing numbers of natural hazards;

  1. Emphasises that, while islands face constraints, they also benefit from a territorial potential, which should be used as an opportunity for development, growth and job creation; stresses the importance of low tax and red tape reduction policies as key incentives for attracting investment; mentions, in this context, the development of sustainable tourism in addition to seasonal tourism, focusing on the promotion of cultural heritage and specific artisanal economic activities; stresses also the huge potential of ocean, wind and solar energy and the potential of islands to become important sources of alternative energy, to be as energy-autonomous as possible and, above all, to guarantee cheaper energy supplies for their inhabitants;
  2. Stresses, in this connection, the importance of using all possible synergies between the European Structural and Investment Funds and other Union instruments with a view to counterbalancing the handicaps of islands and enhancing their economic growth, job creation and sustainable development situation;
  3. Calls on the Commission to establish an ‘EU Strategic Framework for Islands’ with a view to linking up instruments that can have a major territorial impact;
  4. Calls on the Member States and regional and local authorities to play an important role in the development strategies of islands on the basis of a vertical approach that involves all levels of government, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, with a view to ensuring the sustainable development of EU islands;
  5. Suggests that the Commission establish an ‘islands desk’ linked to the Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO) and made up of a small group of officials in order to coordinate and analyse issues relating to island regions;
  6. Calls on the Commission to submit a communication containing an ‘Agenda for EU Islands’ and, subsequently, a White Paper to monitor the development of islands, based on best practice and involving local, regional and national authorities and other relevant actors, including economic and social partners and representatives of civil society;
  7. Calls on the Commission to propose a European Year of Islands and Mountains;
  8. Invites the Commission to bear in mind the specific situation of islands when preparing the proposal for the next multiannual financial framework;
  9. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Committee of the Regions and the Member States.

Cold Water Tourism Conference on Arran 14-16 March 2016

2nd Cold water tourism conference in Arran

Cold water island tourism is a new initiative to promote, celebrate and help develop tourism on small cold water island destinations around the world.

Meet private sector drivers of tourism – Investors – Public sector policy makers – Politicians and civic leaders – Destination managers and marketeers – Educationalists and researchers: it is all happening on the isle of Arran  on 14th – 16th March 2016.

Following on from last year’s success, this second  Cold Water Tourism conference will focus on sustainable economic development on islands and rural areas and is supported by the North Ayrshire Council.

Download the programme here:

SIF director Frank Corcoran will be attending and will report on the conference and its merits.

What the prospectus says:

For many cold water maritime countries, in both the northern and southern hemispheres, their islands make a valuable contribution to the overall tourism experience and the economy.

In the Northern Hemisphere this is especially the case in most of the North Atlantic (Scandinavian, Germany, Netherlands and Baltic nations as well as Scotland, Ireland, Wales and, to a lesser extent the rest of the UK).

In terms of our understanding of the value, market demand and economic impact there has been relatively little research. Most of the published work, and indeed the focus of most travel writers, is upon ‘warm water island’ tourism. This is also the case for many of the conferences that take place on this subject.

The AIM is to redress this situation.

The ‘cold water islands’ face common tourism opportunities and challenges. There is real potential for collaboration, sharing knowledge and developing a common research agenda.

There is a collaborative opportunity to DIRECTLY assist

island tourism. We need to develop a robust and innovative programme of activity designed to help tourism professionals.

Knowledge transfer and sharing sits comfortably with the notion of international cooperation.

At the same time there is scope to jointly develop events and festivals across a wide geographic area that can develop tourism visits.
It is possible to design and develop events to be hosted at several islands – to create innovation, quality and reduce costs.

A key element of a collaborative approach is to develop fresh appropriate methods for measuring and evaluating ‘success’.
In particular, there is the potential to develop a new Island ‘Livability Index” and to understand tourism’s contribution to this ‘index’.

ORGANISING GROUP

Lars Olsen — (Denmark)
Alastair Dobson — Visit Arran (Scotland)
Terry Stevens — Stevens and Associates (Wales)

Vision

Making small cold islands tourism destinations of choice helping to making them sustainable (financial, economic, social and environmental) and attractive places to live and work.

Mission

“Creating a unique network of cold water island destinations in order to benefit from having a representative voice of influence and forging collaborative working and sharing practical solutions based
upon successful actions and evidence.”

Aim

To give this mission with a starting point by organizing the first ANNUAL European Conference on ‘cold water island tourism’.

Objectives

— Share knowledge of successful practical projects; — Create networks of expertise and information;
— Discuss common issues and opportunities to grow

the value of tourism;
— Identify innovative solutions to underpin sustainable growth; — Celebrate and recognise best practice project;
— Develop a common agenda for support and development; — Promote awareness of cold islands as tourism destinations; — Influencing eu programs and policies.

Desired outcomes

— Establishing and growing an on-going network and dialogue between destinations

— Creating a central and accessible pool of research, knowledge and case studies

— Holding regular symposia, conferences and workshops — Promoting the interests of these destinations

We need to raise the status of tourism in the context of economic development in maritime countries. This is best done through improving our understanding of the potential for growth in the context of:

Market trends Innovation Investment Climatic issues Sustainability Accessibility

THE TIME IS RIGHT

The EU’s ‘Blue Growth Strategy’ is highlighting the importance of developing all aspects of the marine environment for economic development. This is supported by a new focus on “Cold Water Islands” as part of the EU programs 2014-2021.

International conferences have been announced to consider future of Island communities. There is a real opportunity to influence these agendas.

For many island communities, tourism is the main stay of their economy. It is a sector in growth and offers considerable scope for enhanced sustainable development. As a result, there is now a growing interest at the level of national Governments to take advantage of these island assets.

Tourism is becoming increasingly segmented with a diversity of markets and interest groups, which increases the opportunities for cold water islands.

THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR COLLABORATION

Most island communities have a strong heritage and cultural resources. As a result of their heritage of having to be self sufficient there is generally a good asset base of local crafts and produce creating a very compelling sense of place.

Island tourism businesses tend to be micro / SMEs. They are often marginal businesses but the cash generated is vital for the overall survival of island communities. Much of the appeal and product base is also small scale. It takes the form of special interest tourism and events, often featuring indigenous art, music, history, archeology, hand crafts and sport.

New Island resolution voted on in EU parliament

New Island resolution voted on in EU parliament on 4 February 2016

MEPs urge the European Commission to take concrete steps to address the permanent handicaps that EU islands face and make full use of their potential,  in a resolution voted on Thursday. The text also stresses the unique difficulties that southern insular regions face due to the increased migration flows and asks that special tax regimes should continue.

MEPs list the actions that they want the Commission to take to address the unique and vulnerable situation of EU islands. The resolution calls on the Commission to:

  • set up “a homogenous group made up of all island territories”, based on EU Treaty Article 174, which recognises the permanent handicaps of insular regions,
  • take account of other statistical indicators, besides GDP, which will reflect the economic and social vulnerability of these regions,
  • launch an in-depth study/analysis in the extra costs incurred as a result of being an island (e.g. transport system, energy supply and access to markets),
  • establish an “EU Strategic Framework for Islands” which would link up instruments that could have a major territorial impact, and
  • submit a communication on an “Agenda for EU Islands” and subsequently a White Paper to monitor the development of islands.

Islands exposed to migration flows

Parliament stresses that EU islands are also peripheral regions on the EU’s external borders. The southern areas and the many Mediterranean islands are particularly exposed to increased migration flows. MEPs ask for an EU-wide approach, “which should include EU support and a joint effort by all member states”, to help them.

Special tax regimes should continue

MEPs approved an amendment stressing “the importance of special tax arrangements for local communities and economies”- some EU islands have been granted special tax arrangements to counterbalance their permanent natural and demographic handicaps – and “calling for their continuation, especially in those member states that are under economic adjustment programmes”.

Resolution on the role of regional authorities

In a separate resolution voted on Thursday, MEPs ask that regional and local authorities be given a bigger role in managing EU structural and investment funds in 2014-2020, to help boost their impact.

Innovative EV programme for Mull and Iona

MIST-CAR-LOGO

Mull and Iona Sustainable Transport wins Rural Innovators Award 2015-16 for Transport

MIST’s aims to reduce CO2 emissions and dependance on fossil fuel  on Mull and Iona, have been recognised by this award from the Rural parliament.

As travel and transport choices account for up to half or more of many households’ total CO2 emission, Electric Vehicle trials, liftsharing coordination , efficient driving tips and information about switching to EVs are all part of this innovative project.

Funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund, a team of 3 MIST Project Officers has been appointed to promote environmentally friendly island travel options through to March 2016.

EV hot spot events

With several EVs already being driven routinely here on the islands, 5 public charging points for EVs already operational and plans for rapid chargers in Tobermory and Fionnphort,  Mull is already well ahead of most other island communities. Recognising Mull as a ‘Hot Spot’ for EVs, the Energy Savings Trust has collaborated with MIST to present some special local events to bring all interested islanders up to speed with electric cars and incentives to switch.

Liftshare

The Mull and Iona Lift Share page established on Facebook has attracted over 350 members to engage, supportive of its purpose: To match willing drivers with willing passengers to share journeys. This group is open to any islander over 18 who is interested in linking up to share journeys.

EV trials

A Nissan LEAF electric car  has been purchased by MIST to enable islanders to enjoy the experience of driving with zero emissions and very low running costs. MIST is also acquiring an all electric Citroen Berlingo van for islanders and especially for island businesses to try out for free and to borrow. There is now a long list of folk who have expressed interest in free test drives and borrowing the car for a few days.

Following MIST’s successful collaboration with the Energy Savings Trust to host Electric Vehicle ‘Hot spot’ events on Mull, a Mitsubishi Highlander hybrid 4WD has been offered as a free loan, available for islanders to try out at no cost for a 2 months period.

Free EV training events offered to islanders on Mull and Iona

With several EVs already being driven routinely here on the islands, 5 public charging points for EVs already operational and plans for rapid chargers in Tobermory and Fionnphort, Mull is already well ahead of most other island communities.

On Wednesday 17 and Thursday 18 February, MIST – –  is offering free training events to help current and prospective EV owners to look after their EV’s, and make the case for EVs as a suitable alternative for individuals and local groups.

Check the MIST website for more details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consultation on the Argyll and Bute Community Renewables Opportunity Plan

Argyll and Bute Council and its partners are currently looking at how they can better assist communities in securing socio-economic benefit from renewables and the development of local renewable projects. To help achieve this, they are now considering the development of a Community Renewables Opportunity Plan (CROP).

This will inform the Argyll and Bute Renewable Energy Action Plan (REAP).  One of the specific areas of focus in the REAP is to assist local communities.

What is the consultation?

To assist in determining the scope and key areas of focus of the CROP Argyll and Bute Council are seeking the communities input and assistance.

“We need communities and groups involved in, or who are considering developing, community renewables to tell us what they need to make it easier for them to progress their projects” says Stuart Green, Senior Development officer at Argyll and Bute. “This might be:

  • better on-line information,
  • information presented in a more user friendly manner,
  • more direct support to communities,
  • advice on feed-in-tariffs and many other issues.

Whatever it is, we need to know in order for your comments and needs to be taken into account when we developing the plan.”

How do  communities take part in the consultation?

Communities can take part through our on-line questionnaire which will be open from 23rd March – 4th May 2012.

The questionnaire is available online and can be downloaded from the Council website at www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/planning-and-environment/community-renewables-opportunity-plan from 23rd March.

For further information please contact: Stuart Green, Senior Development officer, Tel: 01546 604243, Email; stuart.green@argyll-bute.gov.uk

 

New EU Intergroup for Islands as well as Seas, Rivers, and Coastal areas.

Kick off meeting for new EU Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal areas  Intergroup

At long last, there will be an Intergroup in the EU parliament that will look into Island issues specifically. although as part of a wider remit.

The Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal Areas Intergroup of the European Parliament was proposed to Martin Schulz by the Presidents of the Political Groups and has been approved by the Conference of Presidents. It will carry on and further develop the work led under the Seas and Coastal Areas Intergroup, which the CPMR had strongly supported since 2010 acting as its Secretariat.

Gesine Meissner (DE-ALDE) is the new President of the Intergroup that met for the first time in Strasbourg on 15 January 2015.

Members of the Intergroup also voted for the Vice-Presidents responsible for thematic and geographic priorities that will include the sea basin strategies and the island dimension.

Different political groups and nationalities will contribute to the work of this renewed Intergroup that will carry on and further develop the work led under the Seas and Coastal Areas Intergroup.

In close cooperation with the CPMR, the Intergroup will promote an integrated approach to issues such as the relationship between blue growth and green growth, the European maritime industry. The attractiveness of maritime professions and the sustainable development of coastal areas will also be covered. Particular attention will also be given to the sea basin strategies and the island dimension.

“This is very good news for the whole of maritime Europe, to which the CPMR belongs, and a just recognition of the work led by members of the Seas and Coastal Areas Intergroup during the previous legislature. This shows that the European Parliament acknowledges how vitally important the seas and coastal regions are for the future of Europe. The Intergroup, working together with our maritime regions, will be able to put forward concrete proposals to the Commission and the Council to develop the tremendous potential of the sea in a more responsible and sustainable way,” stated Vasco Alves Cordeiro, President of the Regional Government of the Azores and CPMR President.

Camille Dressler, Scottish Islands Federation Chair says: “this is very good news, and means that we can start working with the Intergroup on the issues that are most important to ESIN and its members, and which we flagged up with our Island Champion Pledge initiative during last year’s  EU parliament elections.” 

Green Energy Mull smashes its initial target of £300 000 shares 

It is almost a year to the day since the first share sale was launched for Mull’s Garmony hydro-scheme, and since then over 200 people have become investors.

The Garmony Hydro scheme, a first for the island, is intended to reduce its carbon footprint by taking advantage of one of the most abundant resources available on Mull – rainfall. Once the scheme is operational Green Energy Mull (GEM) hopes it will generate sufficient electricity to meet the needs of 230 homes on Mull, by harnessing the 320KW ‘run of river‘ hydro electric power on the burn near to the Garmony settlement overlooking the Sound of Mull. The Hydro scheme is on land owned by the Forestry Commission, and by gaining a majority of island votes in support for the scheme last February, GEM was able to lease the land from the  Commission.

As the scheme is progressing well through the construction phase there is still time to become a share holder, but GEM will have to call a halt to investments soon. They have smashed our initial target of raising £330,000.  The totaliser sits today at over £450,000 which is a staggering amount of money. This is a great scheme and one that will help to improve the lives of islanders for many years to come.

As well as generating clean, renewable energy, the scheme will produce income which will benefit Mull and Iona by providing:

  • seedcorn funding for other community renewable energy and energy conservation projects
  • funding for the support provided by the Community Trust to individuals and groups on the island
  • direct funding for a whole range of island groups and events projects (e.g. Village shows, Mull Rally, Village Halls)

Since work commenced on site back in May a, huge amount has happened and the scheme is progressing well. The primary intake is almost complete. This has required much digging and rock breaking and dodging the bad weather. The 800 metre long pipe that will take the water from the intake to the turbine has been delivered, welded together and is now being buried in a trench. Work on the turbine house has now been started and the foundations are being laid. All the contractors and suppliers involved with Garmony Hydro are doing their absolute best, and it is hoped that commissioning will take place during January 2015.

Budget for this project is tight and any additional income that can be raised will mean that GEM do not have to seek additional loan finance if necessary. If you have already invested in GEM, you are more than welcome to invest further. With bank interest rates still so low, this is still a good scheme to be involved with. The weather over the last few weeks has been especially wet and it is grand to think that soon GEM will be able to harness this rain and make some money out of it for the communities of Mull and Iona.

A share Prospectus can be downloaded from the Garmony hydro website.

Good luck to Gigha

Good luck to Gigha in balancing the books
Great editorial in The Herald, putting recent stories about the community-owned island of Gigha in context.

Read  also about Gigha’s innovative battery storage project in islands going green.

“Noone said community ownership of land would be easy. When the people of Gigha completed their £4 million buyout in 2002, they were able to wave goodbye or should that be good riddance? to private landlords, but took on what was in effect a major business. All businesses face challenging periods and have to balance the imperatives of investing in the future with keeping debt levels sustainable, so it is not altogether surprising that after making much needed improvements, the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust has debts of £2.7m. Importantly, it also has assets of £7.5m.
There would have been little point to community ownership unless housing stock renovations were carried out. A report prior to the buyout found threequarters of the estate’s 42 houses should not be lived in, while nearly all of the rest were “in serious disrepair”. Housing renovation does not come cheap, but the trust has also invested in income-generating technology, installing four wind turbines that trust chairwoman Margaret McSporran says have already earned the island more than £800,000.

So Gigha’s debt was accrued making the island a much more attractive place to live; indeed, its population has gone up from 96 to 170 since the buyout. The strong backing given to Ms McSporran this week by islanders suggests that the community appreciates the scale of the task and the work the trust has done. That is not to say the debt is not significant. It is understandably a worry to many islanders and must be tackled. A strategic review of the organisation has warned it is unsustainable, based on current revenues and that immediate action is required to turn things around. It is to the trust’s credit that it is wasting no time. Ms McSporran has already announced reforms of the trust’s governance and management of debt, and its intention to attract more people to the island, which is seen as important for its economy. Other planned measures include doing more to bring in tourists, including by seeking experienced hotel managers to lease the hotel.

Good luck to the trust in these endeavours. Gigha’s problems have come to light just as the new First Minister has announced she wishes to ensure Scotland’s land is an “asset that benefits the many, not the few”. She plans to end business rates exemptions for shooting and deerstalking estates in order to more than treble the Scottish Land Fund, allowing for much more community ownership.

Putting more land under community control is a noble aim and one that has strong public backing. Gigha’s recent experience, while highlighting the challenges community trusts face in managing such complex enterprises, certainly does not undermine the validity of the model. After all, private companies go bust without it prompting a reevaluation of capitalism.

The Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust has a major task ahead to get back to financial health, but it has a proud record on which to build.

More from David Ross at the The Herald.

The Highland Line: Gigha’s financial difficulties are not as bad as they seem
Friday 28th November 2014

News that the community trust which has owned the island of Gigha for the past 12 years, faces some financial difficulties was widely reported this week.

A strategic review of the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust found the trust was “ in a precarious financial position, with total third-party debts of £2.7m. The overall debt structure is unsustainable based on current revenues.”

It seems however that with an assets portfolio recently valued at around £7.5m, the position may not be so pressing as it once appeared. Indeed there are many in the land who would be delighted to think their house was worth almost three times the outstanding mortgage on it.

Talking of houses when the community was buying the island, a housing conditions survey highlighted the scale of the task ahead. It found that of the 42 houses that came with the estate, 75% were classed as “below tolerable standard” and should not be inhabited, while 23% classed were “in serious disrepair”.

“If we put in a nail or a hinge, or put a slate on a roof, we will have done a bloody sight more than has been done for decades under our landlords,” Willie McSporran who was to become the trust chairman said at the time.

Meanwhile it also revealed a high level of hidden homelessness, parents or siblings providing homes for adults.

Now well over 30 of the properties have been renovated. Around £160,000 has been spent on each of the houses, with 60% coming in the form of grants and the rest raised one way or another by the community.

In 2011 the community’s efforts were recognised by the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland, with its prestigious Excellence in Regeneration Award.

These houses alone must be worth over £4.5m.

Money was also spent adding a fourth wind community turbine to the island’s “Three Dancing Ladies” which were already earning over £100,000 a year.

So Gigha has been a story about investment, albeit one which could have been written with different chapters on borrowing. It is a story of an island stemming generations of depopulation.

But the possibility of one of Scotland’s headline community buyouts becoming financially troubled has always been a possibility, just as any privately owned business or estate can get into difficulty. But supporters of the community land movement have long been concerned about the likely response from some self-appointed guardians of the public purse.

It was something addressed by historian Jim Hunter in his study of community ownership in the Highlands and Islands

The Carnegie UK Trust commissioned Professor Hunter to write the story of community buyouts over the past 20 years, and “ From The Low Tide of the Sea to the Highest Mountain Tops” was published in 2012.

In the conclusion he wrote that maintaining the necessary commitment to such projects by local residents was a constant challenge, and continued:

“ That is why it is by no means impossible that, sooner or later, one – or more than one – of the local land trusts operating in the Highlands and Islands will get into financial difficulty, maybe even go under. If or when this happens critics and opponents of community ownership will insist that the community ownership concept has thereby been invalidated. They will be wrong. The bankruptcy of a conventionally structured company – something which happens every day – does not of itself indicate that other companies are bound to meet the same fate. Nor will the failure of a community ownership trust in any way signal that other such trusts are necessarily heading for the rocks. After all, if the record of private landownership in the Highlands an Islands was the be judged by the number of landlords who have gone spectacularly bust, often with very bad consequences for their tenants and dependants, then time would have been called on such ownership very many years ago.”

And for those who questioned whether public money should be spent on the buyouts, Professor Hunter had some comparisons.

The £30m total from public and lottery sources which helped take half-a-million acres of land into community control over two decades, was equivalent to the bill for only 600 yards of Edinburgh’s tramlines.

In fact it amounted to less than 7% of the cost of the five-mile M74 completion stretch of motorway in Glasgow and matched the subsidy farmers and landowners receive in Britain every three or four days.

Money well spent or what?

Empowering Scottish Islands

Island Minister appointed 

The Scottish Islands Federation welcomes the restoration of the island minister post for which it has long been campaigning. Derek MacKay who has been appointed to the post, previously chaired the Islands Area Ministerial Working Group which produced the Prospectus for Islands, undoubtedly the most comprehensive package of powers for island communities ever produced.

Relaunch of Islands Area Ministerial Working Group.

Newly appointed Islands Minister meets with the Leader of Orkney Islands Council Leader on Tuesday 2nd December. Speaking ahead of his visit Mr Mackay said: “The Scottish Government’s proposals to empower all of Scotland’s island communities included a commitment to appoint an Islands Minister and I am keen to engage with all the islands leaders. Orkney is my first island visit since being appointed and I plan to visit all other Island leaders in the coming weeks. In my new role I will focus on fulfilling our commitments to empower and support Scotland’s island communities and to provide a voice for all of Scotland’s 93 island communities within the Government. We will shortly re-launch the Islands Area Ministerial Working Group and consult on further measures that might be included in an Islands Act. This will include how the Smith Commission proposals for the full devolution of all Crown Estate assets in Scotland can bring benefits to the islands.”

Empowering Scottish Island Communities

On 17 June 2014, in Kirkwall, First Minister Alex Salmond launched the “Prospectus for islands”, stating the Scottish government’s vision for the Scottish Islands. It was the result of months of meeting by the islands area ministerial working group set up to look at how the vision produced by the 3 unitary island councils – Orkney- Shetland and Western isles in their ground-breaking document  “Our Islands, Our Future” launched in Orkney almost exactly a year before. In the prospectus, the Scottish Government has committed to implement a range of proposals, including:

  • To bring forward a Bill for an Islands Act upon independence to place a duty on the Scottish Government and other public bodies to ‘island-proof’ their functions and decisions, and create a post of ‘Minister for Island Communities’
  • To extend to 2020 the duration of the Enterprise Areas at Arnish, Lyness and Hatston, and support the establishment of Island Innovation Zones, to help sustain job opportunities
  • To allocate, upon Independence, 100 per cent of the net income from the islands’ sea bed leasing revenues to island communities rather than to central government
  • To ensure Islands Councils’ representation on a new strategic energy committee upon independence, and explore ways to mitigate any adverse community impacts from oil and gas activities consistent with our commitments made to the industry in Scotland’s Future
  • To develop a ‘planning brief’ approach for aquaculture to underpin further development and growth of the sector, and develop a ‘Community Benefit Charter’ with the Islands Councils, the aquaculture industry and those involved in the regulatory framework
  • To ensure the special needs of island communities have a stronger voice and representation in Europe ‪These proposals will complement the range of recent measures already being implemented by the Scottish Government, including:
  • Additional top-up to island beef producers leading to an uplift of around €65 per calf under the Beef Voluntary Coupled Support (VCS) Scheme
  • Delegation of statutory regional marine planning for the Island areas (to 12 nautical miles) to local Marine Planning Partnerships, with the Islands Councils playing a lead role
  • Securing Islands council representation on committees to ensure voice in the Scotland Rural Development Programme

Here is a link to  download the full document: Empowering Scottish Islands Communities.

Community Food Growing

Community food growing 

One of the ambitions of the forthcoming Community Empowerment Bill is to increase the number of communities who take on land with a view to growing food.

Acquiring the land is one thing –although no easy task in itself – but converting land into a successful growing space is something else altogether. A great couple of resources have just been published by the Fed, SAGS, SNH and CSGN. See also the step by step guide to community growing. (thanks to Angus Hardie of Local People leading for this information)

Horshader Community Growing Project receives SURF award

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Horshader’s Community Growing Project was awarded the prestigious 2014 SURF Award for Best Practice in Community Led Regeneration on 2/12/14. The project was praised for its inspiring work by Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs.

  • The Community Growing Project was set up in January 2014 by Horshader Community Development to serve the villages of South Shawbost, Dalbeag, and Dalmore on the West Side of the Isle of Lewis in Scotland.
  • It established an innovative community-led partnership through the Ideas Bank to develop a sustainable project which also demonstrates efficient use of public funding.
  • Horshader Community Development received grant funding from the Climate Challenge Fund and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to erect allotment polytunnels in the area and fund two local jobs.
  • A full time Project Worker is responsible for the growing unit and producing a plan for providing fresh fruit and vegetables which will be distributed through a market garden initiative. A part time Outreach Officer is also be employed and be responsible for organising and delivering a programme of events and activities to encourage the reduction of carbon emissions.
  • The project provides four food-growing polycrubs that will supply year-round fresh fruit and vegetables for the community. It will also provide an accessible covered space for community members to grow their own produce in the form of two allotment tunnels, one in South Shawbost and one in Dalmore.
  • Ordinary polytunnels would not last long in the exposed climate of the island of Lewis. For this reason, polycrubs, made out of recycled feed pipe from salmon farms and polycarbonate sheeting have been sourced from Nortenergy in Shetland where they have withstood gales of up to force 12.