Category Archives: Island News

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.