The Scottish Land Court has announced dates for its first hearing of the case between Stornoway Wind Farm Limited – Lewis Wind Power’s planned scheme for 36 turbines on common grazings– and the crofters who want to build community turbines on the same grazings.

The hearing is for Stornoway Wind Farm’s Section 19A application under the Crofting Act – which seeks final permission to go ahead with a plan, even when shareholders in the common grazings that are affected are opposed to it.

The hearing will take place in Stornoway on December 12 and 13, with December 14 also reserved in case it runs beyond those two days.

It will be held in the Rev MA Macleod Memorial Hall on Kenneth Street and will begin at 10am. The hearing will be open to the public.

Before then, though, a public exhibition is to be held in Stornoway Town Hall by the four townships seeking to develop their own community-owned windfarms, in opposition to Lewis Wind Power’s project.

The townships of Sandwick North Street, Melbost and Branahuie, Sandwick East Street and Lower Sandwick, and Aignish will have displays about their plans in the Town Hall on Monday and Tuesday next week, November 26 and 27, as part of public consultation over their planning applications which have now been lodged with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

Representatives from planning consultancy Aquatera, which is supporting the crofters in technical aspects of their planning applications, will also be on hand to answer questions and everyone is welcome to come along.

The Land Court hearing next month, which will be about procedure, is the beginning of its examination of the dispute between Lewis Wind Power and the four townships who want to develop their own renewables schemes.

The townships had applied to the Crofting Commission to develop these schemes under Section 50B of the Crofting Act, which allows for the development of common grazings land for non-traditional crofting use if it is sustainable and all crofting shareholders are in agreement. 

The Crofting Commission rejected three of the four applications – it is still deciding on the fourth – with the view that this would cause “detriment” to Stornoway Trust, the landowner, which favours the bigger project from Lewis Wind Power.

However, the townships have already lodged their appeals over that decision with the Land Court and it is expected to hear these appeals as part of its consideration of the Section 19A application.

The convergence of these two planning applications before the Land Court, and the fact the hearing will examine who has the right to develop on crofting land – a private company given a lease by a landowner or the crofting shareholders of the common grazings – means this is being widely regarded as a test case for crofting rights across the Highlands and Islands. 

The townships, who are seeking a total of 21 turbines across their four plans, argue that their case is economically preferable as community-owned projects return 20 times as much money to the local area as do private projects, such as the Stornoway Wind Farm, which belongs to Lewis Wind Power – a partnership of French multinational EDF Energy and Wood Group.

Official documents from the Land Court cite the respondents to Stornoway Wind Farm’s applications as “crofters having rights in (the) Stornoway Wind Farm site”. In reality, this means the 116 or so people who objected to the scheme. 

The objectors, who largely come from the four townships planning their own schemes, will be represented at the hearing by Edinburgh legal firm Gillespie Macandrew.

Rhoda Mackenzie, spokesperson for Sandwick North Street, stressed what the townships were fighting for was control of the profits for the good of the whole of the Outer Hebrides.

If the townships prevail, the Community Benefit fund from their wind farms will follow the same principles as Point and Sandwick Trust’s Community Benefit fund, which goes to causes throughout the island chain.  Referring to the fact Stornoway Trust had signed the lease with Lewis Wind Power without any public consultation at all, she stressed “the moral issue” of apparently losing control of the land that had been gifted to the people of the Stornoway Trust estate more than 100 years ago by Lord Leverhulme.   “It’s our land,” she said. “It’s our grazings land and it’s been taken off us. It’s community land ownership in reverse.”

She was speaking at the top of Beinn Ghrideag, where the township representatives had gathered for a group photo on Monday.  Looking out over the Pentland moor with its views across Stornoway, Point and Arnish and over to the mainland hills, Rhoda said: “It’s quite emotional to be up here. To think every square inch of this ground was precious to the people here – for grazings, for peat – and it’s been taken off them.”

Kenny Morrison, one of the representatives from Sandwick East Street and Lower Sandwick, said: “If the Stornoway Trust had only come and talked to us at the outset away back, a lot of this would have been avoided. Everybody is desperate to keep the money on the island. It’s not just for this generation; it’s the generations to come – 70 years to come.”

Kenny added that in all the correspondence sent from his township to the Stornoway Trust, including letters sent by recorded delivery, the Factor had never once replied. Not since 2007 or 2008, when they began corresponding with him.

“We’re still waiting for a trustee to come to talk to us,” he said. “The only time they’ve talked to us was at the two public consultation meetings in the Town Hall about EDF’s plans. They were trying to sell it to us.”

Calum Buchanan, grazings clerk for Sandwick East Street and Lower Sandwick, added: “They are giving away our land from under us. It shouldn’t have reached this stage in the beginning, to have to fight for your own rights. It seems unfair.”

Angus Campbell, grazings clerk for Melbost and Branahuie, said the rights to develop the disputed turbines should stay with the community. “Then the money that’s going to be generated would stay in the island – and not like EDF, where it’s going to go down to pay for Hinckley Point.”

Of the four townships, Aignish is the only one that has not had its Section 50b application rejected by the Crofting Commission – although the crofters did win on six of the seven objections lodged by Stornoway Trust.

Donnie MacDonald, Aignish grazings clerk, said they had been informed by letter that the Stornoway Trust had objected to the Section 50B for Aignish – and that the township were getting the opportunity to respond, which it has done. Donnie said: “I am encouraged that the Commission has given us an opportunity to respond to the Stornoway Trust's feeble attempt to derail our Section 50B application. The best objection that the latter could come up with is that the community turbines would be to the 'detriment' of the Trust."

In conclusion, Rhoda said: “We are simply trying to replace 21 multinational turbines with 21 community ones. The overall total of turbines will remain the same. The interconnector case is not affected – if anything it is strengthened by having community turbines as part of it. We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think we were morally right and that the Trust were morally wrong in what they have done. The most prevalent comment you hear is, ‘they can’t do that – it’s our land’.”

Picture by Sandie Maciver of Sandie Photos

 

From left to right: Angus Campbell from Melbost and Branahuie, Donnie MacDonald from Aignish, Rhoda Mackenzie from Sandwick North Street and Murdo Macleod, Calum Buchanan and Kenny Morrison, all from Sandwick East Street and Lower Sandwick.