September 20, 2006

Last-ditch deal allows crofters to buy Lewis estate

Crofters should finally acquire the 53,000-acre Galson Estate in the north of Lewis by Christmas, after more than four years of negotiation.
A last-ditch grant and loan package of £10,000 has been agreed with the John Muir Trust, and a loan of £25,000 given by Western Isles Council.
These are the final pieces in a jigsaw which allows the crofting community to close a £600,000-plus deal with the owners. But the John Muir Trust wants its money back if plans to build a massive windfarm on estate land proceed.
It was thought the Galson crofters would be the first to mount a hostile buyout using land reform legislation giving crofting communities a right to buy their land, whether or not the landlord wishes to sell. The Grahams and Macraes, the Lewis families who own the estate, had refused even to discuss a buyout with the community until last year.
The owners had entered into a leasing agreement with Amec, the power giant, over plans for almost half of the world’s largest windfarm to be sited on Galson land. The estate also formed its own firm, Galson Energy, to get royalties from the windfarm development.
However, a legal opinion published by Highlands and Islands Enterprise cast doubt on whether such a lease would be valid. A deal was subsequently struck with the estate under which Galson Energy would fold and the community pay the estate 17.5% of the landlord’s share of royalties.
In April, it was announced the Galson community would receive an award of £509,882 from the Scottish Land Fund and a further £127,470 from HIE. But local people still had to raise £46,000 by next month. They were falling short until the council and the trust stepped in.
The trust is a main objector to the chain of 70 giant turbines earmarked for moorland between Barvas and Ness belonging to the estate.
Mick Blunt, the trust’s partnerships manager, said: “The John Muir Trust supports renewable energy developments, especially when these benefit local communities, but are opposed to inappropriately sited schemes which damage magnificent areas of wild land, such as the north of Lewis.”

by David Ross, Highland Correspondent

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