More than 700 crofters yesterday vowed to take the battle to keep their land to the courts, in a move to block one of Scotland’s biggest proposed wind farms.
Crofters on the Galson and Barvas Estates on Lewis said they were stepping up their campaign to thwart the 181-turbine development. The project is currently awaiting a decision by the Scottish Executive.
However, whether the scheme goes ahead could finally rest with the Scottish Land Court, as the crofters say they will fight any move to resume croft land to make way for building.
Ironically, the land at Galson is now owned by the community after a local trust – largely made up of crofters – bought it from a private owner in January.
In a statement issued on behalf of 732 crofting tenants of both estates, they argue that their livelihoods would be greatly reduced by the development.
A spokesman for the group said: “The authorities concerned need to realise the strength of opposition. We will fight this wind farm all the way, using every means at our disposal. In addition to thousands of objections to the planning application, all the ballots and surveys undertaken on the estates have found sustained majority opposition to this wind farm.
“We have no intention of giving up our common grazings,” the spokesman said. “To put it simply – no land, no wind farm.”
Galson, which has a population of 2,000 and covers 22 villages and 616 crofts, was once a candidate for Scotland’s first hostile take-over under crofting right-to-buy legislation.
However, a deal was reached with the Graham family, who were the owners for 80 years, to allow the estate to be bought by the Galson Estate Trust.
But in 2003, the private owners signed a lease agreement with Lewis Wind Power (LWP), which would see the Graham family secure income from the wind farm irrespective of future ownership of the estate.
Opposition to the move from the Galson trust helped to encourage the Scottish Executive to challenge so-called interposed leases, amid claims that landlords were trying to “asset-strip” estates and thwart community take-overs.
The Scottish Land Court held a test case last month and a decision is expected later this summer.
But, in a further twist, the Galson trust, having taken over the estate, now holds the lease it fought against, relating to a wind farm many of its members also oppose.
Norman Thomson, the chairman of the Galson Estate Trustees, said: “We inherited the lease and in doing so we have inherited the legal obligations of the lease. When you inherit something like that, you are stuck with it. We are now waiting for the Land Court ruling.”
He said if the lease is ruled competent and planning permission is granted for the wind farm, crofters can still challenge the project through the land court by opposing the resumption of croft land.
John Price, an LWP spokesman, said: “We understand and respect the rights of crofting communities, and these are acknowledged in the leases covering the proposed wind farm.”
By John Ross
11 July 2007
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