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Land court rejects windfarm objectors

The Scottish Land Court has rejected the latest effort by some tenants in Lewis townships to block the Stornoway Trust’s agreement with Stornoway Wind Farm Ltd to create a 36-turbine development on common grazings.

The project is a joint venture between the French energy company, EDF, and the Wood group. The eventual fate of the proposed development hangs on whether or not an interconnector is established between Lewis and the mainland.

The objectors were shareholders in four of the 17 common grazings affected by the proposed scheme – Aignish, Melbost & Branahuie, Sandwick North Street and Sandwick & Sandwick East Street.

It is the fourth occasion legal rulings have found in favour of the Trust and against their opponents. Initially the Crofters Commission rejected the tenants’ case for building their own wind farms on the same land and this was taken to appeal, first to the Land Court and then to the Court of Session, with the appeals rejected on both occasions.

In the words of the latest Land Court ruling, the most recent case “is the culmination of a lengthy and hard fought dispute between the parties as to how best the common grazings of the four townships … should be developed for wind farm purposes”.

The new ruling involves a “Section 19A” application by Stornoway Wind Farm Ltd to determine whether the compensation offered to crofters is fair and if the proposal “in all respects satisfies the statutory criteria for our consent”.

Previously, opponents had lodged their own applications to build windfarms on the same areas of land but this was rejected in 2018 by the Crofters Commission as it would have been detrimental to the interests of the landowner, preventing their own development from going ahead.

The Land Court recalled: “We refused appeals against these decisions on 17 July 2019 and on 12 August 2020 the Inner House of the Court of Session refused appeals against our decision.

“As senior counsel for the respondents made clear in his submissions at the end of the present hearing, that outcome has reshaped the contours of the dispute in as much as the respondents now accept that, if a wind farm is going to be built on their common grazings, it will be by the applicants.

“What the case is now about is whether the present scheme gives fair recompense to the crofters and in all respects satisfies the statutory criteria for our consent under section 19A”.

The Land Court heard that under the terms of the agreement between the Stornoway Trust and Stornoway Wind Farm Ltd, £900,000 a year will be paid into a community fund on which both the Trust and crofting interests will be represented. The Trust will also have the right to own 20 per cent of the project.

In his evidence to the hearing, Trust factor, Iain MacIver, explained they had “considered the possibility of smaller, community owned schemes and had indeed encouraged such developments at Beinn Ghrideag and elsewhere.

“However the community would be at huge risk in taking on a development of the scale the Trust were interested in building. The Trust had chosen the safer option. A development on this scale was necessary to support the case for an interconnector, on which all wind farm developments in the Western Isles depended”.

In a summary of the evidence presented by objectors, the Land Court noted “a unanimous view that community owned wind farms … would produce a far greater financial return for the crofting and wider communities than commercially owned developments; and resentment that this section 19A scheme going ahead would, in effect, forever preclude the possibility of their separate community owned schemes being realised”

After considering the evidence from both parties, Land Court chairman, Lord Minginish, found comprehensively in favour of Stornoway Wind Farm Ltd and the Trust.

He wrote: “We are now satisfied that the development is for a reasonable purpose; that to carry it out would not be unfair; that it provides fair recompense to each member of the crofting community in the area affected by it; and that if it is carried out the crofting community will be likely to benefit financially and at a level commensurate with what might be obtained on the development proceeding other than by virtue of section 19A … and we have, accordingly, granted our consent”.

Responding to the decision, Mr MacIver said: “From the outset, the Trust realised the importance of having a credible and trustworthy partner, capable of delivering on-island wind on terms that would provide fair and reasonable recompense to all the crofters involved. Having the added option of enjoying an equity stake in that scenario further enhances the attractiveness of our relationship with LWP and Stornoway Wind Farm.

“I believe this extremely important and eagerly awaited decision by the Land Court helps to convey that our objectives have been well met and safely secured through the applicable provisions of the Crofting Acts”.

A ruling on expenses will be made within 21 days of last week’s ruling.

The project is currently seeking subsidy through the Contract for Difference process, with the next round expected later this year. “Remote Island Wind” will not on this occasion be competing against Offshore Wind, which is thought to make success for island projects more likely, thereby triggering the capacity required to underpin an interconnector.