Section 19a Approval

Procession2

We’ve heard that our application for a so-called ‘Scheme for Development’, otherwise known as a Section 19a, has been granted by the Scottish Land Court. This will allow us to put the final piece of the jigsaw in our land agreement in place with the landowners, Scottish Wildlife Trust, and the shareholders of the Achiltibuie common grazings. In its findings, the Land Court concluded that the project is a reasonable use for the land requested, fairly recompenses the crofting shareholders of the common grazing, is not unfair to them and that the community will benefit financially from the development. In arriving at its decision the the Land Court conducted a two day hearing in Ullapool which saw CWP directors and others giving evidence in support of our application. The three crofter shareholders who had objected had withdrawn their objections leaving only two holiday-home owners to have their objections considered. Trifling though this may have seemed, it did cost us a lot of time and money to pursue – time that would have been better spent on community development and money that most certainly should have been spent in the community.

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Tilting at windmills

windmillsOur community wind project – the Village Turbine – is proceeding apace with our project managers Locogen Ltd moving ahead on several fronts readying for construction and a ‘switch on’ date of March 2017, with funds then beginning to roll in for community projects. Busy and exciting times!

Of the many things on the list to do, finalising the agreement with the crofters on the Achiltibuie Common Grazings is but one. With a vast 3,500 hectares (over 8,600 acres) of ground on the grazings the Village Turbine will take just 0.98 hectares out of the lightly-grazed area available, and apart from the base of the turbine itself the rest of that 0.98 hectares will be a new access track and an area of hard standing both of which will be unfenced and open for the crofters to use. It will be an excellent help in managing their stock and feeding them over the winter. For the loss of the 0.98 hectares for the track and hardstanding, the shareholders of the common grazing who claim agricultural subsidies will see a very small loss of subsidy which will be more than made up by the compensation being offered to them over the 20 year life of the community project. The compensation money will come out of the funds which were otherwise destined to be spent in the wider community.

The process to arrive at an agreement with the crofters inevitably involves the Scottish Land Court who adjudicate on such matters, and so we are going through that process now – something which couldn’t be done previously as details of the project were being finalised. The process is referred to as a ‘Section 19A application’ (it is made under Section 19A of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993) and it sees the land being taken out of crofting not permanently but just for the 20 year lifetime of the project – it’s the process that other communities have used for their community wind turbine projects throughout the crofting counties. Up until our case, all Section 19A applications have gone through the court system as simple administrative procedures, but in our case a court case has been triggered by objectors.

There are 35 shareholders of the Achiltibuie Common Grazings and there were no objections from any to the Village Turbine proposal except for three who claim that they are not being compensated adequately for the loss of the 0.98 hectares. Two of the objectors are part-time crofters and neither is the third wholly dependent on income from grazing livestock. We’ve tried to negotiate an acceptable position with these three crofters but they refuse to meet with us or to enter into any form of discussion. We’ve offered to increase the level of compensation although it will take money away from community projects. We’ve also cleared up several misunderstandings they had about the project as the objectors have not attempted to inform themselves about the project by attending the many public information meetings and events we have held up to this point. One objection is that if the Village Turbine was allowed, they would not be able to put one up on their own on a private commercial basis for no community benefit; another objection is that the fences will disrupt their gathering – but there will be no fences.

The Scottish Land Court is there to protect the rights of crofters and in this case is concerned that shareholders of the Achiltibuie Common Grazing are fairly treated. We heartily approve of this. The Scottish Land Court’s advertising of our Section 19A application in the Ullapool News also resulted in five objections from resident and non-resident holiday home owners who are not shareholders of the Achiltibuie Common Grazing who generally raised planning matters that have already been considered and dealt with when the project got the unanimous approval of Highland Council’s Planning Committee – planning matters are of no interest to the Scottish Land Court.

With the objections still in place, the Land Court process will now move to a formal hearing, due to take place on May 9th. Given the overwhelming benefits the project will bring to the crofting and wider community of Coigach with the £2.2 million of funds it is forecast to bring us (a figure that could be doubled with matched funding for projects), we are confident that the court will find in our favour and approve the Section 19A application. There then remains the matter of the cost of going to court and as with the normal course of things we expect the Land Court to award costs in accordance with their ruling. If this were to be the case, as seems likely, we have been advised by our lawyers that the objectors would be faced with a bill of around £15,000 for our costs alone. Given that the objecting crofters are the ones who the Scottish Land Court are particularly concerned with, and they have refused to discuss anything at all with us we asked our lawyers to write to them to ensure that they are fully aware of the situation they might be getting themselves into by taking us to court – not threatening letters by any means but rather ones which will encourage reflection, for it’s in the interests of nobody in Coigach that this matter proceeds to a court hearing.

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Great news for Coigach’s future…

In the light of a revised method of connecting our turbine to the grid which will cost us less than original estimates, and with further analysis of wind recordings, the value of our project to the community of Coigach has been further refined – and it’s tremendous news! After all finance costs we are on track to deliver 2.2 million pounds over the twenty year lifetime of the project to Coigach Community Development Company for spending in our community – for wide-ranging community projects, business developments, bursaries for young folk, etc.

With this to look forward to it’s a great time to be in Coigach!

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Latest News

Our project is on track to start delivering energy to the National Grid and money to Coigach’s coffers in March 2017. With that deadline in mind our project managers Locogen Ltd are working back from it to ensure everything slots into place. To maximise the income for the community from our single turbine we have reduced the output from our original plan of 900kW to 500kW. This may sound counter-intuitive but the payment per kilowatt of power generated is much higher for turbines up to 500kW. We’re all very busy on day-to-day dealings with the project and are grateful to Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Community Energy Scotland and Scottish and Southern Energy for their ongoing support and funding.

The cuts in support for onshore wind projects announced by the Westminster Government will fortunately not affect our project as we are far enough advanced and of a smaller scale than those they targeted. It remains to be seen whether the agreements reached at the Paris climate change summit last week will see the UK Government reverse some of its recent and regrettable undermining of the country’s low-carbon ambitions.

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You’ll have heard we got it!

To date almost 1,000 of our friends and supporters on Coigach Community Development Company’s Facebook page alone have picked up the news that Coigach Wind Power has got full planning permission for our community wind turbine!

The great news spread like wildfire through the community with photographs being ‘phoned home’ of the group of local folk who travelled through to the actual planning hearing to show the strength of community support for the project. Nothing like a cuppa to relieve the tension!…except perhaps a dram, but that wasn’t available at the Council Offices…

The Coigach Support Crew!

The Coigach Support Crew!

This is only the ‘end of the beginning’ though… and a long beginning it has been with over ten years of local volunteer research, meetings, consultations, public meetings and presentations – and now latterly with the volunteer directors of Coigach Wind Power, whose parent community company is CCDC, taking things forward to a very professionally presented planning application, complete with full, independent Environmental Impact Statement.           From its very inception, consultation with local crofters and bodies such as Scottish Natural Heritage and landowners Scottish Wildlife Trust was built in to the project.
News picCongratulations flooded in from other community companies in the Highlands and Islands who are also seeking to, or already are, supporting  their fragile or challenged areas with clean energy projects.

So now the next phase of hard work starts, but we hope to get support for a paid, locally-based Community Energy development officer to take the lead in bringing the 2 renewable energy projects in the locality forward: the community wind turbine and the smaller Hydro project (a shared project with SWT) which also has planning permission.

And this is how it was reported in the West Highland Free Press (Article by WHFP Staff reporter, Lisa Falconer):

“Submitted by community group Coigach Wind Power, the application for a single 900kW turbine standing 77 metres tall at Achvraie, Achiltibuie, was passed by Highland Council’s north planning committee on Tuesday.

The news was greeted with delight in Achiltibuie, with CWP project officer Peter Muir calling it “a major milestone” for the project. He added that there was still a long way to go, however, until the project was up and running. Mr Muir said, having looked at similar ventures, that it could be two to four years before the turbine is operational.

Coigach Wind Power chair Alison Hitchings added: “We are delighted to have this consent in place which will allow us to move on with the project and deliver the financial benefits it will provide for the Coigach community.”

Work has been ongoing on the community project since at least 2006, planning officer Dorothy Stott told members of the committee on Tuesday. She added that in addition to providing a lengthy environmental statement, discussions had been held with Scottish Natural Heritage to find the best position for the turbine and no consultees had raised objections to the scheme.

As well as a community ballot held in 2010, which showed 68 per cent of local residents were in favour of the scheme, the application attracted 320 public comments in support, plus a petition signed by 33 people. Meanwhile, 256 objections were received objecting to the plans, many of which came from outwith the area – including Germany and Spain –  something East Sutherland and Edderton councillor

Graham Phillips said “really doesn’t wash”. He added that it was a community development which was “vitally” needed and gave his full backing to the scheme.
Proceeds from the scheme are set to be fed into local projects such as pier restoration, social housing and workshop provision, but those opposing the plans believe it will have a detrimental effect on tourism as well as affecting the National Scenic Area designation for Assynt-Coigach.
Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh councillor Audrey Sinclair said that given the stunning scenery of the area she could understand why the application had attracted such a vast number of comments. However, Coigach is “a community on the edge” she said, noting that the latest Census results had shown an 11 per cent drop in the population of Achiltibuie. She added that this was a community project — with the backing of the vast majority of local residents, and the benefits to be ploughed back locally — and that “anything to improve and keep it viable, the better”.
Her fellow ward councillor, Biz Campbell, said that in Coigach “enthusiasm has been second to none” for the scheme. “It is a local enterprise generating power and income, helping to sustain a very very fragile local community,” she said. “I fully support this application and admire the community for their enterprise and what they are doing for the area.”
Mr Muir extended his thanks to SNH, Atmos Consulting, laywers Harper MacLeod and all the volunteers involved in the project over the years.
There was further good news for the area with the approval of a planning application for the Ben Mor hydro scheme, a joint venture between the Coigach Community Development Company and Ben Mor Estate landowners the Scottish Wildlife Trust.”

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What the papers said..!

Report from the West Highland Free Press

“Plans for a single community wind turbine in Coigach have so far attracted 169 public comments, the vast majority of which are in favour of the scheme.

Coigach Wind Power submitted the planning application to Highland Council following a lengthy consultation process which included a community ballot showing 68 per cent of local residents were in favour of the scheme. If given the go-ahead, revenue from the single 900kW turbine — which would stand 77 metres from base to blade tip — will be used to secure the future of the community through schemes identified by residents as a priority. These include pier restoration, social housing and workshop provision.

The area is considered fragile, having lost major employers the Hydroponicum and Summer Isles Foods in recent years, and one of two shops in the area, Polbain Stores, recently closed. In addition, the roll at Achiltibuie Primary School has fallen to just 13, with a lack of affordable housing being blamed for forcing young people and families out of the area.”

For more follow to the links below

http://www.whfp.com/2013/09/27/huge-support-for-coigach-wind-turbine/

http://www.whfp.com/2013/09/13/coigach-wind-farm-submitted-to-council

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Update on planning…

PlannersWe should hear whether or not our community windmill gets through planning in the next month.  You still have time to squeeze in your supportive comment by going to the Highland Council website and select Planning. Next go to the eplanning section and put Achiltibuie in the search bar, then scroll down to the turbine Application. Make  a Public Comment and write in your message of support. Have a browse of the comments.

You will notice that most of the recent comments have been made by people from afar – which they have every right to do – but many of these accuse the project of being led by uncaring ‘developers’ (no! – it’s a community-led project, all profits going for community benefit and sustainability, including the local environment) or the applicants not having looked at and assessed closely aspects of the environmental impact (there is a thorough EIA in the application documents.) One comment even says that the windmill will threaten the survival of the local Hoopoe population …

hoopoe

Hoopoe, a native of the subtropics and southern Europe.

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