Supplementary Environmental Information published
The long awaited Supplementary Environmental Information (SEI) to the Environmental Impact Report on the Spaceport 1 development was published on the Comhairle’s planning portal at the start of February, kicking off an additional four week period of public consultation.
The submission included more than 100 new documents, ranging from maps, illustrations and photographs to technical reports and surveys.
The Spaceport 1 development at Scolpaig Farm has had a mixed response from the community, with some welcoming the economic value of the project and others citing environmental and cultural heritage concerns.
The developers have set out the beneficial economic impacts associated with both the construction and operation of the site, saying by year three of operation, Spaceport 1 will be providing 23.26 Full-Time Equivalent jobs and generating turnover of £6.45 million.
Those raising objections included the Friends of Scolpaig Tower group, which has campaigned against the development. The Group says it is “fighting to protect this area of exceptional natural beauty and biodiversity from the inappropriate development of a commercial spaceport.”
The Group’s concerns include the impact on the single track road between Carinish and Scolpaig, which will be subject to clearway restrictions during launch periods and will not be upgraded as part of the development.
The location of the development has also proved controversial, as it is sited on Scolpaig Farm, a well-preserved 19th century agricultural holding, and close to Scolpaig Tower and the Iron Age Dun on which it was built.
As part of the SEI requirements, developers were asked to extend their survey work to include a structural assessment of the Tower.
Consultants Harley Haddow were commissioned to undertake the structural survey and the Report they returned makes up part of the SEI submissions.
The Report confirms that a site inspection was carried out in August 22, covering Scolpaig Tower, the Farm and its associated buildings. The surveyors were able to carry out a visual inspection of the outbuildings, ‘externally and internally where possible’, and made their inspection of the Farm itself from the perimeter only. Scolpaig Tower was subject to a ‘visual assessment from loch side only, given the compromised access arrangements, with subsequent photographic/video survey undertaken separately by Fraser Architecture.’
On the question of Scolpaig Tower, the surveyors state that: “Our view is that the tower is highly sensitive, either to wind loads or perhaps even vibration from running traffic or even, say, operatives setting up a scaffolding frame. It may be that the only way to ensure longevity of the tower whilst minimising risk to those operatives charged with the work is to take down the tower, by hand.”
In its response to the consultation last year, the North Uist Community Council summed up community feeling by saying:
“The Community Council recognises that there is divided opinion on the proposal and does not provide judgement in favour of or against the proposal. We do, however, provide the following comments:
“There is strong community desire for creation of sustainable employment to help stem population decline and provide quality employment opportunities. There is, however, some scepticism that the number of projected FTE jobs will materialise and that they will manifest as full-time roles in North Uist or elsewhere in the local area…… The lack of suitable and available housing is a significant problem for businesses trying to recruit staff in the locality. Similar challenges can be envisaged for any job opportunities that are created via the Spaceport…
“The EIA presents arguments of no detrimental environmental impact; there are some community concerns that some detrimental impact could result. There is some concern as to how the safety of activities will be assured, particularly given the experimental nature of some activities…
“There is some concern of the possible impact to fishing activity; although this may only be for a limited number of days a year when there could be contention in short good weather windows…
“We acknowledge there is a sizeable construction phase and would encourage that work is contracted wherever possible to local contractors. It is acknowledged that the lease of Scolpaig Farm for agricultural use is a positive outcome.”
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar acquired the full 687 acres that make up the farm in June 2019. The Farm and the Tower are scheduled monuments.
The Spaceport 1 development is being led by a consortium that includes Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, HIE, QinetiQ, Rhea Group and Commercial Space Technologies Ltd.
Development plans for the Spaceport were first submitted in the summer of 2019 but later withdrawn after more than 600 objections were raised. In November 2021, the developers showcased revised plans for a scaled down project, which generated 223 objections.
As Am Pàipear went to print at the end February, there were only four new responses from members of the public to this new consultation, one neutral and three against.
With the final submissions now returned, the Comhairle’s planning department will review the application proposal and the consultation comments from members of the public and specialist consultees before preparing its report and recommendation for consideration by the Planning Board of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in due course.
£393m investment to generate 1,300 jobs across three island groups
The long awaited Islands Growth Deal was finally and formally ratified by the UK and Scottish Governments and the three island Authorities of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles at a special ceremony in Orkney on January 20th.
Uist councillor and Comhairle Leader Paul Steele attended the ceremony, along with Lord Offord of Garvel, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Scotland, Ivan McKee MSP, Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise, Cllr James Stockan, Leader of Orkney Islands Council and Cllr Emma Macdonald, Leader of Shetland Islands Council.
The Islands Growth Deal delivers a joint UK and Scottish Government commitment of a £100 million investment in the future economic prosperity of the three island groups, and is set to generate an anticipated 1,300 jobs and a further £293 million in match funding over the next ten years.
Of the 16 projects and programmes detailed in the Deal, five are specific to the Western Isles, with a further number benefiting across the island groups.
Four Uist projects are expected to benefit from the investment, including the proposed South Uist Food Hub, a Creative Practice Hub at Taigh Chearsabhagh, the St Kilda Viewpoint visitor centre at Beinn Riabhach on North Uist and the Comhairle’s controversial Spaceport development at Scolpaig Farm.
Cllr Steele described the programme as ‘highly ambitious, but achievable’, and thanked the many community and council members who had supported the project from the start.
Cllr Steele said: “The signing of the Islands Growth Deal is both the culmination of a vision set out by the Islands Councils and the UK and Scottish Governments and the beginning of the implementation of that vision.”
It is a milestone towards achieving our aims of securing 1300 jobs and £393m of investment over 10 years through the Islands Deal, using the resources of our Islands and capitalising on our natural assets and most importantly, our people.”
Ivan McKee MSP, Scottish Government Business Minister said: “This Growth Deal will be a game-changing initiative for our islands – enabling sustainable economic growth and delivering new and internationally significant port infrastructure that will play an important role in achieving net zero targets.
“This £50 million Scottish Government investment will support the transition to renewable energy sources – including equipping the workforce with new skills – and trial emissions reduction initiatives on islands. It will drive innovation in key space, food and drink and creative industries sectors; help develop significant tourism and cultural attractions and expand education provision.
“We are determined that our islands should be attractive places to live and work and are able to maximise their contribution to Scotland’s sustainable economic transformation.”
UK Government Minister for Scotland Malcolm Offord said: “This will not just boost local economies and create jobs, but also empower communities to get the most out of the many assets and attributes that make the islands such unique and special places to live.
“This deal is packed with a broad range of high-impact projects, whether it’s leading the transition to net zero or developing ‘must-visit’ destinations such as the St Kilda trail.”
Community estate plans on show
Sealladh na Beinne Mòire (SnBM) held its Annual General Meeting in Talla an Iochdair on the evening of 24th November. Around 50 members of the community braved the foul weather to attend the event, with a full contingent of Directors on hand to support CEO Darren Taylor and his team.
Mr Taylor presented an Operational Review of the business, talking through the SnBM accounts and setting out key issues of interest. The audited accounts posted for 2021 showed income totalling £2,840,455 and expenditure of £1,825,493, leaving a pre-tax/depreciation profit of £1,014,962, and net profit of £20,080.
A more detailed overview showed an uplift in income for most areas of the business, with golf, fishing and a combined Grogarry Lodge/sporting function all returning modest profits and Lochboisdale Harbour returning a loss of £107k. South Uist Renewable Energy Ltd reported a sharp fall in income from £2,375,000 in 2020 to £1,993,000 this year as a result of a marked reduction in wind and over 30 days of maintenance-related downtime.
The results of the recent helicopter deer count were presented, confirming 216 stags, 684 hinds and 198 calves, making a total 1,198 beasts. Cull targets for 2022/23 were listed as 255 in all, with 143 culled to date. Members were also presented with cull targets for the next six years, which the Company suggest would bring the total deer herd down to just over 600 by 2028.
The target herd size listed is considerably higher than previously stated and after the meeting, Am Pàipear asked why the figure had changed. The SnBM position was confirmed as: “We had previously settled on an optimal herd number of around 450 and our cull targets for the coming years are heading that way. We would like to see the positive impact of our new zero tolerance policy of shooting all beasts to the west of the main road and within village boundaries on the east side of the estate. It may well be that if the deer are staying out of the way and not causing any damage that we can maintain a herd of around 600 without negative impacts.”
SnBM reported over £500k of external grant income, supporting two temporary posts and progressing a range of other projects.
Updates were provided on key projects, including the Smart Clachan housing development planned for Lochboisdale, the development of a local food production hub at Grogarry Steadings, and a ‘Strategic Visioning’ study to set out draft plans for Lochboisdale’s regeneration.
Details of £35,000 worth of community donations through 18 separate allocations were also detailed.
All 14 questions submitted by members ahead of the AGM were answered on the night and SnBM has confirmed these will be available to view on the Stòras website.
Questions asked during the meeting covered a broad range of subjects, including deer stocking plans, flooding impacts and the allocation of costs across sporting, gamekeeping and Grogarry Lodge functions.
When asked to set out their long term vision for Uist, the Directors cited the requirement to resolve the core issues Uist faces, including housing and ferry provision. The need to free up unused land to allow young people to croft and build homes was a common theme, as was the requirement to work together.
John Daniel Peteranna encouraged the Board to raise their sights to bigger, more aspirational projects, for example by pursuing the possibility of innovative new energy solutions.
Father Michael MacDonald urged the Board to look again at the radical drainage plans set out in the original business case for the community buyout of the Estate.
Of all discussions on the floor, only one comment elicited applause from the assembled audience when Iain Stephen Morrison stated his disappointment that no coherent vision for Uist had been set out by the Board. Mr Morrison said: “I think I’ve been to every AGM this organisation has held. Back in the beginning, there would be queues stretching out of the door, but tonight the room is half empty.” He continued: “I urge you to open up and bring the people with you. If you don’t, the price will be failure.”
Chair Mary Schmoller responded by reminding all members that the next AGM will be held next summer and that four Director posts would be open for election.
St Kilda Viewpoint Project Update
The proposed St Kilda Viewpoint visitor centre at Beinn Riabhach on North Uist is now in its final pre-contract stages of development following an award of over £150,000 to community group Sealladh Hiort by HIE and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar earlier this year.
Detailed planning permission and a building warrant are now approved and the project design team, led by Fraser Architecture of Benbecula, have nearly completed the detailed construction drawings. The quantity surveyors Torrance LLP of Inverness are now preparing bills of quantities, and contract documents will be ready for the project to go out to tender later this year.
Exhibition designers, Mather & Co of Manchester, are now working on a detailed design for the interior displays through which visitors will learn more about St Kilda’s natural history and the historic links between Uist and the double UNESCO World Heritage archipelago, which lies less than 40 miles off North Uist’s north-west coast.
Located nearly half a mile from the public road up the slopes of Beinn Riabhach at an altitude of 250ft above sea level, the Centre has panoramic views out across the Atlantic ocean, and the main feature will be a 60ft long full height viewing window through which visitors can get the best possible views of Hiort, Boreray and the two Stacs on clear days.
The innovative building design, which has a mainly timber structure, is based on off-site pre-fabrication, thus minimising the amount of on-site construction time. It is also highly energy efficient to reduce carbon emissions and running costs to a minimum.
The timing of the final pre-contract tender process will be linked to a number of capital funding applications now submitted to both the Scottish and UK governments. The Sealladh Hiort project is also included in the Destination Development group of tourism infrastructure developments proposed for the Outer Hebrides within the Comhairle’s Islands Growth Deal 10 year funding package, which is now in its final stages of agreement.
Sealladh Hiort Chair Alasdair MacEachen said: “The Sealladh Hiort board was delighted to receive this award from HIE and the Comhairle to enable the Uist St Kilda project to complete all of the pre-contract stages of what will be Uist’s most important tourism investment for many years. Although the funding environment is challenging at present, we have received excellent support from officers in HIE and the Comhairle to ensure we have the best possible chance of success. And even if we are not successful this year, the project will be absolutely ready to take advantage of any future funding opportunities if and when they arise.”
A song will be sung
The weather in Daliburgh didn’t quite live up to the name of ‘bright hill’ on Friday 13th May, when the team behind Cnoc Soilleir gathered to celebrate another important milestone in the project’s history: the formal handing over of the keys of its state the art community building
The rain did hold off however, as Board members past and present, along with contractors Neil MacInnes and David MacInnes, were piped into the building by Ceòlas Tutor Allan Henderson.
Sue Macfarlane, Principal of UHI Outer Hebrides, and Chair of the Cnoc Soilleir Board, was delighted to formally take ownership of the keys on behalf of the community: “Today is the culmination of our shared ambition and the collective efforts of everyone involved – not just UHI Outer Hebrides and Ceòlas, but the contractors, the funders and the local people who have supported us over the years. We have all put our hearts and souls into this project and I’m just delighted this breathtaking building is now the community’s to enjoy.” The formal handover will be followed by a community open day on June 13th, when everyone will be welcome to share in the celebrations with the Cnoc Soilleir team.
Ceòlas Chair and Cnoc Soilleir Board Director Mairi MacInnes, who was unfortunately unable to attend the event, encouraged people to come along to see the building for themselves when it opens to the public on June 13th: “A warm welcome awaits everyone who drops in on the open day and perhaps a song will be sung and a reel or two will be danced!”
Mairi continued: “Getting Cnoc Soilleir Phase 1 built during lockdown has been a tremendous achievement and this has been possible because we contracted a local construction company. Great credit is due to our staff , the design team and MacInnes Bros for rising to the unprecedented challenges of Covid.
“Ceòlas is excited about holding the July Summer School in CS – the first since 2019.”
Work at the Cnoc Soilleir site started in February 2020, and continued through lockdown despite the many difficulties that the pandemic presented. This current phase of the build has delivered world-class facilities to meet the needs of both the college’s educational programmes, and Ceòlas’ community-led activities. A bespoke recording studio, a library, an exhibition space, and a flexible communal space for gatherings of up to 60 people, will transform the experience of Ceòlas summer school tutors and students this July and the college students who study here in the years to come.
The work was delivered by local contractor MacInnes Brothers (MIB), represented on the day by Project Manager David MacInnes, and Contracts Manager Neil MacInnes. Neil told Am Pàipear: “We are delighted to be handing over the keys to this fantastic building. All of us who have worked on the project are immensely proud of what we have delivered, both in terms of the high standard of the build itself, and in terms of the jobs we have created and maintained as a result. Over the course of the build, we have employed 14 local tradesmen, with one joiner moving his family home to Uist as a result of this opportunity.”
“The project was a complex one, and it’s success evidences that local firms are not only well able to deliver the highest possible technical requirements but can also bring the local knowledge required to manage the challenges that working on a remote island can present.” Funds are already part-secured for the next phase of the project, which will extend the building to the west to include a performance hall, with acoustics suitable for performance and seating for audiences of up to 200 people, a small dance studio with sprung floor, and additional teaching spaces.
Hard work and a lot of nettle rash as the community gets to work
The Lochmaddy community gathered on a sunny Saturday to begin the work of transforming the village playpark.
Clearing a mountain of overgrown foliage the workers uncovered the play equipment and ground ready to be repaired and repainted, and ready for the installation of a new boat swing, a gentle nod to Lochmaddy’s port history.
Local parent Helen Stoddart has been working tirelessly on moving the planning for the new playpark to action, it’s a credit to her hard work that the children will this summer be able to play in the park safely.
Helen told Am Pàipear: “This is just phase one for Lochmaddy. There are plans drawn up for a larger development around the edge of the football pitch, which will have equipment suitable for toddlers to teens. For this to go ahead, Lochmaddy Hall Committee are putting out a call for more volunteers to help with the planning and funding applications to make this a reality. If you can spare a little time and enthusiasm to see a fantastic play facility come to Lochmaddy, please do get in touch to offer some help.”
The Committee was faced with more work than expected, as Helen explained: “A previous announcement on Facebook from RAF Boulmer that their contractor JRC services would make over the football pitch and playpark area did not not come to fruition, so unfortunately, it is back to the Lochmaddy Hall Committee to create this space for the community and visitors to enjoy.”
The funding for the gardening equipment and volunteers lunch was secured by North Uist & Benbecula Locality Partnership through the Community Shout Out Fund supported by CnES, NHS Western Isles, The Scottish Government and Scottish Rural Network.
The plans for the playpark are available to view in Lochmaddy Hall.
Helen can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Former vice-chair calls for consultation on ownership of new infrastructure at Lochboisdale
Iain Stephen Morrison
Community members should be consulted on the ownership of the ferry terminal to be established at Lochboisdale, according to one of the original architects of the buyout of South Uist Estate.
Lochboisdale Development Limited, a subsidiary company of the community landowner, has been working with Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) to develop new infrastructure on Gasay, with the existing pier and linkspan at Lochboisdale due to be replaced before 2025.
Father Michael MacDonald, who served as the first vice-chair of Sealladh na Beinne Mòire, has raised concerns about the arrangement under which the proposed development will be delivered on Gasay.
He spoke with Am Pàipear about his understanding that Lochboisdale Development Limited is in the process of agreeing a 99-year lease for part Gasay with CMAL for an annual fee of £50,000.
Am Pàipear has established that a lease is being negotiated, but for a term of 50 years and an annual sum greater than the reported £50,000.
Father Michael questions if the the community landowner should itself be constructing the new terminal as, in his view, CMAL will only establish a ferry terminal and not a facility that would enable Lochboisdale Development Limited to take advantage of the significant depth off the south side of Gasay. Establishing a deep-water harbour at Gasay was one of the initial aspirations of Sealladh na Beinne Mòire and the reason a harbour empowerment order was granted to Lochboisdale Development Limited in 2016.
Father Michael is concerned that CMAL will collect all income from the terminal, representing lost revenue to the community, and has called for consultation, across the estate area, on whether a community-owned harbour should be pursued or a facility belonging to CMAL.
“I believe very strongly that the community should own all infrastructure improvements carried out at Lochboisdale. I am worried that, in leasing off a significant part to CMAL, then that whole revenue stream could leave the community and go to the Scottish Government,” said Father Michael.
“I have not found any evidence that this question has been discussed in principle within Lochboisdale Development Limited, it does not appear in the minutes of Sealladh na Beinne Mòire, there does not appear to be any reference to discussion on the principle of this matter of leasing and, consequently, the policy which existed within Sealladh na Beinne Mòire, up until 2016, when the harbour empowerment order was granted, seems to have been overturned without any community consultation.
“I think that, while you cannot predict the future, you can establish a framework to allow you to take full advantage of anything that may come along in the future. If you are establishing a ferry terminal then you are only interested in the coming and going of the ferry and not in any other developments, because you, as the operator, are only supplying infrastructure for that ferry to operate.
“I believe this particular matter is so serious, that at the very least there has to be full community consultation, throughout the estate area, not just confined to Lochboisdale, because this is extremely important for the development of the economy of South Uist and the adjoining islands as well.”
Darren Taylor, chief executive of Sealladh na Beinne Mòire, explained that the board of Lochboisdale Development Limited passed a resolution to “close the option to be the owners of the…works” and the board of Sealladh na Beinne Mòire subsequently approved, a decision recorded in the published minutes, in December 2019.
“It is correct that there was, at one stage, an aspiration for Lochboisdale Development Limited to own the new terminal and to be project manager for its construction. However, in the autumn of 2019 it had become apparent that CMAL had shifted position on this and were adamant that they should be, in essence, in sole charge of the project and this was also the view of Transport for Scotland.
“Lochboisdale Development Limited and Sealladh na Beinne Mòire were at the same time looking closely at the cost and the risk implications of a project of this magnitude. It was decided, after careful consideration, to close the option to be the owners of the second phase of Lochboisdale Development Limited works and further agree to work with CMAL to do everything in our power to ensure a new terminal at Gasay happens,” commented Mr Taylor.
He elaborated on some of the detail of the proposed lease and said that leasing land for CMAL to develop would not prohibit the development of additional infrastructure on Gasay.
“We are planning a lease of 50 years not 99 years,” continued Mr Taylor.
“I will not comment on a specific annual fee that is still to be finalised, but can confirm it is significantly ahead of the £50,000 that has been suggested, which will result in a total income of several millions of pounds to the organisation over the 50 year period.”
Mr Taylor also said he did not consider that CMAL constructing the new ferry terminal would rule out Lochboisdale Development Limited developing further deep water facilities either concurrently or at some stage in the future.
“We do not believe that we will miss out on significant income from the terminal given the significant, and guaranteed rental income we will receive and do not see this as overturning policy. We still anticipate additional community-owned infrastructure at Gasay being constructed in the future.”
Students to help build a sustainable future for islanders on South Uist
Architects from The Scott Sutherland School of Architecture are working with islanders from South Uist to map out a sustainable future for the island.
This project aligns with the ambitions of the Island Growth deal announced in March 2021, which secured £100 million funding from the UK and Scottish Governments in March, to boost jobs, infrastructure, transport and tourism in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.
Master’s students are working with the community, to explore the challenges of island life and to find, social, cultural and economic opportunities as part of a project founded on the themes of ‘Place, Craft and Community’.
Professor Karen Anderson, who is leading the project, said: “The Outer Hebrides has ambitions to develop community sustainability and we are working with islanders to help them achieve this.”
“One of the main findings of our study so far, has been the high level of self-sufficiency amongst islanders and their ability to endure a challenging landscape despite the increasing challenges of climate change, depopulation and access to services.”
“Our overall ambition is to produce high quality architectural designs that will add real value to island life. We want to embrace craft in the community’s development and build up resilience, creativity and culture. Key proposals that we are suggesting include a marine research and agricultural laboratory, new social housing models, community and tourism-orientated facilities, and an insect farm.”
In collaboration with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, NatureScot, Highlands & Islands Enterprise and community groups, the team is developing a series of research-informed design propositions that contribute to the future sustainability of the South Uist community in the context of significant and change.
Local Councillor Iain Archie MacNeil said: “It has been very interesting seeing this project develop over the last year. The students have come up with a wide range of proposals and have been very creative in their designs, whilst demonstrating a good awareness of the landscape and culture of South Uist.”
“I am particularly pleased to see that a number of students have focused on social housing projects, as housing is a key priority for the area. I look forward to seeing how these projects take shape in the coming year, and hope that in the future there might be opportunities for these innovative housing ideas to help shape the work of the Uist and Barra Housing Group.”
Work from the first phase of the project will be exhibited on the islands as well as in Aberdeen.