Trust in race against time to safe­guard com­mu­nity fu­ture

The Oban Times - - NEWS - MON­ICA GIB­SON mgib­son@oban­times.co.uk

A TRUST may have just a few weeks to get the back­ing it needs to safe­guard ‘the fu­ture of the com­mu­nity’.

East Lochaber and Lag­gan Com­mu­nity Trust (ELLCT) hopes to buy the Rio Tinto es­tate for the com­mu­nity and help save the alu­minium smelter, which is un­der­go­ing a ‘strate­gic re­view’.

The trust is keen to see the smelter con­tin­u­ing and hopes to take ad­van­tage of a gov­ern­ment in­cen­tive to in­crease com­mu­nity land own­er­ship by 2020 in the hope of pre­vent­ing job losses and keep­ing the fu­ture of lo­cal re­sources in lo­cal hands.

The role of the com­mu­nity trust would be to buy the es­tate, stretch­ing from Kin­lochleven to Lag­gan – around 120,000 acres. If suc­cess­ful, it would be the big­gest com­mu­nity- owned area of land.

An­drew Bax­ter, coun­cil­lor for Fort Wil­liam and Ard­na­mur­chan and an ELLCT di­rec­tor, ex­plained: ‘Think of this as a jig­saw with three pieces: the smelter, Kin­lochleven power sta­tion, and the sur­round­ing land. We be­lieve our bit, the land, is a cen­tral piece, but we see an op­por­tu­nity to work with par­ties that might run the power sta­tions in Kin­lochleven and Fort Wil­liam, and oth­ers that might run the smelter and/ or de­velop other em­ploy­ment op­tions.’

At a meet­ing in In­ver­lochy vil­lage hall on Mon­day night, trust chair­man John Hutchi­son ex­plained why ELLCT was set up.

He said: ‘ The idea for the trust came about around Fe­bru­ary this year when it be­came clear an op­por­tu­nity ex­isted for a com­pany to re­tain the Fort Wil­liam smelter. A few days af­ter ap­proach­ing Rio Tinto, we were told it is do­ing a re­view and it is a very wide re­view, and [we] were made to sign a non- dis­clo­sure agree­ment. The com­mu­nity is at the heart of our idea and our best chance, so it has been very hard to have to work un­der the radar and not what we wanted at all.’

Be­cause of the non- dis­clo­sure agree­ment, the trust has so far been made up of seven self­ap­pointed ‘ini­tial di­rec­tors’. The plan is for the lo­cal com­mu­nity to be­come mem­bers and ap­point fu­ture di­rec­tors. As such, the trust is call­ing on ev­ery res­i­dent to fill out a form to be­come a mem­ber.

Mr Hutchi­son added: ‘ The gov­ern­ment wants to have 400,000 acres of land in com­mu­nity own­er­ship by 2020. The area we are look­ing at amounts to 120,000 acres, which would go a long way to help the gov­ern­ment reach its man­date.

‘Rio Tinto has the up­per hand, but our hand could be strength­ened if we have com­mu­nity sup­port. It af­fects a large ge­o­graph­i­cal area.

‘There are 11,000 elec­tors in the area we are talk­ing about – the com­mu­nity coun­cil ar­eas of Lag­gan; Spean Bridge, Roy Bridge and Ach­nacarry; In­ver­lochy and Tor­lundy; Caol; Kil­mallie; Fort Wil­liam; Nether Lochaber, Glen­coe and Glen Etive and Kin­lochleven.’

The trust said the Scot­tish Land Fund, which is a grant, would be largely used to fund the bid along­side a loan, and that the finer de­tails with re­gards to pos­si­ble land use for the es­tate are be­ing looked into by com­mu­nity mem­bers with rel­e­vant knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence. Re­ports so far are look­ing pos­i­tive.

Ben Thomp­son, from ELLCT, helped clar­ify why the trust is de­pend­ing on as many peo­ple sign­ing up as quickly as pos­si­ble

He said: ‘As a com­mu­nity we can­not buy the smelter but we can part­ner with peo­ple who do want to buy it. And those par­ties would have more clout if they team up with us be­cause of the com­mu­nity own­er­ship fac­tor. The gov­ern­ment ear­marks £10 mil­lion per year to this land fund. In short, we could have the cash sup­port, po­lit­i­cal sup­port and com­mer­cial sup­port.’

Mr Thomp­son, who is also coun­cil­lor for Caol and Mal­laig, added: ‘This could be over in weeks if Rio Tinto says to us, ‘This is our pre­ferred bid­der’. We have got a chair at the ta­ble and are hav­ing our say.’

John Hutchi­son ended Mon­day’s meet­ing by say­ing: ‘Every­one has to get in­volved.’

Mr Hutchi­son em­pha­sised that this is a com­pli­cated chal­lenge but one de­signed to ben­e­fit fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. To re­flect this, there are cur­rently nor­mal mem­ber­ships, as­so­ci­ate mem­ber­ships for those out­with the catch­ment area and ju­nior mem­ber­ships.

A meet­ing will take place in Spean Bridge com­mu­nity cen­tre tonight (Thurs­day) at 7pm and will mark the end of the ini­tial con­sul­ta­tion process.

To find out about fu­ture meet­ings and to be­come a mem­ber, visit east­lochaber­lag­gan.scot

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