Trust in race against time to safeguard community future
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