Community trust continues to make progress on land buyout
A COMMUNITY trust pursuing the largest community land buyout on record has been told by a multi-national company that ‘sensible proposals’ will be considered.
Last month, Liberty House and SIMEC (members of the GFG Alliance) completed a £ 330million deal with Rio Tinto to buy the aluminium smelter, together with the hydro-power plants at Fort William and Kinlochleven along with the associated estate lands.
East Lochaber and Laggan Community Trust (ELLCT) was set up in response to Rio Tinto's announcement of intent to sell. The trust’s ambition was to buy the 120,000 acre estate to ‘safeguard the communities future’. Since the sale has gone through, ELLCT has been in talks with GFG and say it is pleased to have had a seat at the table.
This week the trust held a host of meetings to keep members up to date with action taken during 2016 and outline what it sees the next steps.
Speaking at the first of the meetings in Spean Bridge on Monday night, board members revealed: ‘ We have had three face-to-face meetings with GFG Group – that’s three more than with Rio Tinto.’
The trust said a feasibility study has been conducted which highlighted the estate had been under-used and unprofitable in recent years. The proposal set out by ELLCT could see it at least breaking even in a matter of years – and that is without a hydro scheme, which was described as the ‘cherry on top’ of holiday letting and other potential sources of income.
The trust was keen to highlight the Scottish government earmarks £10million per year to the Scottish Land Fund – a grant it wants to get a piece of. Further, in backing ELLCT’s plan it would bring the government closer to its target of having 400,000 acres of land under community ownership by 2020 – a fact ELLCT believes strengthens its case.
ELLCT’s John Hutchison said GFG has admitted it still has to get its head round the enormity of the estate but the message the trust left them with was ‘ we have a plan which allows you to deal with the metal side and us to deal with the estate’.
A GFG Alliance spokesperson told The Oban Times: ‘It is still very early days as it’s only been a matter of weeks since we concluded the deal. We look forward to continuing open-minded discussions with local communities, Scottish Government, other stakeholders and independent experts on how to maximise the potential of the estate lands for the benefit of everyone involved.’
ELLCT, which gained its 1,000 member in August, will continue to focus on gaining further community backing. There are also plans to hold an emergency annual general meeting in April.
Mr Hutchison explained: ‘To make things democratic, all seven members of the existing board will have to stand down and new members will have to be appointed. So we will be keen to hear from community members who believe they have the right expertise and are willing to take on the role.
‘Once we have a clearer look ahead we will put working groups in place.’
A further meeting will take place tonight in Laggan Village Hall from 7- 8pm.
Kate Forbes, the constituency MSP for Lochaber is holding a drop-in session to provide a further update tomorrow night (February 10). Ms Forbes will be joined by staff from the smelter and hydro sites, as well as one of the team from the GFG Alliance, at the Nevis Suite in the Alexandra Hotel from 4- 6pm.