Com­mu­nity trust con­tin­ues to make progress on land buy­out

The Oban Times - - News - MON­ICA GIB­SON mgib­son@oban­

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.

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