(April 2014 to March 2016)
A public meeting in April 2014 agreed unanimously to attempt a community buyout of MOD Aird Uig, and a steering group was formed. The community felt that the MOD would perhaps clear up the land and give it to the community for a nominal sum in a willing seller / willing buyer arrangement.
The MOD however were obliged to use the formal Scottish Government Community Right to Buy (CRtB) process, asserting that they had already received three expressions of interest from third parties. The steering group formally defined the community, consolidated support, and started a dialogue with the CRtB team and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) community assets team. An application was made for start-up funds and the Gallan Head Community Trust (GHCT) was incorporated in September 2014. The new GHCT board recognised that the Trust could serve as a community body for the long term good of the community, well beyond the task of taking ownership of the MOD land.
GHCT produced a first draft outline plan and registered an interest in the land, effectively preventing the MOD for a time from putting the land on the open market. Successful applications were made to HIE, the Big Lottery, and to the Energy Saving Trust for funding for feasibility studies. The Trust then invited tenders for consultancy work. CaskieCo (Edinburgh) reported on risk, land remediation issues, and community aspirations including a multi-purpose observatory and learning centre, for permaculture development and for public access. Sgurr energy reported on the potential for marine, hydro, wind and photovoltaic renewable energy schemes.
Reports identified opportunities but also constraints and potential liabilities. A risk matrix was produced and the study conclusions helped the Trust to further develop a business plan and to consult with the community. However, a subsequent independent valuation of £110,000 combined with estimated remediation costs of £500,000 at one stage presented a huge challenge. The Trust appealed the valuation to the Scottish Lands Tribunal. Much work was done to identify to what extent remediation was essential to risk mitigation as opposed to community aspirations to return the land to a natural state.
The risks were quantified; the necessary mitigation work was costed and funds were raised to meet the costs. An adjacent property was identified as having potential value to the Trust’s plans. After further community consultation, a community ballot gave overwhelming support, the Trust submitted its outline business plan and progressed funding applications to the Scottish Land Fund.
In November 2015, the Scottish Land Fund approved funds of £200,000 to purchase MOD Aird the neighbouring property, and a contribution towards risk mitigation costs. Soon after that, Scottish Ministers approved the community buyout. Missives were completed. The Trust took ownership of both properties on 29th January 2016.
Risk mitigation works will be completed by 31st March 2016, marking the successful conclusion of the community buyout, and the beginning of the community’s journey to achieve its aims.