The Galson Estate community is aiming high with an ambitious new vision. A bold strategic plan for the area was launched at the Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn 2016 Annual General Meeting last Friday. The Plan seeks to exploit some £8m of wind energy income across the community over the next 20 years.
Feedback from the community through recent consultation has highlighted three clear priorities, specifically, elderly care support services, tourism facilities plus crofting and land use activities. A range of other initiatives has also been identified, including recreational facilities, childcare, youth amenities, business growth, digital connectivity and also support for education and skills development. The consultation also highlighted concerns in the community around population decline and limited economic opportunities. These concerns were reinforced recently through the challenging demographic forecasts highlighted by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
The Plan, which addresses key challenges such as population decline, will be driven forward with income from the three wind turbines installed at Ballantrushal in North Lewis. The turbines have just completed their first year of operation and, despite nearly three weeks of production time lost due to electricity grid maintenance, have performed above forecast.
Agnes Rennie, chair of Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn, commented: “We are delighted to launch our Strategic Plan for the long-term development of the area. It comes on the back of a comprehensive consultation process across the community with good participation from a considerable proportion of our households, businesses and organisations. The Plan is highly ambitious and needs to be taken forward through partnerships and various forms of collaborative working, involving parties located both within and outside the community. If we can secure the essential partnerships and relationships we need to take matters forward, we can look forward to wind energy funds making a significant impact across the Galson Estate in the years ahead.”
Those at the meeting also witnessed the launch of a new £5,000 grant funding stream from Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn. A Community Investment Fund was created in 2014 to enable distribution of funds of up to £1,000 to organisations involved in social regeneration across the Estate. The Fund has prospered since then with 36 voluntary sector projects having received support so far and £32,600 awarded in total. The announcement marks a new phase of the Fund and creates opportunities for greater social impacts across the Estate as part of the overall vision.
The event was brought to a close with a talk from Andy Wightman, a leading Scottish land reformer and parliamentarian, who was the special guest speaker this year. He shared some of his insights regarding land ownership, local democracy and future opportunities for devolved decision-making. Andy commended the community for undertaking the buy-out and offered encouragement to other communities considering the option of acquiring their own land. This was followed by a lively question and answer session.