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January 28, 2009

Highland community faces up to future after mine closure

The remote highland community of Morvern is drawing up a strategy for its economic survival following the closure of the area’s largest employer – the Tarmac owned silica sand mine. The closure has been blamed on the current economic downturn and illustrates how vulnerable some rural communities are in times of recession. The sand mine accounted for 20% of local jobs

A Highland community is drawing up a strategy for its economic survival after the closure of its biggest employer with the loss of 11 jobs.

Community councillors at Morvern have set up a steering committee to investigate options available for acquiring land to help secure a sustainable future for its 200 population.

The move comes in the wake of the decision by Tarmac, the UK’s biggest supplier of building and aggregate products, to close the silica mine at Lochaline late last month.

It followed a 30-day consultation period with employees with the company blaming the economic downturn, rising costs and increased foreign competition.

Last week, representatives from Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise met with executives from an England-based company which is believed to be interested in acquiring the historic mine. A council spokesman said the company had agreed to look at figures and to report back at a later stage. “Everyone is being quite cautious and hopeful,” he said.

Meanwhile, go-ahead local councillors have set up a steering group under the auspices of the community council, which in the past has seen it create a new filling station after it was threatened with closure. However, community leaders have ruled-out a local buyout of the silica mine.

Group chairman David Robertson said it would attempt to identify options available to the community under land reform and crofting reform legislation and also the forest land scheme.

“The group will identify an area or areas of land where a community-based buyout could be undertaken with a view to empowering the community, encourage rural diversity, create new crofts and allotments and facilitate access to affordable housing plots for future generations,” said Mr Robertson.

“It is hoped that a diverse and dedicated group of volunteers will begin the hard work of collating information this month with a long-term aim to enable the community to join the growing band of west Highland communities who have a stake in the land on which they live.”

Worried villagers claimed the closure would have a devastating impact on the isolated Morvern community, which is only accessible by a single-track road, and could result in plans for a new much-needed primary school being shelved.

However, Highland councillors have been told that the school will go-ahead – and will incorporate accommodation for local fire and coastguard staff.