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March 9, 2016

Finding the middle ground

Regardless of how much care goes into the drafting of guidance for the Community Empowerment Act, it’s almost inevitable that misunderstandings and disagreements will arise where neither side is necessarily in the right.  Perhaps rather than formal adjudication, the softer skills of mediation are called for – especially when relations have broken down. The current stand-off between a community run shop and the local council in the Wester Isles is an example. In making their case, both sides seem to be working with very different versions of reality. 

Buth Bharraigh and CnES

The case for mediation…. Two different interpretations of events

Press Release from CnES – 26th February 2016

With regard to the former Co-op building in Castlebay, Isle of Barra, the proposed demolition of the property was included in the Comhairle’s successful ‘South Uist and Barra Regeneration Programme’ bid to the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Capital Grant Fund in 2013. This proposal reflected the wishes of the local community, as expressed by Castlebay Community Council following a survey conducted locally in 2012. The proposal was also approved by the Comhairle in June 2014. 

Bùth Bharraigh was made aware of the Comhairle’s intention to demolish building prior to the Comhairle facilitating its temporary occupancy of the building in late 2013 and this occupation was always going to be of a temporary nature.

Castlebay Community Council has recently reconsidered and reconfirmed their decision in writing to the Comhairle, stating: – “Following a Committee meeting held on the 8th February 2016, the majority of Community Councillors have agreed to support the decision made by the previous Community Council, that the old Co-op building be demolished as planned by the Comhairle.”

The Comhairle has been supportive of Bùth Bharraigh since its inception; it remains supportive and will continue to support the organisation. The Comhairle has a policy of advertising opportunities for the lease of business units publicly.  Bùth Bharraigh will be invited to apply, along with any other interested-parties, for the new business units when they become available for let.

A reply to CnES press release from Bùth Bharraigh – 2nd March 2016

 Bùth Bharraigh Ltd aims to provide opportunities for the local community. We are a market place for local produce and through our activities people have set up businesses, increased income and diversified crofts. We are a sustainable business and we support the local economy. Last year the shop turnover was £54,000 and a further £34,000 went directly to local suppliers.

 Initially, when we applied for the Old Co-op Building we had no idea that it was earmarked to be demolished. CnES promised us a custom built building for the shop and indeed even that we could have input into the design process. In January 2015, CnES confirmed that this was not in fact the case and we would have to apply for a unit and the old co-op would be demolished. We are aware of the demand for business units on the island, that there is a need for businesses to be located at the historic centre of Castlebay and that there is a need for activities and services for visitors to the island.

 By staying in the Old Co-op building we will not create even more demand for business units, we are supporting the historic centre of Castlebay and providing services and activities for tourists. We conducted a survey in Aug/Sep 2015 to ascertain, now that the building was being occupied and a hub of activity, whether public feeling had changed and whether we could now stay in this location. We received 222 responses online and through the Guth Bharraidh and 82% supported us remaining in the Old Co-op Building.

CnES and Castlebay Community Council (CCC) have been sent copies of the survey results but have not acted on it. Since October 2015, Bùth Bharraigh Ltd believed we had been working with CnES to remove the Old Co-op Building from the demolition list so that we would have a secure future. This would enable us to continue to develop and provide security for both our producers and employees. As part of this process we were asked to obtain a letter of support from CCC and CnES were going to contact the Scottish Government Regeneration Department to see if the grant funding could be changed. We invited members of CCC to the Bùth and also offered to make a presentation at the meeting. However, we were not invited or made aware that the meeting was taking place. It is extremely unfortunate that CCC choose to support a decision to demolish the Old Co-op without having all the necessary information to make an informed decision or carry out any consultation with the general public.

And also it seems that CnES did not contact the Scottish Government. It is also unfortunate that CCC then decided to put an article on the front page of Guth Bharraidh without informing us or giving us any chance of reply. We did ask CCC not to send the letter to CnES without first having an advertised meeting on the subject and a chance to get all the necessary information so that an informed decision could be reached. However this request was ignored. We have been left with no choice but to carry on and campaign for a secure future for Bùth Bharraigh. There are too many people now relying on us: employees, local shoppers, producers, crofters and visitors. Since our first survey has not been taken into consideration we are now undertaking a petition. We have over 1000 supporters between the online and paper copies.

We are so appreciative of all the support and messages we have been receiving from local people and from people all over the world. If you would like to sign then please do so online or in the Bùth. We really do hope that a resolution can be reached soon.