January 9, 2019
Who is the landlord?
The Stornoway Trust on the Isle of Lewis is the oldest and one of the largest development trusts in the country, with 28,000 hectares of land under its ownership around the town of Stornoway. The Trust, like many community organisations on the Western Isles, has an active interest in wind power and in recent years has been working with energy giant EDF and others to develop a massive windfarm project. Recent reports suggest that in doing so, the Trust may have signed away more than just the rights of individual crofting communities to develop their own wind energy projects.
A controversial bombshell was fired into the public arena when it was claimed that the lease granted by the Stornoway Trust to windfarm developer Lewis Wind Power (LWP) to drive forward a renewable energy project on the Island, means that the Stornoway Trust has agreed to surrender their status as crofting landlord to that company.
And that management decisions concerning estate lands such as, agreement to an apportionment, enlarging a common grazing or creating a new one, granting or renewing a lease or selling ground could not happen without getting the consent of the owners of Lewis Wind Power.
The views on the details of the lease terms were made on the website ‘Hebrides Writer’ (http://www.hebrideswriter.com/) by guest author Lewis Kermack, a retired solicitor with extensive experience in the Land Court.
The information laid out in the blog brought a storm of protest via Facebook comments from the public with many critising the Stornoway Trust in its handling of the lease agreement.
However this morning (Thursday) the Stornoway Trust, fired back at the claims via its own Facebook page, detailing: “The Trust is aware that there have been some misconceptions circulating in regard to the nature, duration and terms of the lease agreement with Lewis Wind Power. “These are easily addressed.
The lease is for a period of 35 years: 25 years of generation, followed by a 5-year decommissioning period. It was believed at the outset that 5 years would adequately cover the initial development phase. However, had the wind farm been built in under 5 years, this would have then triggered the 25-year phase, in parallel with planning consent.
“The lease also contains a standard option for renewal. This would be at the Trust’s discretion. “LWP would require to go through the whole repowering process from the beginning – obtaining planning consent, grid connection, a power purchase contract, agreeing terms with crofters and, crucially, consultation with the community. By that juncture, it is intended that the community will own a 20%+ stake in the wind farm, which will, of course, inform its decision-making on any future lease.
“Built into the current lease is the safeguard that ALL crofting jurisdiction remains with the Trust as landlord. The only right made over to Lewis Wind Power in the lease is the right to build a wind farm on Stornoway Trust land.
“The leasee relinquished its interest in the Beinn Ghrìdeag site in favour of the Trust, in order that the landlord could then grant permission for Point and Sandwick Trust to build their wind farm there. “Provision was also included that, within the lease period, each township could build turbines generating up to 4mw of power. The only condition attached was that these should not prejudice the leasee’s ability to generate the rent they had pledged to the crofters.”
The statement concluded: “If LWP had become the landlord, why would Stornoway Trust continue to hold democratic elections? Trustees are returned in order to oversee the sustainable management of a community estate. There is, therefore, no doubt regarding the identity of the landlord: this estate remains entirely under the ownership of the Stornoway Trust.”