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February 22, 2022

Presumption in favour

The Community Empowerment legislation is almost seven years old but some of the key messages in that Act continue to escape their target audiences. Here’s one of them – when a community requests that a public asset be transferred to it, there’s a presumption in law that the public body will support that request. A community group on Barra are currently celebrating victory after a long and difficult battle to have the council’s plans to demolish a community shop and visitor centre overturned with ownership transferred to them. With two previous requests refused, this was third time lucky on appeal. Why? 

Erikka Askeland, The Press and Journal

A community shop and visitor information hub on the Isle of Barra has hailed a victory after it won an appeal to take ownership of its premises.

Bùth Bharraigh was granted the right to buy the former Co-op Building in Castlebay, where it has been based since 2013, by a community asset transfer appeals panel.

The building has been owned since 2009 by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES), which had plans to demolish it.

Bùth Bharraigh provides an outlet for local producers and sells wholefoods, books and arts and crafts materials.

It is also a visitor information centre and Hebridean Way pit stop, where cyclists and walkers can rest, refuel and restock while also offering a laundrette, bike hire and free wifi.

The facility is also the home of the “Barra Bunting” – a “guestbook” for visitors who leave their mark in the form of a textile-base triangle to be added to the chain.

Sarah MacLean, founder and manager of the shop, said it had been a “long road” but now the work of raising funds to refurbish the building starts.

She said: “We are not quite there yet but this is a massive step forward.

“We now need to raise the money to renovate and make it something special for the whole island.

“It is a tremendous relief and achievement to have finally got this far.”

She said the organisation would be reviewing its plans while also preparing for a busy tourist season.

“We would like to achieve the refurb as soon as possible but realistically it could take two to three years to achieve,” said Ms MacLean.

“We are expecting a busy year with visitors and bookings are coming in thick and fast.”

It is third time lucky for the shop – its initial transfer request in 2019 was terminated and then, after another submission, it was turned down again last year in 2020.

The council said the proposed demolition of the property was part of its £2 million South Uist and Barra Regeneration Programme bid in 2013.

It added that Bùth Bharraigh was “made aware” of the Comhairle’s intention to demolish  from the start, adding that “this occupation was always intended to be of a temporary nature”.

Buth Bharraigh works with over 80 producers of goods available at the shop.

Ms MacLean, who previously has said she fell in love with the island after moving there to take a job, was thankful for community support for the campaign to save the shop.

This included an online petition which has attracted almost 4,000 signatures.

“This has been a long road and we would like to thank all those that have shown us support; the local community, the current Castlebay & Vatersay Community Council, our producers and visitors to the Bùth from all over the world,” she said.

“There are so many individuals who have helped along the way by giving their time and/or money, we are extremely grateful.”

The social enterprise  employs four full-time staff and has 10 volunteers.

In a statement the group further thanked the council’s own appeal panel for hearing the case and “dealing with it in a fair manner”.

It continued: “Bùth Bharraigh would also like to highlight the help and support of the Community Ownership Support Service (COSS) who have been invaluable throughout this whole process.

“We would never have got to this stage without them.