ISLAND residents celebrating a decade of running their own estate following a multimillion-pound buyout have unveiled ambitious plans to create jobs and increase their local population.
Locals paid £4.6 million for the Hebridean islands of South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula in the largest community buyout since the Scottish Government passed the Land Reform Act in 2003, giving crofters the right to buy the land they live on.
Everyday affairs on the islands – which have a population of 3,500 people – are managed by Stòras Uibhist, a community company led by a board of directors who are elected to serve for a three-year-term. Now, Stòras Uibhist has started planning for the next 10 years with a focus on strengthening the local economy with major infrastructure investments and grants to support job creation.
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A special conference is being held in South Uist today, at which the company will announce plans to build a new distillery with micro-brewery, create an enterprise zone to boost sales of island food products and to further extend the harbour at Lochboisdale to accommodate a new ferry terminal for the next generation of ferries. This will also include a commercial pier for industrial use and visiting cruise ships.
The strategy also includes the construction of a new village around the harbour, the renovation of dozens of derelict homes for low cost housing and tourist rentals and a heritage trail celebrating local history – which will take in the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie after the Battle of Culloden and the running-aground of the whisky-laden SS Politician in the Sound of Eriskay in 1941, upon which the classic film Whisky Galore was based.
Angus MacMillan, chairman of Stòras Uibhist, who also led the successful buyout campaign 10 years ago, said: “The next decade is about growth. With 25 staff now working for the estate, we have set in place strong foundations for the future.
“The economic future of the islands is in our own hands and our focus will be on creating jobs, stemming outward migration and increasing the population.
“We have a huge opportunity to use the natural resources of the islands, at land and sea, for the benefit of the people who live here.
“We need to build more houses, attract new people to the islands and increase tourism.”
In its first ten years of existence, Stòras Uibhist has led the development of a £10m wind farm from which profits are reinvested locally, raised funding for the creation of a £10m marina at Lochboisdale and redeveloped the Old Tom Morris links course at Askernish, which attracts golfers from all over the world.
MacMillan added: “It is incredible what has been achieved by the people of these islands since 2006 when we took control of our own lives.
“We have developed two £10m community projects, restored a golf course that is winning international acclaim and from a standing start, the people’s estate now has a balance sheet with £35m of assets. None of this would have happened under private land owners, but we have to keep working hard to secure our own future.”
Speakers at today’s event will address issues including transportation, digital connectivity, the Land Commission and the impact of environmental designations.