Promise of more jobs as company reveals ideas for use of estate

Duncan Mackison

As well as its windfarm energy project, GFG Alliance also promised a further jobs boost for Lochaber as the company revealed its ideas for using the land on the huge estate.

These include enhancing the two existing hydro power stations and examining the possibility of further small-scale plants; investment in housing and visitor accommodation; developing high-grade tourist facilities; improving and expanding farming, fishing and forestry across the estate and supporting individual enterprises related to agriculture, sport and recreation.

It is also proposed to create a new helipad to serve both the emergency services as well as businesses.

Duncan Mackison, chief executive of the company’s Jahama Highland Estates, officially started his new post on Friday, but has been around most of the 120,000 acres in the past few months.

He said: “It’s a very exciting prospect as the company’s plans to create green and sustainable energy with the windfarm project will benefit the whole of the estate, just like one piece of a jigsaw connects other parts together.

“There will be jobs involved as we have had a chance to look at the estate in detail. We want to use the existing facilities, but take them forward.

“A lot of the housing stock needs investment and we want to upgrade visitor accommodation. We have also been working with local groups such as the Nevis Partnership who do such great work maintaining the paths on Ben Nevis and we’re keen to press on and work with others too.”

Mr Mackison added: “We think there is a smarter use for the land as the traditional activities on the estate are relatively limited.

“We also want to see restoration of the peatlands and maintenance of wildlife and other related projects. There also needs to be better access to the estate lands with improved parking and signage.”

GFG Alliance said it will discuss all its ideas with community groups and local stakeholders. It also intends to explore individual projects with them.

These could involve residents directly through community enterprise models such as joint ventures or shared ownership.

Development should not be at any cost, says trust

The proposal for a windfarm at Glenshero has raised concerns about the scale of the development and the impact on the environment.

Jim Treasurer, of the Friends of the Great Glen, said it was “an area of outstanding natural beauty”.

While Helen McDade, of the John Muir Trust, maintained “the development should not be at any cost”.

Mr Treasurer explained that he would prefer to see a more sensitive development in keeping with the local surroundings.

He said: “The scale of this windfarm proposal is enormous and the environmental impact is a concern.

“Wind power can be unreliable and intermittent, but hydro power schemes can be more sensitively located and would be more suitable here.

“It’s great that GFG Alliance is bringing jobs to Lochaber, but this is an area of outstanding natural beauty and this proposal could cause a great impact on the landscape.”

Ms McDade, who is head of policy with the John Muir Trust, is also concerned about the extent of the proposed windfarm development.

She said: “While the trust is supportive of economic regeneration in the Highlands – and would be open to support some of the proposals of the GFG Alliance ­ –  we are also clear that development should not be at any cost. In particular,  we  would like to find out more about the potential environmental and landscape impact of this proposed 54-turbine windfarm, especially on Wild Land Area 19 – Braeroy-Glenshirra-Creag Meagaidh – and on the Cairngorms National Park.

“The Scottish government has made it clear that Wild Land Areas are nationally important and the trust recently launched the Keep it Wild campaign to strengthen  protection for these areas, so we are concerned  about the precise location and extent of this development.”

Community trust still in talks over land buy-out

The chairman of the East Lochaber and Laggan Community Trust – which wants to buy a significant part of GFG Alliance’s 120,000-acre estate – said he was aware of the company’s windfarm plan at Glenshero.

John Hutchison said: “The Trust has been made aware of this proposal, but we are still in discussion with the company about a potential land buy-out.”

The Trust launched its bid for a community land buy-out when Rio Tinto, the former owners of the aluminium smelter in Fort William and the estate including two hydro power stations, decided to sell last year. Despite offering an eight-figure sum for the land itself, the Trust was sold in its entirety to GFG Alliance for £330million in November.

At a meeting of the Trust earlier this year, Mr Hutchison said: “We have very strong Scottish Government backing as it has set a target of one million acres to be in community ownership by 2020. The Trust has over 1,000 members now throughout the region. We have had strong support from organisations, businesses and across the political spectrum. We have a good relationship with GFG Alliance and it wants to do the right thing by the community.”