Lochaber residents could yet achieve their dream of transforming parts of the “Rio Tinto” estate into community assets and facilities.
Manufacturing giant GFG Alliance, which owns the aluminium smelter factory at Fort William, said the discussion of the transfer of land to the community was still ongoing.
The firm made the promise as it announced plans to let communities in Fort William and Oban share the profits from a £60million investment in hydro schemes.
The news has been welcomed by community representatives.
Original ideas the trust had for the estate included the potential for social housing, tourism facilities and the possibility of employment grants – but that all fell by the wayside when the initial community bid for ownership was unsuccessful.
Now they are being offered a share of the bounty from the lucrative hydro project.
Nine of the schemes are on the Lochaber estate, within an eight mile radius of the smelter, and three are in the Taynuilt area near Oban.
The programme to build or upgrade 12 hydro schemes should be completed by 2021 and GFG said it is reviewing offering ownership opportunities to local communities as part of its broader community involvement.
A spokesman for GFG Alliance said it is still early days for community land ownership, however they would be talking to local people soon about the hydro schemes. He said: “We are exploring community ownership models that would provide a very significant and regular flow of cash to support local facilities and community activities.
“We’ll be exploring ways for local communities to share ownership of the new installations so they can benefit from regular incomes for facilities and activities. This is specific to these new hydro assets. Discussion of the wider issue of the transfer of land to community ownership is still ongoing but that is a separate conversation.”
SIMEC – part of the GFG Alliance, bought the smelter from Rio Tinto last year, securing 170 jobs and announcing plans to create a further 400 by building the UK’s biggest car wheels factory.
At that time a bid by East Lochaber and Laggan Community Trust to buy the smelter and estate was unsuccessful. However the trust still aims to own the estate for the community’s benefit.