Presentation for the Cross Party Group in the Scottish Parliament on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency: Community Benefit from the Inside

CSDS_at_Holyrood{This presentation was given by me (right) alongside these images}


This is mid-Glendaruel from the community owned forest – or rather one of our harvested coups. Gives you an idea of how glorious the place is. And here it is on the map.


Colintraive and Glendaruel is a community of 350 people. We measure 28 miles from northernmost watershed to southernmost loch. There are two main settlements, the clachan of Glendaruel and Colintraive, but we also have Duiletter, Stronafian, Ormidale and Southall. We’re elongated and stretched, both physically and economically. Unfortunately, we’re in decline. Still.


Despite our windfarm trust, despite our development trust, despite our community council, despite the Women’s Rural, the Colglen Shinty side lifting our spirits on Saturday afternoons, the well-used, recently renovated Village Halls, despite the purchase of 605 hectares of commercial forest for £1.5M, despite our signal successes with Climate Challenge Fund, Argyll and the Isles LEADER, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Land Fund and others – we’re in decline.


In Glendaruel, our hotel closed 5 years ago and hasn’t reopened. Our churches now hold services once every other Sunday and the school roll has declined from 30 in 2005 to 15 in 2014. We’ve suffered net migration. Working families have upped and left, to the tune of one a year, on average, since 2001. No work. Little housing. Few opportunities for the entrepreneur.

When you consider our housing stock the problem becomes more obvious, only a third of our houses are inhabited by working families. A second third are inhabited by retired folk which is a boon given the numbers of these folk who volunteer, offer childcare, provide a market – service provision for this group is of course another matter, particularly with local council cut backs. The last third of our houses are owned by second home owners. That’s around 40 houses in our community uninhabited in the low season, 40 houses unable to provide accommodation to local families, 40 houses pushing house prices into the top 5% of value in Scotland.


Of course we are blessed, with wonderful hills, picturesque settlements, a slower pace of life, the Kyles of Bute. And lots of rain to keep it green. We are not unusual on the west coast of Scotland, not at all. However, we are distinguished by one long-standing feature:


The windfarm sits above us along a ridge of hills stretching north to south through the middle of the Cowal peninsula. It has the reputation of being one of the most invisible windfarms in Scotland. And it has to be said, the visual impact of the windfarm is regarded by most in the community as minimal and at worst restfully elegant. Some tourist businesses locally would demure. We also suspect, given the interest we have taken in windfarms of recent years, that it is not a highly efficient windfarm, possibly because several of our residents knocked quite a few metres off the tip-height during the community consultation.

During construction the hotel and community did benefit, the former from a great 18 months of constant heads-on-beds and the latter for the always full, vibrant bar. The community at that time, when we first arrived in the Glen, seemed younger, more vibrant, social and engaged. There were of course difficulties around the construction traffic, around the noise, around degrading roads. But these, on the whole, were felt to be recompensed by the community benefit payments. More or less.

One direct consequence of the construction of the windfarm was that the Glendaruel Hotel was put up for sale – the owner being in possession of an excellent set of books. As he said, the business finally produced a small profit – wholly due to the windfarm construction workers staying in his establishment, eating his food and drinking his beer. Lots of beer. And whisky too. The sale by a partnership of competent hoteliers to a succession of lifestylers was a key moment in our community’s decline, a decline it is said by some to have been precipitated by the advent of the windfarm

You see We were one of the first communities to gain Community Benefit from a windfarm and for the last decade we have received around 25K or thereabouts every year. It is index linked, but represents a payment of around £900 per MW/h. this is a typical figure for an early noughties development, and despite requests for an increase from the Community Council, Development Trust and even the Windfarm Trust itself, funding levels have remained stolidly at the same level. I should add our community did not actually negotiate this figure, Argyll & Bute Council did, and I can’t help thinking that in hindsight this may have been a bad idea.

Obviously I welcome the new industry guidance which defines a minimum Community Benefit of £5K per MW/h, but I think there is room for further tweaks in settlement for communities living in close proximity of these developments. Obviously whatever happened would need to adhere to the new guidance on minimum Community benefit, but the settlement should also provide for a review of Community Benefit on a regular basis, say every five years during the life of the windfarm, and given higher levels of profitability than expected the community benefit should also rise. This would mitigate the ridiculous position of some communities with windfarms commissioned in 2013 but granted planning in 2005 being paid the same sort of levels of Community Benefit that we are paid, rather than the new standard.

I say this because the first thing – the first thing – that the trustees of the Cruach Mhor Windfarm Trust – which administers and disburses the funds – decided was that their budget wasn’t big enough to build houses. This they saw as a vital need in our community. A view confirmed in a 2007 CADISPA report. Their assessment in 2004 when the windfarm was commissioned was that they would have needed a budget three times that of the one they were given to effect real cumulative change, to build the houses the community requires.


Having made that decision, the trust then began funding projects on an ad hoc basis, with monies going to support Playpark, Shinty portacabin, Gun club traps, the Village Halls and the school. In fact, looking back at their progress over the last decade, the school has been a major beneficiary through the efforts of the Parent council.


And here are some of the pupils during sports day … One could argue that it has been the windfarm community benefit that has kept the school open. Why? Well, I am sure everyone is aware of the attempts by Argyll and Bute Council in 2010-11 to close 26 rural schools in one of the most mis-handled consultation processes Scotland has seen. One of the reasons I was given for our school being safer than the others during the consultation by the councillor with responsibility for education at the time was the bredth and variety of extra-curricular activities that the community was able to offer the school children – many of which were funded in part or as a whole by the Windfarm Trust. This is the danger of Community Benefit being given without a level of strategic planning available to the beneficiary.


But of course there have been big, unexpected wins. And this is one of them – children experiencing a forest school through ARC. For the last five years a project called ARC – the Arts and Recreation Club – has been running in the Glen Village Hall for children . For four weeks in July, Monday to Thursday, 10 til 3, courses in Archery, photography, circus skills, felt-making, green woodworking, drama, dancing, football, shinty and much else besides have been put on with funding from the Windfarm Trust and other funders. In fact, in each year the other funder has been different and the project has levered in three times as much money as it has spent from community benefit. It’s a great project, not least because it has occupied the 15 or so 5-12 year old local children, as well as kids from the surrounding communities AND holiday makers. In fact, Annie at the caravan park has sold three static caravans over the five years ARC has run purely because families wanted to be in Glendaruel for the courses. Fabulous, no?

And here’s the other side of community benefit, there were members of the community, who didn’t understand why we were spending money on children from outwith the community. It was local money for local people in their view. And, I quote, “Why do I want these kids mixing with my grandchildren?” The matter was quickly resolved with a public meeting and high speed, high volume, highly colourful speech by the Hall committee chair. This incident, and a couple of less community-minded residents using the windfarm trust as an arena to play out their own prejudices against other members of the community led to a tightening up of the application process and reporting on behalf of the trust. Necessary, but frankly, disappointing given the amount of goodwill which usually characterises our community.

By 2006 the Community Council noticed that the money was in danger of being “frittered away” in beneficial but uncoordinated projects. There needed to be a strategic approach. Fast forward through a CADISPA report (paid for by the trust), the formation of a Development Trust Steering Group in January 2008 and the formation of the Development Trust later that year, and we find in 2009 an application by the Development Trust for 30K. Apart from some bits and pieces of funding to cover the last couple of per cent of projects, this represents the only major investment the Development Trust has asked for from the Windfarm Trust.

The Development Trust has restricted itself to one major application to the Windfarm Trust despite the fact that we felt that the Windfarm Trust was a great source of core funding, and wanted to continue, however the community, at the time, and still, if feedback is to be believed, did not see why money should go to fund development officers when there were projects which needed match funding. Projects for the kids rather than jobs for the boys. And therein lies one of the major constraints for us – our community.


So we matched the 30K with Leader funding and employed a Development Officer. With help from HIE her position lasted from February 2010 until December 2013. In that time the Development Trust leveraged over £2M in funding. For the forest acquisition and project funding, for two CCF funding bids, for a CARES loan, for renovations of both Village Halls – and this is the Colintraive Village Hall refurbished and being used for a meeting – you’ll note no-one in there is wearing an overcoat – that is an improvement. The Development Trust now employs 2 fulltime project officers, and three-quarters of an administrator (or half of one and a quarter of another – we’d be nowhere without Nikki and Margaret).


That 30K investment by the Windfarm Trust in the Development Trust was leveraged and produced 66 times its value. And here’s one of the outputs, Stronafian Forest.


This is our celebration day for the purchase of the forest. Some of you may be able to spot Dorothy in there, with her invisible Toto showing the children the Yellow Brick Road. Or maybe not.

Anyway, the point, as I am sure we all know, is that this sort of Community Development takes time, a lot of time, unless the unrestricted funds are readily available. In our case, as I have said we could really have done with some support to kickstart our strategic approach to Community Benefit, consolidating community support behind an holistic approach to development in 2004 rather than entrench the uncoordinated efforts and attitudes we now deal with. The Community Benefit guidance Jennifer is going to talk about will help with this – and there are some developers who recognise that this sort of support is really key to maximising the benefit to the community. Had this support been available from the developer in our case, then we might not have such a mixed picture now.

So, as a development trust we decided that rather than await the next windfarm development, or Cruach Mhor’s eventual repowerment (if that’s the term), we were going to develop our own wind power. We began way back in 2009 when one of our directors asked, “Why don’t we cut out our dependence on grants and develop our own windfarm?” Our first attempt was along the lines of Neilston, where as I am sure you’ll all be aware, the Development Trust worked in a 50:50 partnership to develop 4 turbines on a brownfield site. The development has been commissioned and while its an inspiration, our attempt to repeat the trick was stymied by a landowning partner. This was a pity because as a trust we were committed to ensuring the community benefit that the 25MW windfarm would disburse would have been an exemplar for Land-base windfarms.


Our view was that while our community would have been the major beneficiary, the communities of Bute, Kilfinan, Strachur and Kilmun would each receive a percentage of the Community Benefit. This was so well developed we’d had two initial meetings to discuss how the Community Benefit component would have been divided. Only one community demanded differential distributions weighted according to population. The rest wanted equal “neighbours’ portions”. Of course this wider benefit was also a reaction by our board to several meetings at which our neighbours bemoaned the fact that ColGlen was lucky, we didn’t know we were born, we had oodles of cash and we should have let the other communities in on the act.


While we paused to put together the purchase of Stronafian Forest through 2011-12 we were approached separately by three developers, each of whom had a scheme from which we would benefit in some way shape or form, and the most interesting of which offered 5% equity plus another 5% if we found capital to invest. Two of these were derailed by a nesting pair of white-tailed eagle. The third non-equity offer continues and we have offered and are negotiating access over our new forest asset – a process fraught with other interesting private interest wrinkles. Out of this development we will obtain another tranche of Community Benefit.

But more importantly as part of our work on developing the community component of Stronafian Forest we have recently completed a tendering process for consultants to take our plan for a community turbine or turbines to consent on the Forest. The process seems to be working well, and out of it the community will gain a benefit commensurate with the risk we are taking – or around £60K per annum.

You see we have learnt that actually taking charge of the means of production is far more profitable and will deliver far more benefits than waiting for these prospective developers to get their act together.

The question is: were we suitably recompensed through Community Benefit for the effect the wind farm had on our community. I’m not sure, not really. On balance maybe not.

But had the levels been at a minimum 5K then – and I’d argue there is case for Community Benefit to rise to a minimum of 10K, – had there been more support along the lines that is offered in best practice scenarios now, had we been encouraged to think properly about these benefits holistically in terms of what the community actually wanted. Had there been no assumptions made on the part of community leaders and windfarm developers that any money is good money we may have had a better, more ambitious outcome sooner than is likely now.


As it is, we will get there, de minimis, lack of housing and the continuing and accelerating effects of climate change notwithstanding. Thank you.


The large image is of one of the many burns which run through Stronafian Forest.

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