This has been a busy and exciting year which has seen CCDC become established in the community as a vehicle for its ambitious plans for sustainability and development.
We started the year with the company’s first AGM and election, by its members, of its first Board of Directors. Our Directors are either elected or co-opted, and are drawn from the Company’s membership. Elected Directors are (in alphabetical order of surname): Nick Clooney, Steve Husband, Ann Macleod (Ann Ali Beag), Anne Macleod, Ian Macleod, Iain Muir, Phil Shaughnessy, Richard Williams. Linda Macleod, also elected as a Director, stood down to take up her post as a company employee. In addition to Elected Directors we have two Co-opted Directors: Julia Campbell and Ben Walton. In keeping with our community focus, a youth representative also attends our monthly board meetings and we were pleased to welcome Joseph Peach to this role and we value the contributions he makes.
The company was established in response to concerns expressed in the community – at the ‘have Your Say Day’ and at other times – about issues such as the lack of affordable housing, declining school roles, declining services and infrastructure, lack of workshops, our fragile economy and our aging demographic. Sustainability and development requires investment, and CCDC is concerned with both sides of the equation: were money needs to be invested for community benefit and where it needs to be raised in order to pay for it.
CCDC is quite a different animal from Coigach Community Council. It is not a tier of local government: it is a limited company (limited by guarantee) regulated by the Companies Act with volunteer directors who have legal obligations prescribed by that Act. It issues neither shares nor dividends, so no individual (other than employees) profits from it; all profits are returned to the community. Unlike the Community Council it has ‘members’, it can employ staff, enter into a wide range of contractual arrangements, borrow money, and is an eligible organisation under the Land Reform Act. Three of our Directors are also community councillors, so there is a lot of cross-over and communication between the two organisations. In this regard we are like very many communities throughout the Highlands and Islands who have both community councils and community development companies or trusts working in their interests.
Though we are not a charity, our Articles of Association are written such that they comply with charity law and we could, and probably soon will, register as a charity.
One of our first actions was our successful application to register the community’s interest in the old Achiltibuie Hydroponicum and surrounding land through the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, this early action has recently provided us with the opportunity to purchase it for community benefit.
The next significant event was our becoming accepted by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) as an ‘Account Managed Community’. This gave us access to support and advice from HIE, and most importantly, it gave us the funding to employ Linda Macleod and Peter Muir as our job-share Local Development Officers. The provision of these jobs is the first, we hope, in a long line of economic benefits that CCDC will bring to the community. Since their employment began in October 2010 Linda and Peter have been tremendous assets to CCDC and Coigach and they have worked hard and effectively for our great benefit; their complementary knowledge, skills and experience make them a formidable team.
Around the same time as Peter and Linda took up their posts we launched the CCDC website (http://ccdcompany.wordpress.com) which provides us with an important means of communication with members and the rest of the community, and beyond. The website contains news stories, information, minutes of Directors’ meetings, our Articles of Association, survey results, and so on – much of it also printed and displayed in the Post Office for those not able to access the Internet.
To respond to the diverse needs and opportunities we established sub-committees of directors to work on our current three major areas of focus: Land and Housing; Piers and Harbours; Community Energy.
Land and Housing
In Land and Housing we are exploring opportunities for providing much needed community-owned affordable housing and workshops. In this we accept the reality that we no longer live in times when the Local Authority is prepared or able to assist us – there will be no new ‘Island View’ built to provide starter homes for young families and others. Various options are being pursued including:
- firstly, revisiting the project initiated by the Community Council which tried to build affordable housing on land between the Piping School and Island View with the Highland Small Communities Housing Trust;
- secondly, writing to all local land owners and grazing clerks in the hope of identifying a spread of plots throughout the community to avoid expecting too much from one landowner or township – a model adopted successfully elsewhere in the crofting counties;
- thirdly, exploring the opportunities presented by the land below Island View, kindly gifted to the community for that purpose by Alan Graham;
- fourthly, some directors who are also crofters are exploring options they may have to be able to access land on behalf of the community;
- fifthly, with our registration of interest in the old Hydroponicum and land now moving into the next stage we have a real prospect of acquiring it for the community.
Piers and Harbours
The Piers and Harbours group, working alongside the Community Council and Pier Users Group is trying to secure the future of Badentarbet Pier and Old Dornie harbour, both vital to our local economy and both threatened by underinvestment by Highland Council. Badentarbet Pier is threatened by permanent closure because of structural decay, whilst Old Dornie needs investment to reach its full potential for commercial and leisure users. CCDC has acquired funding and is currently tendering for a feasibility study into community ownership of both facilities. Under community ownership we may be able to access money not accessible to Highland Council – in this regard the European Fisheries Fund offers us good opportunities.
The Community Energy group is working now on two projects – the original wind turbine project that was so strongly supported in the community ballot in 2009, and a new micro-hydro project. These projects are going to be the essential money-earners which will allow the CCDC to deliver the community benefits that we need if Coigach is to remain vibrant – and without which we will achieve little if anything.
The wind turbine project continues along the path towards achieving planning permission. Vital stages of the process are either underway or are about to be – the bird survey, a major part of the environmental impact assessment, is now underway with funding CCDC received from the Lottery’s ‘Awards for All’. More funding, this time sourced from Community Energy Scotland, we are fairly confident will be confirmed shortly, and will see the remainder of the work necessary to allow us to apply for planning permission begin. As is the case in many funding applications, the applicant – CCDC – is required to contribute a percentage of the total itself. In this case we are supplying and erecting the wind monitoring mast as an in-kind contribution – and we are greatly indebted to Steve Husband for providing the equipment and know-how for this. We’ll be erecting the mast shortly.
The micro-hydro project is a new initiative we’re looking at in association with Scottish Wildlife Trust, on a joint venture basis. The plan is to develop a small-scale hydro-power plant on the Achavraie burn which could generate, according to a desk-top study, up to 300kW of power to sell onto the National Grid. A separate application to Community Energy Scotland will, we are confident, also provide funding for a feasibility study for the micro-hydro project.
Small scale hydro projects such as this have only come into the frame as viable options for development with the introduction last year of the UK Government’s Feed In Tariff Scheme, which disproportionately favours small hydro schemes with attractive payment rates for electricity generated. Attractive though the idea is, we have to regard the micro-hydro as an add-on project – it won’t generate that much profit; as someone from Community Energy Scotland said – a nice project for a community hall, but not big enough for a community.
Other projects and activities
In addition to these major projects we have been undertaking a range of other projects and activities:
- With tourism such a big part of our local economy we have been involved in a number of tourism-related initiatives. In this we share the aims of the Achiltibuie Tourist Association. Our Director Julia Campbell is Secretary of Achiltibuie Tourist Association. Though much of what we do touches on tourism, specific projects include:
- Investigating opportunities with land owners and planners to develop a more attractive and welcoming ‘gateway’ to Coigach at Drumrunie junction;
- We are also exploring opportunities for providing an online booking service for local accommodation providers;
- We have attended meetings and input comments to the North West Highlands Geopark Steering Group which seeks to develop the geotourism market in the north-west.
- We have undertaken research to understand more about the socio-economics and attitudes that prevail in our community.
- We are providing business skills training and will shortly be running our first training course with Business Gateway – an e-commerce training course.
- We were also pleased to agree to take on the development of the planned Polbain Footpath from the Polbain crofters who conceived it as we, unlike them, have the resources to project manage it – and we recently put out to tender the renovation of the Polbain Peat Track which drew a lot of local expressions of interest, but unfortunately this is now on hold as the landowner does not approve of the CCDC involvement.
- We have developed good and productive relations with Scottish Wildlife Trust who are keen to work with us on housing, renewable energy and other projects to help us achieve our objectives for the community; their enlightened approach is most welcome and encouraging. Amongst other things they have involved us in their brainchild, ‘Coigach and Assynt Living Landscapes’, which sees six contiguous landholdings stretching from Tanera Mor up to Quinag being managed to benefit ecosystems and their communities – this should see real benefits coming to crofters on Ben More Estate through environmental schemes.
- We have set up a local business email group as a forum for exchange of information, job vacancies, joint working, resource sharing, etc.
- Following community consultation and research we have created a Community Development plan.
- We have attended a number of events such as the Ullapool Tourism Conference and Trade Fair, the All Energy Conference in Aberdeen, a Soil Association small hydro event in Aberfeldy, and networking meetings for LDOs employed throughout the Highlands and Islands.
- We are applying to a fund created by Scottish Seafarms and open to communities such as ours, for videoconferencing facilities to allow us to offer what is an increasingly demanded service to help local businesses, agencies, individuals and visitors.
- Finally, we have provided letters of support to a number of local businesses seeking funding to develop the services they offer the community.
So, as you see we have had a busy and exciting year in which we have taken many actions in pursuit of our community objectives.
Looking forward we intend to pursue all those projects you’ve just heard about, and we will continue to consult you, our members and others in the community and pursue new opportunities you may bring to us which may help us meet our community objectives.
But as well as opportunities we have our challenges too:
- Effective communication is always a challenge and keeping you as members and others in the community informed of what we are doing is an ongoing issue. If any of what I’ve just said to you about our past year’s activity comes as a surprise then it proves my point. We have recently produced our first newsletter, distributed earlier this month; the website is kept updated and information is displayed in the Post Office, Ullapool News, etc. But I’m aware we need to communicate better. As we start getting into the meat of new projects there will be more opportunity for meaningful interaction with the community – as will be the case next Tuesday (28th June) when we are asking community members to come to the Hydroponicum to share their ideas and views on what best use we could put the building and land to should we acquire it for the community.
- Linda and Peter, our LDOs, term of office ends in November of this year with the end of the European funding programme which pays their wages. HIE hopes to roll the programme forward in which case we can continue to employ them – but though things are looking positive in this regard it is by no means certain.
- The local electricity grid which serves Ullapool, Coigach and Assynt, is near capacity and there are many renewable energy projects, from both communities and private operators who are all hoping to get a share of what capacity is left. If we are to raise the money we need for community sustainability and development from renewable energy we need a good share of that remaining capacity – and it remains to be seen if we are going to get it.
- And the issues which started the talk which started the CCDC have not abated. Fuel prices continue their upward spiral, public spending cuts bite deeper into our services, our housing stock continues to be lost to the second-home market. Since our company was set up Achiltibuie Pre-School has closed and shortly we will have just a one-teacher school.
But we’re optimistic, because we know this place is worth it. It’s where we want to live, work, play, bring up kids, grow old in, or whatever, but above all: to enjoy.
Finally, I and the other Directors would like to thank our Local Development Officers, Linda and Peter, most sincerely for all they’ve done so far. I would also like to thank the Directors for all their work and those other members of the community who we’ve called upon to assist us in various projects and activities. And I should like to thank you, the members of our company for your continuing support and encouragement.
Iain MuirChair, Coigach Community Development Company20 June 2011