This report marks the end of CCDC’s second year of operation as the mechanism established as the focus of the community’s collective desire to ensure its future in uncertain times. With a lot of projects, opportunities and ideas on the agenda it has been another busy year for staff and our volunteer directors. We have seen some significant milestones reached, and despite having had our share of disappointments, we are well on track to deliver the challenging objectives the community has set us.
For the benefit of those new to CCDC, the company was established in response to concerns expressed in the community 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.
Since last year the local economy was hit by the major blow of the announcement in February that Summer Isles Foods Ltd, our biggest employer and a company with a 30-year history in the community which founded it, was to relocate to Alness on the east coast, some 80 miles away effectively rendering its entire workforce redundant unless prepared to relocate. Summer Isles Foods relocation, disappointing as it is, is an expression of commercial realism which the company is able to respond to by relocating; we on the other hand do not have that option and we must make Coigach viable where it is – to that end, galling though it may be to have the Summer Isles and Achiltibuie brands appearing on product packaging and promotion coming out of Alness, the very fact that our community is being talked about and appreciated in markets around the world is a consolation and something we can capitalise on.
Directors serving this year, drawn from and elected by the Company’s membership are (in alphabetical order of surname): Nick Clooney (Vice Chair), Steve Husband, Ann Macleod (Ann Ali Beag), Anne Macleod (resigned in September 2011), Ian Macleod, Iain Muir (Chair), Phil Shaughnessy, Richard Williams. In addition to Elected Directors we have two Co-opted Directors: Linda Macleod and Ben Walton (Finance Director). As we are committed to seeing a turnover of directors, this AGM will see the resignation of a number of directors and the election of new directors. Co-opted Directors’ appointments end with this AGM. Our job-share Local Development Officers (‘LDOs’) are Peter Muir and Julia Campbell – Julia having been appointed in August 2011 when Linda Macleod left to take up other employment. Peter and Julia’s contracts were renewed in January when a new round of funding came available.
CCDC is one of a family of community development companies and trusts operating throughout the Highlands and Islands, most with a similar structure of volunteer directors and paid LDOs. All are community-owned and all enjoy the support of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (the Scottish Government enterprise agency) who, along with LEADER (a European Union development programme), pay for our LDOs and provide support and advice. A key benefit of this network is the sharing of ideas, experiences and solutions. Some of these community companies have been established for many years and own their own land, houses, piers and other assets – Knoydart community for instance – while others are a few steps ahead of us in their pursuit of a similar development model to ours – many of the Orkney islands and Gigha for example – and still others have developed benchmark social enterprises – such as Sleat in Skye and Northmavine in Shetland for example. With network meetings organised by HIE we now know the individuals who have personally delivered a whole series of very valuable benefits to their communities, and with all this experience and expertise just a phone call or email away, we are in a great position to move forward.
As it should be, we continue to enjoy excellent relations with other community groups here in Coigach, and the support of individual members of the community, as evidenced by the strong backing we have had throughout the year. One of our directors (Ann Macleod) is also secretary of Coigach Community Council and acts as an effective bridge between the two bodies – this is very helpful as although the two organisations have entirely different legal standings and purposes, both are ultimately concerned with community support and viability.
Our basic company strategy is to pursue two parallel strands of activity: income generation and income disbursement. Clearly these are wholly interdependent – without income we have nothing to spend, and without reason to spend money there is no point in earning any. It’s not really a matter of ‘chicken and egg’ – we have plenty of opportunity to earn income and plenty of things to spend it on. As yet we have little if anything in the way of income generation, but that’s as we knew it would be. Rome wasn’t built in a day and nor will Coigach’s future be put on a secure footing in a couple of years.
Whilst we operate at one level through monthly directors meetings, on a day to day basis there is a lot of email and phone traffic among LDOs and directors, and outwith the community, by various formal and informal routes. As an indication of the volume of work being done, my email tally for the 2012 so far with just the LDOs is in excess of 490.
Effective communication with stakeholders is a challenge for all organisations and one we seek to address through a number of initiatives. We now have several ‘on-line’ presences, with the CCDC website (http://ccdcompany.wordpress.com), the CCDC Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Coigach-Community-Development-Company/134572066608123) and the new wind energy project website (http://coigachwindpower.wordpress.com/). In addition we have published and distributed a number of editions of our newsletter, we place minutes and other relevant documents in the Post Office, we post notices in the community hall and our LDOs are present in the hall for consultation on Wednesday mornings to coincide with other the library and doctors’ surgery – and we’re all just a phone call or a text message away.
An important development undertaken during the year has been the selection and appointment of an accountant and lawyers to act for CCDC. Whilst the accountant role is, at this stage, simply a formal matter of preparing and presenting our annual accounts to Companies House we expect it to become more complex in time as we start to deal with more significant sums than presently. We were pleased to be able to engage the services of a fairly local accountant, Tim Wright CA, who lives in Elphin. As we are already entering into some complex contractual and other legal matters it was important that we engaged lawyers able to serve our interests and accordingly we have appointed the firm of Harper Macleod who are based in Glasgow but with an office in Inverness.
Part of this year’s operations has seen the successful establishment of two new trading companies: Coigach Wind Power Ltd as a wholly owned subsidiary of CCDC, and Ben Mhor Hydro Ltd, a formal joint-venture between CCDC and Scottish Wildlife Trust. Establishing these trading companies are the first steps in adopting an overall structure which best suits our purposes both legally and fiscally; we anticipate establishing a charitable arm in the near future in advance of developing our income streams.
As we established in our first year of operation, we respond to the diverse community needs and opportunities through working groups of directors and LDOs focusing on our three main priorities: Land and Housing; Piers and Harbours; Community Energy. These are now considered in turn.
Land and Housing
In Land and Housing we want to provide much needed community-owned affordable housing and workshops.
In my last Chairman’s report I spoke of our aspirations for the former Achiltibuie Hydroponicum land and buildings for which we had registered our interest under the Community Right to Buy (CRtB) provisions of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. The owners had announced their desire to sell and we embarked on the six month long, resource-hungry process of satisfying the Scottish Government that we should be able to acquire the property. Everything was on track for a successful sale until the vendors pulled out just four days ahead of the deadline for the process to conclude, citing an unacceptable valuation by the independent district valuer. This was most regrettable as the CRtB process allows vendors to challenge the valuation at an early stage, yet they chose not to and this resulted in a lot of wasted time and effort by the community in the preparation of a business plan, undertaking a community ballot, arranging finance, etc. The Hydroponicum building is now rapidly deteriorating and has become an eyesore in the centre of a community dependant for a significant part of its income on tourism. The owners’ plans for the site are not known but our CRtB registration will remain in force for some years to come.
The very regrettable relocation of Summer Isles Foods Ltd adds to the community’s sustainability challenges. The shock of the relocation news was compounded when we learnt that only after the relocation was announced, and despite our protestations on behalf of the community, HIE sold the smokehouse building itself to Summer Isles Foods. Since that time we have been in negotiation with HIE and with Summer Isles Foods and we are now embarking on a CRtB bid for the redundant smokehouse building.
Before leaving CRtBs, we are lodging our community interest in the Achiltibuie Schoolhouse to ensure it stays as a community resource – either for the vacant head-teacher post or otherwise as a community asset. This perhaps unusual step follows very equivocal messages coming from Highland Council about their future intentions for the schoolhouse, and knowledge that the schoolhouse in Applecross was sold by the Council without community consultation.
In addition to the above we have and are actively pursuing a number of other options in the community to acquire land for community owned social housing and for workshops. We are assisted in this by Highland Small Communities Housing Trust (HSCHT). We were grateful to be offered first refusal on a multi-site location in the community by a private owner, an offer we considered carefully but turned down on advice from HSCHT.
Piers and Harbours
The Piers and Harbours group, working alongside the Community Council and Pier Users Group continues in its exploration of the opportunities to acquire Badentarbet Pier and Old Dornie harbour, both vital to our local economy and both threatened as a result of underinvestment by Highland Council.
We secured funding for a study into the options for community ownership of the pier and harbour. The study, being conducted by Wallace Stone and Partners, marine consulting engineers from Dingwall, is establishing the detail, scope and cost of the remedial work required and identifying opportunities for economic development. If taken over by the community we may be able to access money for repair and development not accessible to Highland Council.
The Community Energy group is working on the two big projects which will be the essential money-earners CCDC needs to deliver its programme of community benefits, and without which we will be able to little if anything.
Dealing firstly with the wind turbine project, a number of milestones have been reached:
- We secured development funding through Community Energy Scotland to take the project forward to planning consent. This £150k loan is converted to a grant (i.e. non-refundable) if our project doesn’t go ahead because of financial, technical or planning obstacles. If the project goes ahead as planned we can readily pay it back from earned income.
- In October we erected a 50m wind monitoring mast at the proposed turbine site – a feat achieved under the close supervision of Steve Husband who has made a living for years doing this sort of thing, and who has given very generously towards the project. Initial results suggest a very promising rate of return from the site, with clean wind in copious supply. The monitoring mast will collect data for a full year and, together with data already gathered, will form an important part of our detailed business plan.
- We established Coigach Wind Power Ltd (CWP) as a wholly owned subsidiary of CCDC. Directors of CWP are Alison Sinclair (Chair), Steve Husband, Kevin Peach, Ann Macleod and Iain Muir.
- CWP has applied for and been quoted for a grid connection for the turbine. This will be subject to further discussion with Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) who act as agents for the National Grid. Our connection is scheduled to be established in 2014.
- The data package for the planning application is virtually complete and ready for submission.
- The route along the single track road between Drumrunie and Achavraie has been demonstrated as being suitable to carry the trucks required to deliver the turbine to the site.
- A well-attended community information event was held to provide all those interested with a summary of the project. The event, organised by our development consultants, Atmos, was attended by over 90 residents plus the local school children and others including local councillor Biz Campbell.
The micro hydro project planned for the Achavraie burn has also achieved a number of significant steps towards implementation:
- A formal joint venture has been entered into with landowners Scottish Wildlife Trust. Costs and profits will be equally split between both parties.
- A new joint-venture company, Ben Mhor Hydro Ltd (BMH)has been established, with two directors representing SWT and two representing CCDC. CCDC nominated directors are Steve Husband and Peter Drake.
- Like CWP, BMH has secured development funding through Community Energy Scotland to take its project forward to planning consent. This £150k loan is on the same terms as the CWP loan.
- We have accessed valuable real-time water flow data from Scottish Water who monitor the burn for their own abstraction purposes.
- BMH has appointed John Duncanson Engineering to progress the development of the project. This is a very well established developer with a track record on small hydro projects which is second to none.
- The project is at the stage of seeking the necessary permissions to abstract water from the burn from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), prior to applying for planning permission.
- A useful meeting has been held with common grazings shareholders to discuss compensation agreements for the development on the common grazings.
- BMH and CWP are collaborating with regard to their connection to the grid.
Other projects and activities
As was the case last year, in addition to the major projects above we have been involved in other activities with the express purpose of providing community benefit – these are fewer than last year, reflecting the time commitment demanded by the bigger projects:
- We continue to investigate opportunities with land owners and planners to develop a more attractive and welcoming ‘gateway’ to Coigach at Drumrunie junction. This is a novel idea with considerable potential benefit for many in the community.
- We have organised a number of excellent and well attended business skills training courses with Business Gateway for local individuals and businesses.
- We continue to work with SWT and contribute to the Coigach and Assynt Living Landscapes (CALL) project which they lead. We were pleased that our Vice Chair, Nick Clooney, has been appointed to establish and run the tree nursery for CALL.
In conclusion, it has been another busy year, not without its disappointments but with our major income generating projects coming much closer to fruition with many milestones passed and important structures and relations in place. Looking forward, we intend staying on the path we have established and consolidated over our first two years of activity – we have the confidence of seeing things progress in Coigach and know from the experience of colleagues in comparable communities elsewhere that our plans are capable of delivering the outcomes we seek. We hope you approve of all we have done.
I know I can speak for all Directors in thanking our Local Development Officers, Peter and Julia (preceded by Linda), for the sterling work they have done throughout the year and the successes they have achieved so far. Likewise we must thank our funders, HIE and LEADER. As last year, I once again would 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.
Chair, Coigach Community Development Company
20 June 2011