Residents on the Hebridean islands of South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula, celebrating a decade of running their own estate, have unveiled ambitious plans for creating jobs and increasing the local population.
Purchased at a cost of £4.6 million, Stòras Uibhist is the largest community buy out since the Land Reform Act was passed by the Scottish government in 2003, giving crofters and communities the right to buy the land they live on.
With a population of 3500 people, everyday affairs are now managed by a community company, Stòras Uibhist, led by a board of directors each elected to serve for a three year term.
Stòras Uibhist has now started planning for the next decade with a focus on strengthening the local economy with major infrastructure investments and grants to support job creation.
At a special conference titled, “Creating, attracting and retaining employment in remote rural areas” taking place in South Uist on Friday 21 April, Storas Uibhist will announce plans to build a new distillery with micro brewery, to create an enterprise zone to boost sales of island food products and to further extend the harbour at Lochboisdale to accommodate a new ferry terminal for the next generation of ferries. This will include a commercial pier for industrial use and visiting cruise ships.
The ambitious strategy also includes a new village around the harbour, the renovation of dozens of derelict homes for low cost housing and tourist rentals and a heritage trail celebrating local history including the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie after the Battle of Culloden and the sinking of the whisky laden ship, the Politician, in the Sound of Eriskay.
The chairman of Storas Uibhist, Angus MacMillan, who also led the successful buyout campaign ten years ago, said: “The next decade is about growth. With 25 staff now working for the Estate, we have set in place strong foundations for the future. The economic future of the islands is in our own hands and our focus will be on creating jobs, stemming outward migration and increasing the population.
“We have a huge opportunity to use the natural resources of the islands, at land and sea, for the benefit of the people who live here. We need to build more houses, attract new people to the islands and increase tourism.”
In the first ten years of its existence, Stòras Uibhist has led the development of a £10 million wind farm with profits reinvested locally, raised funding for the creation of a £10 million marina at Lochboisdale and redeveloped the Old Tom Morris links course at Askernish, which attracts golfers from all over the world.
Angus continued: “It is incredible what has been achieved by the people of these islands since 2006 when we took control of our own lives. We have developed two, £10 million community projects, restored a golf course that is winning international acclaim and from a standing start, the people’s estate now has a balance sheet with £35 million of assets. None of this would have happened under private land owners but we have to keep working hard to secure our own future.”
Speakers at Friday’s conference will address subjects ranging from transportation to digital connectivity, a presentation by the newly established Land Commission and the impact of environmental designations.