Last chance to take part in forest consultation

TIME is running out for members of the public to have their say on the preliminary masterplan for Bute’s community forest at the north end of the island – and also for a proposed hydro power generation scheme in the community-owned woodland.

The draft masterplan, drawn up by the Inverness firm of Neil Sutherland Architects, includes proposals for a forest centre with office space and meeting room, a bunkhouse capable of accommodating 20 people, cabins with room for two or four people, shelters, a community space, and interpretation facilities at the Second World War bunker which forms part of the 200-hectare site owned by Bute Community Land Company (BCLC).

In addition, consultants Mott MacDonald have published a report into the feasibility of a hydro power generating facility in the Balnakailly burn.

Their report says a hydro scheme is not expected to generate any profit for around 14 years due to the cost of building work and installation of equipment, and that its viability is heavily dependent on community involvement and the use of low-cost alternatives wherever possible.

The document also states that a hydro scheme is only considered financially feasible if it raises enough money to cover the building cost within 15 years, and that a less productive site has been chosen as the potential location of the hydro scheme’s power house due to the environmental impact of the project.

Consultation on both sets of proposals closes this Tuesday, January 31, and members of the public can comment by completing an online survey at the Bute Forest website (click on the link to the right of this article).

Forest manager Emma Cooper told The Buteman: “We are almost at the point of finalising the master plan and making a decision about whether or not to pursue the hydro scheme.

“It is vitally important that people who have an opinion about the project share that with us at this stage. The surveys on-line are anonymous so people can be completely honest.

“The forest master plan has tried to incorporate the range of exciting ideas people had when the forest was purchased.

“The ideas contained within the plan aren’t going to happen overnight and we may never achieve everything. But they do provide us with a vision for the forest, and everyone I speak to about the plans shares a new idea or thought with me, from simple aspects like bird boxes, to interpretations boards for the sites of interest, to a path to the Maids of Bute.

“These aren’t aspirations which are necessarily difficult to achieve, but they could make a big difference to people’s enjoyment of the forest.

“It’s important we incorporate them in the plans now, so we develop a cohesive vision for the forest and can seek the permissions and expert advice we need to ensure the plans respect the environment.

“The plan is intended to express our collective vision for the forest and will inform decisions about the forest for many years to come.”

Bute Community Land Company’s ownership of the forest was confirmed in July 2010 following

In a public ballot in February 2010, 93 per cent of those voting backed the community’s buy-out of around seven hundred acres of forest land near Rhubodach from Lord and Lady Attenborough.

The purchase was finally completed some five months later and saw BCLC retain ownership of 161 hectares, with access rights to a further 550 hectares of commercial forest land, most of the latter having been sold on to a Bute Estate company, Tallwood Ltd, as part of the deal.