The Mount Stuart Trust has denied accusations that it’s trying to block plans for a community-owned renewable energy project on the island.
The Trust’s lawyers have written to the owner of the site at Auchintirrie farm where Bute Community Power has planning permission to build two wind turbines, stating that they “do not consent” to the disturbance of minerals underneath the planned site.
The situation was outlined in detail at BCP’s annual general meeting in Rothesay on Monday night, when BCP’s secretary, Reeni Kennedy-Boyle, spoke about a 2009 study by the British Geological Survey, commissioned by the Trust, which found it “unlikely” that the island has enough high-quality stone resources to be a realistic prospect for export.
Chairman Jim Osborne said of the Trust’s letter: “It seems to be designed as a blocking tactic to create a delay, perhaps to call our bluff or frighten us into saying it’s all over, but certainly to threaten the economic viability of the project.
“I think we should respond by carrying on.”
Writing to Auchintirrie farmer - and landowner - Sandy McIntyre, law firm Anderson Strathearn say the rights to all “mines, metals, minerals, fossils and substances” at Auchintirrie below land drain depth are reserved in favour of the Trust.
The letter says the Trust “do not consent to the disturbance of the minerals nor the use of any of the reserved minerals in connection with the construction of foundations, hardstanding or access roads to the proposed development”.
Planning consent for the Auchintirrie turbines was granted in February after BCP successfully appealed to the Scottish Government, following Argyll and Bute Council’s decision to refuse permission last September
In a statement, BCP’s directors said: “When the Bute Renewable Energy Project (BREP) was still in development stage, Mount Stuart were invited to work with the community. No response was received.
“Mount Stuart however raised objection to the Auchintirrie project during planning.
“Despite planning being achieved Mount Stuart are trying to prevent an independent farmer from diversifying and the local community from achieving community owned energy production and the monetary benefits arising from such a development.”
BCP’s statement also says they are “unclear” over what the Trust’s position might mean for the project, and adds: “We would hope that Mount Stuart re-consider their position in relation to the project.”
Adam Ellis-Jones, operations director of the Mount Stuart Trust, said: “The Trust is not trying to thwart or delay this development at this stage. While we do not agree with the final decision of the Scottish Government, we respect the decision.
“The letter sent regarding mineral rights was part of our due diligence to ensure that all matters were dealt with properly before the project goes ahead and should not impede its progress.
“It is worth noting that permission to disturb minerals where rights are reserved - whether valuable or not – is simply a matter of law.
“The estate’s position on this proposed wind farm development has always been in line with the majority of people who responded to the consultation and objected to the application. These objections were supported both by the local community council and Argyll and Bute Council.
“We were extremely disappointed that a decision was ultimately taken out of local hands and made by the Scottish Government reporter who acknowledged that there would be ‘localised significant adverse impacts’ from the wind turbines.
“The Mount Stuart Trust has been approached repeatedly by wind farm developers and it would have been an easy commercial option for us with substantial financial gain.
“However, we believe the integrity of the landscape on Bute is of paramount importance and the contribution of the tourism industry to the local economy is in the long term greater than that of a small number of wind turbines that are widely regarded as a negative in tourism terms.
“The Trust is in the process of delivering a multi-million-pound investment in developments on Bute with a view to promoting economic growth through sustainable development.
“This includes the development of new homes and the renovation of existing ones. In addition we are developing affordable housing, significantly expanding our education programme and wider community engagement.
“The future for Bute is by being genuinely sustainable – socially, environmentally and economically. Sustainable tourism is at the heart of this.
“We are most certainly not opposed to renewable energy and have invested in a hydro scheme which will provide a tangible community benefit and are actively developing a substantial biomass project that will secure jobs on the island.
“As regards the estate’s engagement with Bute Community Power, I have had no approach from any representative in the 14 months I have been in post.
“At the planning application public hearing, I issued an invitation to any member of the community or group to meet and discuss any potential projects. That offer still stands and we are wholly committed to community engagement.
“The Bute Estate will always still consider partnering or supporting a renewable scheme providing the scheme is appropriate for the isle of Bute which 47-metre turbine towers are clearly not.”