Following the review announcement by Rio Tinto Aluminium in early 2016, it became clear that an option that included a community company could form part of the solution to retain the Fort William smelter in operation, particularly if the company could act along with others that had the expertise to successfully own and operate the smelter and hydropower assets, allowing the community to derive the benefit and income from owning the land. If this strategy proved successful, this would be the largest community-led land buyout in Scotland to date. (For a map of the land involved click here.)
The East Lochaber and Laggan Community Trust (the Trust), which is a company limited by guarantee, has been formed to benefit the community of East Lochaber and Laggan, being the community council areas of Laggan; Spean Bridge, Roy Bridge and Achnacarry; Inverlochy and Torlundy; Caol; Kilmallie; Fort William; Nether Lochaber, Glencoe and Glen Etive and Kinlochleven (the Community).
The Trust’s aim is to ensure that the long term benefits – economic, social and environmental – are maximised for the benefit of local people and the nation, specifically:
To manage community land and associated assets for the benefit of the Community and the public in general;
To advance community development, including urban or rural regeneration within the Community;
To advance environmental protection or improvement including preservation, sustainable development and conservation of the natural environment, the maintenance, improvement or provision of environmental amenities for the Community and/or the preservation of buildings or sites of architectural, historic or other importance to the Community.
Anyone aged 16 or over, living in the defined community area and on the electoral register may become an Ordinary member of the Trust here. Those living outwith that area may become Associate members here. Those aged from 12 to 15 can become Junior members here. There are also downloadable forms on the News pages.
The membership sets the strategic direction of the Trust and elects a seven director Board with powers to co-opt a further two. There are also categories of membership for Juniors and Associates that are non-voting. The Articles of Association, which can be viewed here, do not allow members or directors any financial benefit from the activities of the Trust; profits go back into the operation or for community good.
The current directors are: John Hutchison (Chair), Patricia Jordan, Flora McKee and Alex Farquhar. In the normal way, directors will stand down by rotation at annual general meetings and the future directors will be elected by the members.
As soon as discussions with Rio Tinto Aluminium commenced we were bound by the terms of a strict confidentiality agreement. This agreement bound everyone involved and means they are unable to speak about, or disclose, any discussions, data or communications with Rio Tinto Aluminium.
Although the Trust’s bid to Rio Tinto Aluminium for the Estate was unsuccessful, we welcomed the purchase by the GFG Alliance of the Smelter, the power stations and the Estate because of the job security and the future expansion that has been announced. Supporting the continuation of the Smelter was a prime aim of the Trust. Nevertheless we still aim to own the Estate and will take this forward with the GFG Alliance.
This is a major land asset and the potential for the community is extraordinary. The challenge will be in making a successful bid and then bring together a diversity of views and opinions on how the entire land and properties can be owned and managed for the greatest benefit to the people of East Lochaber and Laggan. We are encouraging the community to get behind the Trust by becoming members and to explore how this enterprise might best be taken forward.