View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Friday, 16 December 2016

Of mice and men

In my years in Stornoway, I have witnessed the publication of varying schemes to enhance the economy and employment in Lewis. One of the most publicised of these is everything to do with windfarms. One was mooted that would have seen 180 turbines, standing 450 feet tall, marching from Port of Ness in the north to Bragar in the west and Stornoway in the south. Never came to be. What we have now is about 20 turbines, scattered across the island and not many more able to be built due to the lack of a high-voltage cable to the mainland. That will cost over £1 billion, and the likelihood of it ever coming to pass is asymptotically close to zero.

Next we have the Arnish Fabrication Yard, a revolving door if ever I saw one. At one point, it was going to be the base where all the aforementioned 180 turbines were going to be built. When that disappeared, it was going to be a renewables base offering work to 3,500 men. Well, the current unemployment figure in the Western Isles stands at 500. The AFY now has about 70 on its roll, working on a project - and they'll be laid off once complete. Four years ago, a site for industry was excavated on the road into the AFY, but that is yet to be put into use. Perhaps the electrical infrastructure for the interconnector (subsea high voltage cable) is going to be put there. I refer to the likelihood of said cable ever being laid.

So, now Stornoway Port Authority has mooted some great looking plans to expand marina capacity. A new marina in the Newton Basin, and another one off Gob Inacleit, better known as The Battery, and not as Sandwick Village. The latter one looks a bit iffy, as very exposed to swells in the Minch at times of high winds. I hold out more hope for the Newton development, as that also includes expansion of the slipway and hard standing for boats. SPA itself is more bullish about the proposals for Glumag Harbour, where a quay for large cruiseliners is to be built, with facilities for offshore industries. Just one little snag. Money.

I realise that my piece has more than a slight whiff of negativity about it, born of experience through observation. I can't help noting that there is a degree of fixation on renewables, all heavily dependent on subsidies which are beginning to dry up. I am still hoping for a more flexible approach, taking the bigger picture into account, without looking at specific interest groups. That has done untold damage to the island economy.