New legislation about to come into force will see land reform issues become an increasingly hot topic. It will encourage more communities to buy land and buildings in the heart of their local area that matters to them. Here we take a look at one project where an area is being rejuvenated following a community buy out.
Gallan Head Community Trust (GHCT) is a project which has hit the headlines due to its plans to breathe new life into a remote former Cold War submarine surveillance station by transforming it into a major nature reserve so visitors can listen to the sound of whales in the sea.
Gallan Head is a small peninsular at the most North-Westerly point in continental Europe – on the Isle of Lewis – and as such has long been a strategic site for surveillance of the North-Western Atlantic Approaches.
After the facility closed the abandoned buildings became derelict. The site covers most of the peninsular headland and disfigure an area of scenic beauty and natural interest. It is next to the community of Aird Uig – which has a population of just 50 – with no services or amenities.
In April 2014 the community learned that the MOD planned to sell the Gallan Head site. Following a public meeting to gauge support for a community buy-out GHCT was formed, which then registered an interest under the Community Right to Buy legislation.
GHCT originally submitted an application to the Scottish Land Fund in August 2015 but a decision was deferred whilst further research on costings and funding was undertaken. An award of £200,000 was made in November 2015 – with the site formally coming into community ownership at the end of January this year.
The Trust propose a phased programme of redevelopment including a visitor centre which will also feature a café and community hub – designed to create local jobs and reverse decline in the area.
A hydrophone will be installed on the sea bed – linked to a PA system in the visitor centre – to pick up the sounds of marine life including whales which are regularly seen in the area. There will also be a sympathetically designed dark skies space observatory to watch the stars at night.
Martin Hayes, Development Officer with GHCT, said: “For many years before the buyout, the derelict buildings and land and high security fence stifled any desire for improvement and development. With no access to most of the land surrounding our community, and no power or influence to make any sort of improvement, we were helpless.
“Over the years, the atmosphere of disuse and dereliction adversely affected our economic, social and environmental well-being. But not now!
“Since the community buyout, we have energy; we are working together to make a real difference. There is hope, enthusiasm, ambition.
“What was a great blemish in an otherwise spectacular area has turned out to be a jewel in the crown. We have a long way to go yet, but the buyout has been the catalyst for a much brighter future for our community.
“It has given us a huge injection of hope, the power of self-determination, and the motivation to help ourselves, to improve this place, and to share its joys with others.”
The Scottish Land Fund highlights GHCT as a good example of a community buyout as it shows that being a small population is not a barrier to a successful funding application. The project also shows creative thinking in terms of future redevelopment of the site – taking full advantage of its location, history and proximity to marine life.
For more information: www.gallanhead.org.uk