Tha Murray MacLeòid a’ cur fàilte air a’ cho-dhùnadh mu port-fànais ann am Mealanais

Bidh gu leòr a dhaoine a bhios glè thoilichte gu bheil na molaidhean airson port-fànais ann an iar-thuath na Gàidhealtachd air faighinn thairis air cnap-starra gu math cudromach – agus tha e mu dheidhinn barrachd na dè seòrsa buaidh eaconamaigeach a bhios aige air an sgìre.

[English-language version below]

‘S e deuchainn chudromach a bha seo mun a bhith a’ cur fearrainn gu feum, no airson a bhith nas mionaidiche mu dheidhinn, cò aig' a tha a’ chumhachd airson co-dhùnaidhean a dhèanamh air fearrann.

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Tha a’ mhòr-chuid de chroitearan Mhealanais air a shon – ged nach eil a h-uile duine – agus thug Comhairle na Gàidhealtachd cead dealbhachaidh dha agus tha Iomairt na Gàidhealtachd is nan Eilean deiseil airgead a chur ris.

Ach, bha duilgheadas ann an dèidh sin. Chuir an t-uachdran mòr Anders Holch Povlsen, na aghaidh. Chan e uachdran àbhaisteach a tha seo, ma tha a leithid a rud ann. ‘S ann às an Danmhairc a tha e agus e air na billeanan mòr a chosg ann an gnìomhachas an fhasain.

‘S e an-diugh an t-uachdran as motha ann an Alba, le 220,000 acaire fo stiùir, thairis 12 oighreachd. Tha sin ga dheànamh nas cumhachdaiche na Diùc Buccleuch e fhèin.

Dha daoine aig nach eil fios, tha Povlsen na phàirt mhòr den ghluasad son ath-fhiadhachadh – beathaichean fiadhaich a chur air ais air an fhearran agus leigeil dha nàdar rud a thogras i a dhèanamh.

The eas-aonta am measg eòlaichean air dè cho ciallach ‘s a tha seo, ach rud a tha cinnteach mu dheidhinn, ‘s e nach bi cus àite aig mac an duine ann – ‘s dòcha dìreach duine no dhithis a’ tighinn air saor-làithean airson dealbhan a thogail, ach gu deimhinne cha bhi dha coimhearsnachdan airson beò-shlàint a dhèanamh.

Chuir Povlsen, tron chompanaidh aige Wildland, an aghaidh a' chead dhealbhachaidh agus às dèidh sin, chaidh e gu Cùirt an Fhearainn agus e ag ràdh gu deànadh am pròiseact cron air fearran a tha fo dhìon.

Ann an co-dhùnadh Dimàirt, thuirt am Morair Minginis gum bu chòir am port-fànais a leigeil air adhart leis gu bheil e cudromach dhan phoball agus gu bheil an làrach freagarrach, agus an luchd-leasachaidh air a thighinn gu aonta leis na croitearan.

Tha seo mu dheidhinn fada a bharrachd na dè thachras san sgire fhèin. Bha Povlsen agus an companaidh aige a’ feuchainn ri brath a ghabhail air cùisean le bhith a’ cleachdadh airgid, dìreach airson am miann a riarachadh, agus taigh na croich' air a’ choimhearsnachd.

Thàinig e am bàrr gun robh e a’ toirt airgid dha buidheann bheag de chroitearan a bha a’ cur an aghaidh a' phròiseict agus chuir e £1.4 millean eile ann an làrach port-fànais airson Sealtainn, ‘s docha dìreach son deànamh cinnteach nach tigeadh Mealanais air adhart.

Bhruidhinn Dorothy Pritchard, cathraiche Oighreachd Chroitearan Mhealanais, mu mar a tha iad air a bhith a' call sluaigh, mar a tha na sgoiltean aca air dùnadh agus mar a tha an òigridh a’ fàgail ‘s nach eil a’ tilleadh. Tha dùil gun cruthaich am pròiseact 6 0 aig an làrach fhèin.

A’ cur fàilte air a’ cho-dhùnadh, thuirt i: “Tha na cothroman a thig tron phort-fhànais a’ ciallachadh gun soirbhich a' choimhearsnachd seo 'son ginealaichean ri thighinn.”

Bu chòir feart a ghabhail air na facail sin tòrr a bharrachd na pròiseactan faoin, mòr-chùiseil aig uachdaran prìobhaiteach le airgead gun chiall.

Fios bhon neach-deasachaidh:

Tapa leibh airson an aithris a tha seo a leughadh. Tha sinn an eismeil ur taic nas motha na bha riamh agus buaidh a’ Choronbhirus air buaidh a thoirt air luchd sanasachd. Mur eil sibh air a dhèanamh mar-tha, ma se ur toil, nach beachdaich sibh taic a chumail ri ar obair-naidheachd earbsach, a tha sinn a’ dearbhadh a tha fìor, le bhith toirt a-mach ballrachd digiteach.

English-language version:

I suspect there will be quite a few who will have breathed a sigh of relief that a significant legal hurdle has been cleared in the plans to establish a spaceport in the north-west of the Highlands – and for reasons that are about a lot more than what the project itself will mean for the Sutherland economy and its people.

This was an important test on defining land use, or more specifically where power lies on what should be done.

For reference, the vast majority of local crofters in the village of Melness were in favour – though not everyone – Highland Council granted planning permission and the region’s economic development body, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, stood ready to back it financially.

The significant fly in the ointment came in the shape of one of the neighbouring estate owners, Anders Holch Povlsen, a Danish billionaire who is Scotland’s largest landowner, with 220,000 acres at his personal disposal across 12 estates, making him even more powerful than the grand Duke of Buccleuch.

For those unacquainted, Povlsen is part of a growing and influential movement towards “rewilding” – essentially re-introducing predators to roam the land and allowing nature to take its course.

Ecologists are divided on the scientific and environmental merits but the one thing that absolutely runs in conflict to rewilding is human activity. The odd visitor on safari (fawning at the feet of the wonderful) will probably be welcome enough, but not so those who seek to build a life and earn a living in our rural communities.

Povlsen, through his company Wildland, first launched an appeal against planning consent for the spaceport last year and when that was rejected, the case went to the Scottish Land Court, on the grounds that the project compromised protected land.

In a ruling, Lord Minginish said there was a public interest in the scheme going ahead and the land in question was suitable, with the developers having come to an agreement with crofters over use.

This was no mere, run-of-the-mill local disagreement on a way ahead. This was Povlsen and his company, Wildland, trying to use their financial muscle to influence an outcome that suited themselves.

It emerged that they had been financing a small number of crofters who were opposing the scheme and he also invested £1.4 million in a rival spaceport site in Shetland, perhaps in the hope that Melness would not go ahead.

With Povlsen and his billions so intent on the “rewilding” vanity, the example of the spaceport in Sutherland provides a salutary warning.

Dorothy Pritchard, chair of the Melness Crofters Estate, spoke of how the community has suffered from depopulation, from schools closing and from their brightest talents heading away never to return. The spaceport is expected to provide 60 jobs at the site alone.

Welcoming the ruling, she said: “The job creation that comes as a direct result of the space hub and additional knock-on opportunities in the future will ensure that our community thrives for generations to come.”

That should speak for far more than the vainglorious ambitions of a billionaire private landowner – and fortunately, in this case at least, it did.

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