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COLONSAY COMMUNITY COUNCIL

CCDC response to CCC in respect of a letter from Sophie Furze, Rhona Robinson, Flora Campbell, Ephamia Hanson and Margaret McNeill.

[In connection with proposed housing development at Baile Iochdracht; posted on website 25 May 2021]

 

Councillors

Thank you for the opportunity to respond on behalf of CCDC. The following statement has the full support of the CCDC board and has been shared with the other stakeholders in the housing development. Please note that we have not directly addressed the similar points made in a letter from these objectors to HIE, about a week before the letter was sent to you.

As our chair said at your meeting in April, the board is acutely aware of the stress being caused to those against the development. We do not wish to add to that stress and make no comment here about their motives or their behaviour. We limit ourselves to addressing the points raised.

You have been asked to find out what is going on with CCDC and what its motives are and to bring these issues before the relevant authority. The motives of the CCDC are clearly set out in its Memorandum and Articles of Association, with which I am sure, you will all be familiar. The need for housing has had community support for decades. The community development company has pursued this on behalf of the community for about 20 years. The housing site at Port Mor was made available to West Highland Housing Association several years ago. They have our agreement to undertake the development and secure the necessary consents. We have taken a back seat role.

The proposal does not feature in our current business plan and project officer time is not allocated to it. We see this as a done deal and are bitterly disappointed to learn that it continues to be deliberately frustrated.

The letter to you contains many errors and misconceptions. It is without merit. We encourage you to support the work of CCDC on behalf of the community and not to take up arms with a few local objectors.

Our response to the specific point raised in the letter is set out in the table below.

 

LETTER TO CCC

 

CCDC RESPONSE

We are writing to you regarding our concerns about the Colonsay Community Development Company (CCDC) and hope you can take steps to bring these issues before the relevant authority.

We are not sure who would be the relevant authority. In response to the letter, we have received messages of support from Mike Russell MSP, Argyll and Bute Council, West Highland Housing Association

As highlighted by David Gass' strategic report for HIE, the CCDC currently has a membership of only 40. They therefore cannot claim to represent all of our island community, or even one third.

Membership numbers are incorrect. Apologies for not correcting the Gass Report.

Membership in 2020 was 73 ordinary (voting) members and several associates out of an eligible electorate of around 111, which is about 66%.

We would also like to draw your attention to the part of the report which discussed CCDC's lack of engagement with the community and his suggestion that they work together with other key stakeholders in order to manage risks and resources.

The Gass Report should be read as a whole. It includes that there is a lack of communication and genuine engagement between the principal players in terms of economic and community development.

CCDC is going through a process of change, to increase engagement, rebuild trust and work with other stakeholders. We had established two link councillors from CC until the recent troubles and have offered our support to the tourism marketing group. We continue to liaise with yourselves, and with Colonsay Estate (CE) and with MOWI as strategic businesses on the island.

Recommendation 4 of the report covers working together with key stakeholders. All of those listed are subject of regular weekly or monthly meetings with CCDC. The first quarterly meeting was held in January this year. The next meeting will likely be held at the end of May.

There is a lack of transparency about major projects with which the CCDC are involved. For example, the recent purchase of the Baptist Manse and the building of affordable houses at Port Mor.

We acknowledge we could do better in terms of newsletters and general engagement with the community, but we are working our socks off here and have limited resources. We are working on a better community engagement plan. We disagree that we are not transparent.

The comment about the Baptist Manse is surprising. A community consultation was carried out in January 2020 including a public event in the Village Hall. The response was clearly in favour of acquisition. A public display was mounted in the Hall in March this year while the Pantry was relocated there, confirming the community ownership and inviting comment.

The former Manse is currently being used to house a local family who are ‘between homes'.

Our newsletters have made it clear that its will be available to the contractor for the development sites this year and that the eventual use of the site will be subject to consultation within the community .

Entire sections of their minutes are marked ‘confidential' on their website and their last 3 newsletters have made no mention of the Port Mor houses at all.

There has been no need to mention Port Mor in our newsletters. THE ISSUE OF DEVELOPMENT OF THE LAND HAS BEEN SETTLED. CCDC has agreed that WHHA may develop the site and we will not renege on that. The proposal does not feature in our current business plan and project officer time is not allocated to it. We see this as a done deal and development rests with WHHA. They have now commenced operations on the site and plan to return to the site this summer. They are in negotiation with Rhona to extend the rights of access to serve the development. We were told that all issues had been agreed between solicitors and are now bitterly disappointed to find that the community has been misled into believing that the road agreement is in place.

Where we are informed of negotiations by either party, we have kept them confidential because they (and other land deals) have been commercially sensitive and a matter between the parties. The redactions may be entire, but they are small and respect confidentiality.

We are simply too busy to put things on the agenda that we are no longer working on, nor require further strategic direction from the board. The lack of news reflects what is now our back-seat status in the development.

We expect future announcements to come from WHHA as the project developer. We will share when we hear.

A request to see their Articles of Association some time ago went unanswered.

Apologies, if that was some time ago. The information is freely available to the public on the Companies House website, but we will make a copy available to anyone who asks. A copy for your council has been attached to the covering email.

Communications regarding consultation exercises have not been sent out by post to all of us, despite being members of the company.

Apologies if anyone has been missed. Our practice is to send out consultations via email to all residents who use it and to write separately to those who are not on email. We also publish on the community noticeboard and put up notices in the shop and the pantry. It is not usual to post out consultations to everyone here or in the wider Colonsay community.

We believe the last AGM was in 2019

Correct. The Scottish charities regulator (OSCR) has given dispensation for the 2020 and 2021 AGMs to be delayed until covid allows a return to meetings in person. We have explained this in our newsletters and plan to hold last year's and this in early June

With regards to the affordable houses at Port Mor, despite assurances about ‘displaying good neighbourliness to adjacent residents' (minutes of AGM 2016), we have experienced a distinct lack of courtesy.

Sorry you feel that way. We are not aware of any lack of courtesy.

We have had to defend our legal rights and stand up against misinformation and threatening suggestions of consequences for non-compliance with their proposals. For example, in 2017, the onus was on Rhona to dispute the CCDC claim that her land was common grazing which cost her both time and money. When she was proved correct the CCDC promised to make a public apology but failed to do so.

We have no problem with anyone defending their legal rights.

I suspect that this allegation refers to historical conversations. We see no outstanding misinformation and no threats on our part.

We would need more information on the example you give to provide a proper response. I can find no record of an apology being promised or requested.

The access track to Cnoc nam Ban has been degraded in recent years due to heavier use of vehicles accessing the community owned crofts and more recently by excessively large machinery operated by agents of West Highland Housing Authority. CCDC has not helped with maintenance for many years and it is becoming harder to get in and out using an ordinary car, particularly in wet conditions

This seems to be an issue on all Colonsay roads, public and private. It is a matter between the landowners and the users. The CCDC track is in fair condition. Even so, and separately from this issue, we would be happy to continue a dialogue with all concerned to agree the repairs and who is responsible for them.

Where a right exists, it can be exercised. All users may from time to time require larger or heavier vehicles to their land. The recent excavator on the site was not excessively large for the work it had to do or for the road it took.

Why are we, as a community, still building 5 houses on croft land in Port Mor, when Colonsay has now been allocated a considerable amount of public money to build up to 21 houses in Scalasaig? That project is well underway and the Estate has made it clear that there is more land available should the community require it.

Planning permission exists to regulate the use of land in the public interest. Argyll and Bute Council has determined that housing is acceptable at Port Mor and has reconfirmed that, EVEN AFTER the additional land had been acquired at Scalasaig. Your council indicated strong community support for the original application while noting individual concerns. There were 62 letters of support and 24 objections. Your council did not comment on the application for renewal of planning permission last year.

There are two key points here:

Firstly, the housing at Port Mor could have been built two or three years ago if there had not been local resistance. At that time there was a waiting list for housing of 11, so 6 additional houses were planned for Scalasaig phase 1.

Secondly only 6 houses and three self-build plots (plus 3 MOWI houses) can currently be built at Scalasaig within the recent planning permission. Argyll and Bute Council has clearly stated that phase 2 would be premature in advance of the adoption of the emerging LDP2. That may take another 2 years or more.

As we have said, we will not comment here on the discussions between CCDC and Colonsay Estate so that your council may remain quorate.

We believe CCDC have lost sight of the original idea for the croft land purchased from Donald McNeill at Port Mor. When the CCDC originally bought the land on behalf of the whole community in 2006, it was with assistance from the Scottish Land Fund. It was part of the government led Initiative on the Edge scheme to create smaller crofts that would attract new young families to the islands.

We are told that the land was sold to CCDC to encourage young people who would not otherwise be able to do so to make a life here. Indeed, that fits fair and square with the company objects and we could not do otherwise. This has worked well so far with the new crofts, despite difficulties with access and services.

This may in part be due to the high turnover of Directors and employees of the company. According to records at Companies house there have been 57 officers and 49 resignations since it was established in 2000

The turnover of directors is not surprising, in fact it could have been even higher. A number of directors must resign by rotation every year. Resignations have not affected the progress currently being made by CCDC.

We are concerned that the CCDC is now decrofting land that is a resource owned by the entire community and will diminish this precious part of Colonsay's heritage.

The decrofting relates to the development area for the proposed houses. This is a matter for WHHA. As set out above, this matter is not something CCDC can revisit.

Pre planning has been received by Argyll & Bute Council regarding the development of a commercial campsite on one of the crofts

This has legal implications for the charitable status of CCDC and was not part of the original plan. Is it not possible for the tenant crofter to run said venture without decrofting or, given the huge demand for vacant crofts in Scotland, move aside for someone else?

We understand that pre-application advice was given in relation to a crofter's camping proposal. That advice is not in the public domain. That scheme has not progressed to date.

We also understand that decrofting would be needed for any permanent buildings but that diversifying into camping as a use of the land would not.

The community owned crofts were allocated at interview and with regard to the applicant's business plans, one of which was for a campsite.

Building affordable houses on croft land was a contentious issue in 2016 but at the time it seemed the community could see no alternative. With the acquisition of a substantial parcel of land in Scalasaig, it is no longer necessary to give away land at Port Mor to WHHA.

This has been explained above.

We do not detect a community objection to building homes on croft land, whether this is for second homes or affordable homes.

The land is not being given away. It is being sold for a nominal sum, plus the expectation of unused WHHA land in Scalasaig transferring to CCDC, plus a new roadway in place at Port Mor to meet the planning requirements that will be placed on croft homes.

Please see the minutes of CCDC's meeting in Sept 2019; it is minuted that Andrew Abrahams and Dannie Onn will investigate if a land swap is possible between WHHA and CCDC of the land at Scalasaig for that at Port Mor… why?

This is a misunderstanding. Apologies if the minute is not clear. The land swap was an entirely separate matter – the land is the small area of undeveloped ground around the WHHA houses nearby the brewery. In the end it was not possible to do this swap at the same time due to a legal technicality.

Is it because the CCDC now realise they will have no say in the allocation for affordable houses built on land owned by WHHA?

No. Allocation is a separate matter.

Incidentally, we will be asking WHHA to follow a new CCDC allocations policy once this has been agreed with the community.

We ask you to please find out what is going on with the CCDC and what their motives are. We are concerned the community as a whole is being kept in the dark.

Our motives are clearly set out in our governing document. We are being as open as we can be without breaching commercial confidentiality. If you don't know what's going on, you can always ask us.

 

 

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