High hopes for community land buyout in Nether Lochaber

Lochaber MSP Kate Forbes.

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A community buy-out of land at Inchree, Onich, is on the cards.
Nether Lochaber Community Council (NLCC) hosted a public meeting at the weekend to discuss the community buying two areas of land owned by Lochaber Housing Association (LHA) and Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS).

Around 50 people, including MSP Kate Forbes and councillor and chief executive of LHA Blair Allan, attended the meeting chaired by councillor Andrew Baxter. A survey to gauge interest in the community buy-out was distributed to 240 houses; a third were handed back with only one in 12 reporting concerns.

Chairman of NLCC Iain Jenner told the Lochaber Times: ‘While there are naturally a number of concerns over our community potentially buying out LHA and FCS land and buildings at Inchree, over traffic volumes, financial sustainability and public liability, for example, I would say the response was overwhelmingly positive. The meeting finished on a note of cautious enthusiasm.

‘Questions about the financial stability, how much the community can be involved and how much support the government would give were addressed.’

While no plans for the land are set in stone, suggestions for the LHA area, which is around 14 hectares, include it being used for grazing, cropped silage or a ‘pick your own’ scheme to generate income. There was also interest for free range hens to produce eggs or a fruit farm. An allotment scheme to service South Lochaber was also discussed.

The FCS asset includes buildings, one of which is already tenanted by business Vertical Descents, which would become a community tenant.

The other building is derelict and would need redeveloped. Mr Jenner said it could be a visitor hub and cafe with toilets and showers or a workshop for community use. An area of woodland under negotiation could potentially house a micro-hydro scheme to power the buildings.

‘We are pushing against an open door. The government, LHA and FCS are supportive of a community buyout,’ said Mr Jenner. ‘The next stage is to convene a steering group to form a business plan and investigate the ideas and look at the most viable option.’

NLCC would seek funding from the Scottish Land Fund which earmarks money for communities to buy-out areas of land.

Ms Forbes said legislation has provided community groups with ‘unprecedented powers to take over local assets’, with a £10million budget in the Land Fund to assist with the purchase and development of these assets.

She said: ‘I am delighted to see communities like Nether Lochaber taking an active interest in what they can do with the land on their door step.’