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Councillors and campaigners on the Isle of Lewis have joined forces to demand community involvement in determining the future of the Arnish fabrication yard.
The yard is currently leased by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to BiFab, the company which also has control of the Burntisland and Methil yards in Fife, and is now in administration after failing to win key contracts.
There are fears that the Arnish lease could be sold by the administrator to a buyer as part of an overall disposal of BiFab without any guarantee that this would be in the best interests of the Lewis yard.
But now, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Stornoway Trust and the Action for Arnish campaign group have written to the chairman of HIE asking for a meeting at which assurances would be sought on conditions for the transfer of the Arnish lease.
Following a meeting of the island interests, a joint letter to HIE chairman Alistair Dodds, stated there was strong agreement that the most appropriate strategic approach for both Arnish and the local economy is for the yard to be decoupled from BiFab and re-established as an independent, free-standing facility.
‘This will allow Arnish greater market freedom and flexibility, while opening the potential for multiple use and multiple occupation. To ensure that can happen it will be essential there is maximum flexibility and we would be keen to explore with you the options around the existing lease with BiFab – including its early termination,’ states the letter’s authors.
Comhairle leader Roddie Mackay said there is only a short period of time over the next weeks to ensure the BiFab Administrators, the Scottish Government and other interested parties fully understand and are fully appraised in regard to local aspirations around the Arnish yard.
‘Highlands and Islands Enterprise has a key role to play and we are keen to engage and work with them to ensure the strongest possible voice around the strategic needs of both the Arnish Yard and the local economy are heard,’ said Mr Mackay.
The chairman of Action for Arnish, Iain MacLeod, said: ‘This is far too important an issue for the island to be left to administrators in Edinburgh or HIE in Inverness.
‘We do not want to wake up one morning to find that Arnish is now in the hands of another company who may have no real interest in investing or developing its potential.’
Stornoway Trust factor, Iain MacIver, added: ‘The trust recognises the important contribution a fully operational facility at Arnish can play in the proposed development of the west harbour area.
‘To help ensure the fulfilment of that potential we must strive to ensure that those who may seek the control of it are able to demonstrate their ongoing commitment towards its use in the best interests of our island and its workforce.’
Gary Smith, Scotland secretary of the GMB union which is supporting the Action for Arnish campaign, has backed the unified approach from the island.
He said: ‘The guidance we have received is that there are several interests in BiFab as a whole but also separate interest in Arnish alone.
‘Decisions are likely to be made soon by the administrators and it would be outrageous if, once again, Arnish was caught up in a deal to which it is not central.’