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It is almost exactly five years to the day since GFG Alliance took ownership of Lochaber smelter, two nearby hydro plants and around 166,000 acres of accompanying estate lands.
But despite part of the deal struck with the Scottish Government, in return for a power guarantee, being an undertaking on community transfer of a significant portion of the estate lands, little has happened.
And just days after the Scottish Government revealed the guarantee could be worth up to a staggering £586m of taxpayers’ cash, the company is still side-stepping the issue of community land transfer.
Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston, the Scottish Conservative Shadow Minister for Business, called the guarantee an ‘astonishing amount of public money’.
However, the Lochaber Times understands that the 25-year power guarantee – which would have been available to any successful bidder – was to overcome uncertainty over the condition of the rock-hewn hydro tunnel which hadn’t been opened since 1984.
To remove that uncertainty and encourage parties to tender, the guarantee was given in case the successful bidder was forced to rely on the National Grid for electricity – a scenario which has not arisen so far, five years into the 25-year period.
But despite the passing of the five-year anniversary of its deal this month, when asked when the East Lochaber Community Trust (ECLT) – which wanted to buy estate lands at the time of the 2016 sale by previous owner Rio Tinto – could expect some decisive action on community land transfer, GFG Alliance was less than forthcoming.
GFG Alliance’s only comment was that the smelter is a profitable operation and that itis committed to investing for the future in a new recycling and aluminium billet plant on the site and that, thanks to its hydro-electric facility integrated with the wider estate, the smelter already produces some of the lowest carbon aluminium on the market.
Pressed a second time about land transfer, a company spokesman said: ‘We’ll leave it at the overall statement.’
John Hutchison, chairman of the ELCT, said he was surprised by the comments from GFG.
‘We are currently engaged with them and had agreed that in the event of any press interest we would report that discussions are ongoing,’ Mr Hutchison told the Lochaber Times.
‘Because the water rights go with the smelter, the community owning the land represents no threat whatsoever, removes uncertainty and would mean that decisions would be taken by folk who live here.’
Alvance Lochaber Smelter. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos