Hopes that community land buyout could help save Rio Tinto smelter

Hopes that community land buyout could help save Rio Tinto smelter
The Press and Journal, by Sue Restan


A group set-up to draw up plans for the largest community land buyout in Scotland is urging local people to get behind the ambitious project.


It is hoped that East Lochaber and Laggan Community Trust’s efforts to buy the Rio Tinto estate – believed to be around 125,000 acres – will help to save the historic Lochaber Smelter in Fort William.


A series of public meetings is being held in the Fort William, Spean Bridge and Kinlochleven areas next week to encourage as many people as possible to sign up as members.


Trust chairman John Hutchison said it was set up secretly after the mining giant announced it was carrying out a “strategic review” of its assets in Lochaber earlier this year, sparking fears for the future of the plant, which employs about 150 people directly and 400 workers in supply chains.


He explained that a non-disclosure agreement with Rio Tinto meant they could not “go public” until the company announced it was in discussions with a shortlist of “prospective partners, investors and buyers”.


Mr Hutchison said: “We do not seek to bid for the industrial operations – the smelter and main hydro power stations – but instead to work with partners who have that aim.


“Our contribution to their bid would be to own the estate for the benefit of the community, with any profits being reinvested locally.
“If successful, this would be the largest community land buyout yet.”


He explained that the biggest so far was the 93,000-acre South Uist Estate on the Western Isles.


And he pointed out that their project would help the Scottish Government reach its target of a million acres of land in community ownership by 2020.


Mr Hutchison said: “At the moment, our main job is building up the membership.


“We need to know that we have the community behind us.”


Membership of the trust, which has eight board members, is open to anyone aged 16 or over living in Laggan, Spean Bridge, Roy Bridge and Achnacarry, Inverlochy and Torlundy, Caol, Kilmallie, Fort William, Nether Lochaber, Glencoe and Glen Etive and Kinlochleven.


The proposal was outlined to Laggan Community Trust on Thursday evening.


The public meetings will be held at Inverlochy Village Hall on Monday at 7pm, Kinlochleven Community Centre on Tuesday at 7pm, Caol Community Centre on Wednesday at 7pm, Kilmallie Hall on Wednesday at 8pm and Spean Bridge Community Hall on Thursday at 7pm.