Payment pledge over Wick riverside 'ribbon lease'
Community councillors have been assured that Wick will benefit from up-front payments by any wind farm developers wishing to "oversail" common good land while transporting large turbine parts.
Highland Council leader Raymond Bremner made it clear there was no question of land at the town's riverside being sold off, as some members of the public wrongly understood following an announcement by the local authority last week.
One member of the Royal Burgh of Wick Community Council claimed Highland Council had managed to "completely confuse people" over the issue.
There was a mix of puzzlement and consternation when it emerged that a stretch of common good land beside Wick River had been earmarked for lease to wind farm developers.
The proposed “ribbon lease” is a technical way for renewable energy developers to gain permission to transport large goods such as turbine blades which stretch beyond the boundaries of the public highway. Each developer requires permission to “oversail” the land in question.
Many were baffled by the wording of a Highland Council press release issued last Wednesday, illustrated by an aerial photograph showing the riverside fountain area surrounded by a red boundary line. An updated release was sent out the following day, making the situation clearer.
The local authority is consulting with the public on lease arrangements.
Three years ago tree-felling works were carried out at the riverside to allow huge wind turbine components to be carried through Wick on their way to ScottishPower Renewables’ wind farm site at Halsary, south of Spittal.
Councillor Bremner, who represents Wick and East Caithness, acknowledged that the original communication from the Highland Council press office last week "wasn't straightforward".
He told RBWCC members at their meeting on Monday: "When you want to make money out of an ability to oversail an area you have to think cleverly about it – and the way that you make money out of it is on a ribbon lease.
"What is a ribbon lease? For me it's just legal speak about leasing a particular part of land. In theory it's being leased by the company but it is still the community's – they just want to be able to oversail that land at a time that they're taking their blades over it.
"When they took their blades over it to start with we didn't get a penny. Now, any time that a company does look to do that, they will have to take out the ribbon lease and they will pay into the common good.
"But the money is up front. It's not like every time they oversail it we get an amount of money. Because it's a ribbon lease, that lease comes out at the start and they pay up front for that ribbon lease and that goes into the common good fund.
"That's for every company that wants to do that. The land doesn't get sold. There's no change to the estate of the common good.
"You get the benefit of that money up front and not spasmodic amounts over a period of five or 10 years."
Community council chairman Allan Farquhar suggested asking wind farm developers to supply artists' impressions.
However, Councillor Bremner pointed out: "Some of the wind farms that we're talking about at the moment probably aren't even known to us because this could be any time in the next 20 years. Therefore you would still have planning permission that would have to be gone through. The traffic route would have to be agreed.
"It's not just the simple fact of folk saying, 'I've got ever-increasing blades and I want more trees chopped down.' That's not what a lease is."
Community councillor Wendy Campbell wanted to know why the council press release was not written in "plain English".
She said: "Why did that not happen? I had a load of phone calls about them selling the fountain
"If that had been explained properly, there would have been no confusion. All the council has done is completely confuse people."
Further information on the consultation is available at https://www.highland.gov.uk/info/20010/community_planning/830/common_good_asset_changes
Written responses should be submitted either by email to email@example.com or by post to Sara Murdoch, The Highland Council HQ, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness, IV3 5NX.
Responses are sought by January 5, 2024.