Creating Communities of the Future

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Group of Children

The Western Isles Community Planning Partners are of the opinion that there is a window of opportunity for action and investment in key areas of the Western Isles. There is a unique opportunity to revitalise the islands and to transform the Western Isles into a net contributor to the national economy, while simultaneously rebuilding confidence in our communities and our distinctive Gaelic culture and heritage.

Creating Communities of the Future is a strategy for action. It provides a shared vision for the regeneration of the Western Isles, based on six inter-related economic drivers. The strategy provides a long-term regeneration vision for the Western Isles, which is supported by a detailed Action Plan, outlining what we are going to do and what we anticipate achieving.

The unique challenges being addressed by Creating Communities of the Future are also recognised in the Scottish Executive’s National Planning Framework, with Section 177 of the Framework relating directly to the Western Isles.

We believe that the successful implementation of Creating Communities of the Future will have significant measurable benefits. Some of the key features that the Western Isles will demonstrate in the year 2010 as a result of the strategy will include:

  • in-migration has clearly started with a rise in population evident
  • young people have a wider range of choice on “stay / go / return” options
  • renewable energy is a major employer and economic contributor
  • job dispersal has brought sustainable employment
  • re-branding of the Western Isles is complete and working
  • more land and marine resources are in community ownership
  • broadband is universally available and widely used
  • the regeneration of Stornoway is driving activity throughout the Western Isles

Achievements

View of Harris, Linux Centre and Children

Since its launch in 2002, Creating Communities of the Future has provided the context for development activity in the Western Isles, with agencies utilising the strategy to inform their activities and target resources. This approach has resulted in a range of achievements, including:

  • the attraction of three major wind-farm proposals; several smaller wind-farm proposals and investigations into marine energy
  • lobbying of government and agencies in regard to infrastructure and statutory frameworks, including Scottish & Southern Energy Group in regard to grid connections
  • implementation of the “Connected Communities” broadband project and ADSL roll-out to provide Western Isles wide broadband coverage
  • development of a Gaelic Language Revitalisation Plan
  • major investment in cultural and leisure facilities such as the Stornoway Sports Centre; An Lanntair Arts Centre; Sir E. Scott Swimming Pool; Taigh Chearsabhaigh and Castlebay Hall
  • achievement of year-on-year growth in the tourism sector through the implementation of the objectives outlined in the Western Isles Tourism Plan
  • significant investment in business infrastructure including Arnish Point, Shawbost and Daliburgh
  • establishment of the “Consumer Direct” advice centre in Shawbost and the transfer of jobs from Highlands and Islands Enterprise to Benbecula and by the Department of Works and Pensions to Stornoway

In light of these achievements the Community Planning Partnership believe that the six drivers remain the correct areas on which to focus activity. Experience suggests that two areas require refocusing, however. These are tourism, which year-on-year is having a greater input into the local economy, and business infrastructure / job dispersal, both of which are inextricably linked.

The revised strategy will therefore add Tourism as a key driver and will combine Business Infrastructure and Job Dispersal into one driver.

Vision

Various people at work and play

The continuing challenge for the Western Isles is to harness the drivers outlined in Creating Communities of the Future to develop the human and physical resources of the Islands. Our aim is to seek to create a prosperous and healthy Western Isles, based on the principles of sustainable development.

Our vision for the Western Isles is long-term, but one which we believe, with proper targeted public and private expenditure will allow radical change to be made. Our vision requires the growth of population to allow the sustainability of services and we will aim to grow population. We want to encourage people with energy, ideas and a spirit of enterprise to the Western Isles and we will work with the Scottish Executive “Fresh Talent” initiative to find new ways to supplement our own natural talent with new people and fresh talent.

With appropriate support we believe that the Western Isles of the year 2020 will be characterised by:

  • a diverse and growing population with a balanced demographic structure allowing
  • young people to move freely as lifestyles change and allowing effective public services
  • a dynamic renewable energy sector of international renown providing the base for new forms of economic activity
  • a high quality environment, which maintains bio-diversity
  • a private sector that is a high-level economic contributor
  • a tourism industry, which has developed the Western Isles as a world-class destination
  • a confident community, utilising new forms of land and sea ownership
  • communities which are globally connected through a high quality transport infrastructure and leading-edge communications systems
  • Stornoway has grown significantly and has been developed as a world-class entry-point to the Western Isles
  • UHI Millennium Institute provides a university campus, a network of learning centres and numerous students who are part of the community a diverse range of quality, modern, social and leisure facilities, with a high value placed on Gaelic culture and heritage

Renewable Energy Innovation

Rough Seas crashing against the shore

The potential of the Western Isles as a source of renewable energy and as a test bed for sustainable energy technology is enormous. We have a wealth of natural resources (particularly wind and marine) and a highly educated, technologically aware community. With these key resources we will continue to promote the development of the Western Isles as an Energy Innovation Zone.

Realising potential, however, requires a number of important steps, including asecure means of conveying energy to principal markets. To open these export opportunities the Western Isles connection to the national grid requires to be upgraded as a matter of urgency. It is fundamental that Government provides the legislative framework and the stability required to encourage this investment.

We are committed to a range of appropriate activity to create a dynamic renewable energy sector of international renown. This includes supporting community-based renewable projects, supporting community ownership of energy generation and supporting all communities to achieve benefits from commercial wind farm developments. We are committed to supporting commercial energy developers; innovative energy projects and energy related research and development.

Over the next five years we hope to achieve the following:

  • improved connection to the national grid to facilitate export opportunities
  • development of a structure to apply community benefit, including the promotion of community owned generation
  • initial implementation of a Western Isles hydrogen strategy
  • stimulation of the supply chain to allow local business to take advantage of wind farm developments
  • enhancement of the reputation of the Western Isles as an Energy Innovation Zone
  • provision of on-going support to community-based renewable energy projects

Broadband

Two people at a computer terminal

Leading-edge telecommunications is an essential component to the future prosperity of the Western Isles. Advanced information and communications technologies will release creativity and break down geographical barriers. We believe that high-level broadband communications is a prerequisite for future development and underpins our aspirations to grow the economy. It will allow activity in rural communities that was not possible before.

The innovative, wireless broadband infrastructure, “Connected Communities”, which started during 2004 is an essential developmental tool, as well as an essential community service. The “Connected Communities” project will encourage additional job dispersal and additional distance working opportunities. It will also stimulate the creation of business opportunities in the knowledge, media and creative sectors.

Over the next five years we hope to build on the launch of “Connected Communities” by achieving the following:

  • make Connected Communities the exemplar rural broadband network
  • realise the full benefits of broadband by broadening and deepening usage
  • develop a web portal and community applications to generate greater connections between communities
  • support digital inclusion by:
    • delivering innovative local government and health services to the community
    • delivering innovative media services such as community and Gaelic TV
    • delivering innovative youth services such as “Young Democracy”
  • build community take up of broadband to 100%
  • increase by 50% the number of workers in the tele-work sector

Tourism

Traigh Iar on West Harris

Tourism is of vital and growing importance to the Western Isles, contributing significantly to the economy on an annual basis. Over the past decade visitor numbers and expenditure has grown considerably on the back of a sustainable product built around the cornerstones of environment, culture and heritage.

Together, these three elements form a powerful attraction for visitors. The growth of tourism is a worldwide phenomenon, however. Internationally there is growing competition from established and emerging tourism destinations. Nationally Scotland has to compete with the other regions within the UK. Within Scotland the Western Isles has to compete with other parts of the country.

It is therefore essential that tourism in the Western Isles provides a world-class product, clearly differentiated from the rest of Scotland and the UK. Tourism in the Western Isles needs to strive to deliver consistently high quality in terms of service, career opportunities and income levels. It must be market-led and responsive to customer demands.

Over the next five years we hope to achieve the following:

  • put in place a new Tourism Strategic Plan for the period 2006 – 2010, with the aim of creating a world-class tourism product
  • grow both the value of tourism and the number of jobs in the tourism sector
  • develop niche market products in the areas of culture and the environment
  • develop Lews Castle as a resource for the future
  • develop the concept of “attractiveness of place”, through the regeneration of Stornoway and the upgrading of all island gateways
  • develop and grow the range and quality of accommodation across all segments, with particular emphasis on hotels; hostels and student accommodation

Culture and Heritage

Child Reading Book

The Western Isles is the Gaelic heartland of Scotland. Gaelic has a special place in the life of the community, with the language permeating every facet of life from culture and crofting to education and media. The Western Isles is therefore uniquely placed to take advantage of the development potential inherent in the language and its related culture. The challenge is to turn this unique asset into productive economic benefits.

Although the recent Broadcasting Act did not make provision for a Gaelic digital television channel, we remain of the opinion that the development of Gaelic Media offers the Western Isles significant development potential. Through mainstream broadcasters, Taigh Shiphoirt and Studio Alba, the area has a sizeable “media village”, which is supported by a strong, independent media sector.

The natural heritage of the Western Isles is recognised as being of the highest quality and has an important role to play in the economy and the quality of life of local communities. We also view the broadening of arts and cultural development as an essential component to economic strategy.

Over the next five years we hope to achieve the following:

  • establish and implement the Western Isles Gaelic Language Revitalisation Plan
  • develop the Stornoway “media village” and promote the development of media businesses throughout the Western Isles
  • utilise technology to deliver / promote cultural development and to identify new commercialisation opportunities
  • implement the Western Isles Cultural Strategy
  • develop facilities such as An Lanntair and Taigh Chearsabhaigh as centres of excellence for the delivery of artistic product and talent development
  • develop archaeology heritage in order to deepen local appreciation and to encourage commercialisation opportunities
  • promote the natural heritage as a resource for tourism and as a stimulant to inward investment and research

Business Infrastructure and Jobs Dispersal

Aerial View of Arnish

Government is committed to a programme of public sector jobs dispersal. We fully support this and believe the programme should be boosted, with the identification of suitably scaled units for dispersal into island communities. A cogent business case exists for the dispersal of public and private sector jobs. Dispersal to the Western Isles offers a cost-effective solution to the location costs of business in over-heating economies elsewhere in the UK. The introduction of broadband capacity makes job dispersal to the Western Isles an appropriate, realistic and cost-effective solution.

The successful bid to locate the DTI-sponsored “Consumer Direct” consumer advisory service in the Western Isles also indicates the potential for building public / private partnerships as an appropriate vehicle to attract job dispersal opportunities. This is a model, which we believe can be built on to achieve additional success.

Activities in the traditional economy remain critical to the Western Isles and it will be essential that industries such as crofting, fishing, aquaculture and Harris Tweed are assisted through periods of change and restructuring.

Over the next five years we hope to achieve the following:

  • significant and diverse employment at Arnish Point, based around a major renewable energy anchor tenant
  • advance office / factory developments at Lionacleit; Creed Enterprise Park; Habost, Lochs and the securing of tenants for the advance office facilities in Daliburgh
  • implementation of the Western Isles waste strategy, incorporating anaerobic digester facilities and new recycling facilities
  • a comprehensive jobs dispersal lobbying strategy, which will:
    • engage with Government and appropriate agencies to establish the suitability and reputation of the Western Isles as a job dispersal destination
    • focus on specific areas of private sector activity likely to be attracted to the Western Isles
    • put in place a comprehensive welcome package for potential investors

UHI Millennium Institute

Aerial View of UHI Building

The UHI Millennium Institute (UHI) provides a unique opportunity to promote research and innovation in a range of technologies. Lews Castle College, UHI has an opportunity to build centres of excellence in research and innovation to support the key drivers of change identified in this document, particularly issues related to ICT, renewable energy and Gaelic Culture and Heritage. Such specialisms will help to generate additional levels of demand within the local economy.

The college will need to work with UHI and regional and national agencies to promote chairs and senior research and teaching positions in the identified key sectors.

Over the next five years we hope to achieve the following:

  • develop e-learning and online flexible learning opportunities related to rural development and rural medicine and health care
  • establish research, development and training opportunities in regard to renewable energy and in particularly in relation to the hydrogen economy
  • support Gaelic language development, with specific reference to language planning and community development
  • provide access to innovative learning opportunities by testing and deploying technological solutions for networking SMEs and voluntary organisations
  • support the establishment of an Environmental Management Centre to demonstrate and raise awareness of local “green” issues

Other Factors

Balivanich Children

The successful implementation of the six drivers outlined in this strategy will be critical to the successful regeneration and growth of the Western Isles. These drivers will not operate in isolation - they are deliberately inter-linked. Progress on any one driver will impact directly upon the potential inherent within the other five.

Neither should the six key drivers be viewed in isolation. A range of other factors will impact on them and on the overall development of the area. These factors are important local assets and add strength to the overall strategy. They include:

European Funding: Much of the success achieved to date has been made possible by the use of European Structural Funds. A range of key projects, such as the Arnish Point and Lews Castle College redevelopment, have seen significant investment of European funding. There is a requirement for the continued investment of European funds if the Western Isles is to achieve the progress outlined
in the Creating Communities of the Future vision.

Transport: The success of the economy of the Western Isles is dependent on a modern, efficient air and sea transport network. There is an on-going need to reduce transport costs and to introduce faster, more regular services, which are responsive to customer requirements.

Community: The sense of community is strong in the Western Isles, with the area offering the safest personal and corporate environment in the United Kingdom. Crime levels are the lowest in the country. Modern telecommunications make it possible for companies and individuals to make lifestyle choices to locate to the security of the Western Isles while operating in the global market.

Environment: The Western Isles offers unique scenery and habitats that support a diverse range of flora, fauna and recreational activities. A world-class marine environment offers a range of commercial and recreational opportunities.

Knowledge, Skills and Training: The educational attainment record of the Western Isles is unsurpassed. There is a strong and impressive skills base in the area and immense potential to attract to the Islands many that live and work elsewhere.

Appendix I: The Western Isles Community Planning Partners

Careers Scotland
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
Community Councils
Comunn na Gaidhlig
Comunn nam Parant
Cothrom Ltd
Jobcentre Plus
Lews Castle College
Northern Constabulary
Proiseact nan Ealan
Scottish Environmental Protection Agency
Scottish Natural Heritage
Scottish Water
Tighean Innse Gall
Volunteer Centre Western Isles
Western Isles Association of Councils for Voluntary Service
Western Isles Chamber of Commerce
Western Isles Enterprise
Western Isles NHS Board
Western Isles Tourist Board
Western Isles Youth Council

Appendix II: National Planning Framework

Creating Communities of the Future is designed to link directly into the Scottish Executive’s National Planning Framework. The economic drivers in the strategy are reflected in national policy. Section 177 of the Planning Framework relates directly to the Western Isles and states:

“They (the Western Isles) are the principal heartland of Scotland's Gaelic culture and offer outstanding scenery and maritime habitats of international importance.

There are large international markets for Celtic culture, built heritage and environmental tourism.

There is considerable social capital, with high participation rates in community and voluntary activities.

Climate and geography offer great potential for harnessing renewable energy, particularly wind, wave and tidal power. There are also likely to be opportunities to provide support services for the development of Atlantic oil and gas reserves. Realising this potential demands co-ordinated action focused on measures to support, diversify and grow the economy, create high value jobs, retain and attract population, improve connectivity and communications, develop links with communities on Skye and the mainland, and upgrade the electricity transmission system”.