Cuidinish, Scotland - the only mention of Cuidinish on the Internet =
We need an end to uncertainty
As Western Isles council prepares to debate the Harris superquarry, JOHN MacLEOD meets the people whose lives depend on the result
Through the Bays of Harris you trundle, by winding, single-track, switchbacked road. Lackalee and Ardvee; Geocrab and Flodabay. Houses huddle by the shore; little boats lie on bare wrack. Everywhere there is rock. The great bare gneiss thrusts through skimpy peat like the ribs of a very dead sheep.
There's beauty in the Bays of Harris; but, too, a pervading sense of dereliction. Houses stand manifestly empty. Gardens are rank; fences broken down; abandoned cars wallow in cornrigs untilled for decades. The summit of the road at Manish offers a breathtaking prospect over the Bays and across the Minch to Skye, hazing in April showers. But the Free Church at Manish has long closed; the little Free Presbyterian Church has not heard a sermon in four decades.
And Manish school shut its doors last June, for the last time. When you came to Harris there were three secondary schools. There is now one. Tarbert boasted four grocers. There are now two. Harris Football Club's Under-18 team won a string of trophies in the early nineties. There hasn't been a side since 1995; there aren't enough lads left. Of the 13 youths in the 1994 team, who so triumphantly lifted the Celtic Supporters Cup, only three remain.
These are the stark truths of depopulation and of economic decline; truths for which the vociferous opponents of the proposed Lingerbay superquarry have little time and no solution. So, thoughtfully, you bowl on, by Cuidinish and through Finsbay and up the shoulder of Roineabhal, and there is a strange, sinister shift in the landscape. By Lingerbay road-end the heather is denser, dark, and the rock is no longer grey but a strange, glaucous blue. You stop the car.
Here, in a strikingly ugly corner of the Bays, you're standing not on gneiss but on anorthosite, one of the biggest deposits in Europe. Last century, on and off, Lingerbay was quarried a little for the most hard rock, then prized for its abrasive qualities. Tracks of mashed anorthosite still scar the hillside.
It's 20 years since men last toiled here; but for almost as long Redland Aggregates, now Redland Lafarge, has been dreaming of quarrying this rock, in enormous quantities and on massive scale, and through many decades, to feed Europe's insatiable appetite for new roads, bridges, tunnels. Redland's superquarry would be worked for some 60 years. It would leave seacliffs hundreds of feet high and so dent the Harris coastline as to leave a hole visible from space. The political struggle has lasted almost a decade, against ardent environmentalists and suspicious fishermen, amid floundering councillors and a right-on executive.
Planning permission was granted by the Western Isles Islands Council as long ago as 1993. The secretary of state, under green pressure, then "called in" the project for a public inquiry. For over six months Chief Reporter Gillian Pain toiled in Lewis and Harris, interviewing and hearing. She then, most unhurried, wrote up her report. Last autumn weary Harris finally learned that her report was in favour of the development and that Sam Galbraith and the Scottish Executive had decided to knock it on the head.
Now Redland Lafarge is pursuing its case in the courts, at present arguing that an elderly planning consent, granted in 1965, is still valid and binding.
Meanwhile, the MacDonalds' house, Grandview, sits snugly by Lingerbay roadend, gazing up the coast from a stance that Redland would vaporise, and besieged by uncertainty. Even a yes vote in a referendum was later reversed.
"I really don't know what's happening," says Margaret MacDonald stoically. "It's been a terrible strain for 10 years. And we're no further forward than we ever were."
When - if - Redland Lafarge finally starts blasting, the MacDonalds are assured compensation, a new home nearby at the pleasant township of Rodel. For now, "Well, we can't plan anything, we can't move forward."
Mrs MacDonald, like all Harris, is perplexed and weary. "I'm on the point of losing the plot about it all. It's not Redland's fault. People say, You must be angry, you must seek compensation, but as far as I am concerned it is the government's fault. The decision was made in Harris, but it didn't suit some people, so they kept pressing it until they got the answer they always wanted."
- April 11
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