The Angry Corrie 52: Dec 2001 - Feb 2002
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It's been a while since we mentioned the ownership situation in Glen Feshie - TAC35, in early 1998 in fact. The situation on the ground hasn't changed since then, but Klaus Helmersen, the Danish clothing magnate who bought the estate for around £8 million, has hit financial trouble across the North Sea. The 12 Nov edition of Copenhagen newspaper Berlingske Tidende alleged that Helmersen was close to bankruptcy following unsuccessful speculations. Whether this will materially affect Feshie remains unclear - the estate is such a tiny sideplate on Helmersen's abundant table that the Danish press didn't even mention it. However, the smaller assets in any empire tend to be offloaded first come crisis time, so it might not be long before Feshie is for sale again. (Thanks to Copenhagen-based Jim Chalmers for details. The story is at: http://www.berlingske.dk/artikel132644.html, although you need Danish to read it.)
Talking of dodgy investments, what on earth's happening at the John Muir Trust? It's already been reported - eg in TGO - that there have been squabbles over the "development" of Muir's birthplace in Dunbar (which technically concerns the John Muir Birthplace Trust rather than the JMT, but the two organisations have links). What has not been reported is the JMT's hefty investment setback - money was lodged in Marconi and in various struggling telecom stocks - such that a six-figure sum has glugged down the corporate plughole. Exactly how much has gone is hard to determine, but the figure is reputed to be in the region of £120,000-£140,000. Add to that the raft of trustee-resignations (in which a major drift from the original aims plus the management style of director Nigel Hawkins tend to be cited as reasons) and it looks like the favoured conservation body of many hill folk is losing the plot bigtime.
Clearly there is much tension behind closed doors, and word is that the losses were initially kept from the trustees by "the management". The ordinary paying members - plus those non-members who occasionally donate to the trust - have been kept completely in the dark. Quite aside from the monetary mess itself, there is also the deeper issue of whether an eco-charity ought to be playing the markets at all. Few members will have suspected that their in-good-faith donations were being lobbed on to the ever-spinning roulette wheel of the international stock exchange, and certainly old John Muir himself must be spinning in his ecologically designed grave.
Another breaking story is the Shieldaig hydro scheme, which has reared up again after a gap of four years. The new proposal - by Highland Light and Power - is the same as the old proposal: to "develop" the Badachro river system in the Torridonian hinterland north of Beinn Alligin. Lochs Gaineamhach, a'Ghobhainn and a'Bhealaich would all be involved - and all lie in one of the most untouched parts of the Highlands.
HLP is spending big on putting a positive spin on its plans, hiring PR consultants Weber Shandwick Worldwide with a reported £2 million budget. The scheme, so the company says, will be "inconspicuous" and "not noticeable", but one rather suspects this is rubbish. HLP say that 3.55 megawatts would be produced, supplying 5000 homes annually. But Mike Cawthorne, who has been actively campaigning against the scheme, has been told by Scottish Hydro Electric that "on average, 3.55 megawatts would be sufficient for 800-1000 homes annually".
The timescale is crucial, as the new HLP application will be submitted early in 2002. The Scottish Executive then has four weeks to consider holding a public enquiry, a decision contingent on the amount of public comment. Conservation agencies such as SNH and the RSPB are waiting to see what's formally proposed before commenting, so it's doubly important that ordinary Torridon lovers make their views known in the narrow timeframe. Don't leave it all to the guys in the offices, basically - you never know what political pressures might be applied behind the scenes.
The company's site is at http://www.highlandlightandpower.co.uk/, Mike Cawthorne is at firstname.lastname@example.org, but perhaps the best place for background/information is Andrew Johnston's site at http://www.lowimpact.demon.co.uk/ - a heap of stuff including, very usefully, extensive correspondence from the Gairloch Times.