Local News for Tuesday 10th April 2018

Comhairle urges tourism ideas
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is urging local organisations to work up ideas which can be submitted to the Scottish Government's new £6 million Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (RTIF), which was launched last week. The fund will support projects that improve the visitor experience in rural areas and reduce pressure on local infrastructure from visitor numbers. The types of projects which can be supported include parking and scenic lay-bys, camping facilities, disposal points and toilets. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar intends to submit an Outer Hebrides-wide application on behalf of the tourism sector. The timescale for the initial expression of interest is tight - 27 April 2018. Full applications are to be submitted by 27 July 2018. Cllr. Donald Crichton, Chairman of the Sustainable Development Committee said: "This is an excellent opportunity to improve the experience for our visitors and alleviate some of the problems we encountered last summer. The Comhairle is looking for community input to highlight the most severe pressure points and areas which have suffered a negative impact. We also need input as to what the solutions might be. The fund is limited - with a maximum award of £300k - so we need to think creatively and work together across the tourism, public and private sectors."

Fresh veg food bank in Uists
A new food bank due to open in Uist and Barra will offer seasonal fresh vegetables grown locally in the islands. The initiative brings together a number of local groups including Tagsa Uibhist, who plan to create raised beds in which the veg can be grown. The plan is to offer fresh vegetables to anyone who needs them, improving health and helping to relieve the pressure of managing tight finances for families.

Births increasing
The news comes alongside a report that births in Uist are on the up for the first time in years, and that more young people are choosing to return to the islands, bringing young children with them. Research commissioned within the community is yet to be fully published, but shows increases in the birth rate in North and South Uist, up by 67% over 10 years, and an increase in young people coming home to bring up their children. It’s been welcomed by Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus Brendan MacNeil, who said: “This really is a very positive piece of research. It is also good to see that more families with young children are choosing to settle in Uist. With wide open spaces, stunning beaches, machair land and much more, Uist is a fantastic place to live and where better to bring up children.”

Don’t push islands out on Smart Meters – MSP
Scotland's island communities can't be "at the back of the queue" as smart meters are rolled out, MSP for the Western Isles Alasdair Allan has said. Smart meters are the next generation of gas and electricity meters, showing how much energy is being used and ensuring consumers get an accurate bill instead of an estimate. One islander was told he would have to wait until 2020 before he could get a smart meter, with no trained engineers available in the islands. By digging in his heels he persuaded the company to send an engineer on a ferry to install a meter. Dr Allan said: "Island and remote communities are at particular risk of fuel poverty, in no small part due to the fact that island homes can be very exposed to extreme weather. Smart meters are an important tool in managing our home energy use, and will be particularly useful to those facing fuel poverty. One of my constituents kicked up enough of a fuss to get an engineer despatched on a ferry – but there must be a better way than sending engineers on huge round-trips to install a single meter. Energy companies should be prioritising rural communities, not leaving them until the tail-end of the roll-out – Scotland's islands simply can't be left at the back of the queue."