Mystery over Bhaltos Outdoor Centre plans – letter

Dear Editor

Approximately a year ago, the local press published a letter in which I expressed concerns about the ongoing delays in starting work on the proposed new Bhaltos Outdoor Centre in Uig Lewis on which, I’m led to understand, a time limit of the current financial year has been imposed for spending the available funding.

I also predicted that there would be further delays because the £1.2 million allocated by the Western Isles Council considerably underestimated the construction costs associated with the type of building proposed, the facilities to be provided, the numbers to be accommodated and the nature of the site; an opinion based on comparisons with the costs of similar projects in other locations. It’s also worth noting that the comhairle are contributing only a third of the actual money, the balance being made up of grants from various funding bodies.

At that same time a local newspaper carried a report in which no such concerns were raised by a comhairle representative, who instead confidently predicted an October start to construction work for completion by late summer 2014. Regrettably, my own prediction was the most accurate – to date, not a sod of turf has been removed from the Bhaltos site

The last news was in January when the architectural plans for the Bhaltos Outdoor Centre were put on public display. On seeing those rather futuristic designs, my own thoughts at the time were that the comhairle would have to employ a troupe of magicians to bring the project to fruition within the £1.2 million price tag quoted. Shortly afterwards, as if by magic, those plans disappeared from the drawing board.

With the clock ticking towards the spending deadline, there has been little subsequent information put into the public domain about this long-awaited project. This letter allows the comhairle to publicly respond with a progress report on the latest developments by answering the following questions: 

  • Why were the Bhaltos Outdoor Centre plans withdrawn?
  • Have those plans now been redrawn?
  • What effect will such redesigning have on the projected visitor accommodation numbers?
  • Is there sufficient time available to complete the project within the imposed time frame?
  • If so,what is the revised timetable for construction work?

These updated details are asked for and on behalf of anyone with an interest in the future of the Bhaltos Outdoor Centre but who feel excluded from the information loop.

                                                                         Yours sincerely

                                                                        Iain M Macdonald

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Tong man’s toupée stays firmly on top

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Stornoway police officer arrested and suspended

A police officer based in Stornoway has been arrested and suspended from duty following an allegation that he sexually assaulted a young woman.

Constable Cameron Ross has already made a court appearance in private last week at Stornoway Sheriff Court as a team of detectives from the mainland continues its inquiries into an allegation concerning events in mid-July at a house on Lewis.

The officer, who is originally from Nairn but who has worked in Stornoway for nearly 10 years, is well-known in the islands through his involvement in various community activities and for his role in more recent years as the handler of Ollie the Collie, the islands’ drugs detection dog.

A spokesman said: “Police Scotland can confirm that, on Wednesday 20th August 2014, a 27-year-old man was arrested in connection with an alleged serious sexual assault at an address in Stornoway on July 18th 2014.”

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Why I am happy my wife has just thrown herself off Bayble Pier

Isn’t it ridiculous what otherwise sane, well-adjusted and reasonably-educated people will do for charity? As long as they have the flimsy excuse that it is for a good cause, many will make absolute monkeys of themselves by eating too many baked beans, walking in blister-inducing conditions to some of the most God-forsaken outposts of empire – like Achmore – and having buckets of ice-cold water chucked at them by so-called friends who seem to enjoy the task just a tad too much.

Someone I know is absolutely petrified of heights. She recently decided to climb the highest electricity pylon in South Wales as it was due to be switched off for a few hours. It was all for the British Heart Foundation. She got up fine and then realised she couldn’t get back down because she felt faint if she looked down. She was afraid her own heart was failing. A rescue team had to come and take her down, gingerly. She won’t be trying that one again.

The latest silly nonsense, called the Ice Bucket Challenge has reached Stornoway, and is just the latest case in point. Actually, there have been several cases in Point but I’m coming to that. When Peter Frates, a former Boston College baseball player who has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a form of Motor Neurone Disease, challenged a few professionals in the sport to heave a bucket of chilly H2O over themselves to raise funds, he really started something.

Other charities have unscrupulously jumped on the bandwagon by using his social media hashtags themselves but that is going to be a stooshie for another day. If you have no idea what I am talking about and think a hashtag is that funny stuff you were putting in your Golden Virginia when you were in university in the 1960s, this is a clear sign you should no longer be allowed out on your own. Just saying.

Everyone is doing the challenge. It’s the natural follow-on to selfies. It is just a selfie with movie action, and water, and a charitable purpose. Everybody wins except when a strapping, well-built fellow does it and ends up looking like a big Jessie for going all breathless and girly at mere contact with cold water. Oh-oh, oooh-oooh, aaah-aaah. Ah sharrap, you wuss.

The Right Rev John Chalmers, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, was up for a visit with Mrs Mod the other day. There has been all that unpleasantness with the funny fundamentalists splitting from the church recently so they were probably all on tenterhooks in case hordes of the disenchanted might swarm down Francis Street and be rude. How would they protest? What would they actually say? Verily, verily we say unto thee; boo, hiss, down with this sort of thing?

Happily, it was all very polite and friendly right up until the couple visited The Shed, the new youth and community centre at Martin’s Memorial Church. Then the minister, the Rev Tommy Macneil, cornered them and promptly flung a pailful of the finest Stornoway rainwater all over him while an accomplice similarly-drenched Mrs Mod. And Tommy is pastor to a loyal flock. The Mods kept smiling and saying how they were happy to do the challenge but I bet the damp duo left vowing not to come back here again any time soon.

My own wife has also got all caught up in the pallaver. Mrs X has been very excited at the prospect of getting a dooking for the cause. Poor thing that she is, she has been at sixes and sevens because we have still failed to put together a table we bought last week which turned out to be an impossibly difficult and complicated flatpack job with hardly any instructions and tiny drawings. Thank you so much to the shop with the name which is in the plural of supercargo.

She is a scatterbrain in any case, of course, but all that stress about doing it has meant things have been getting messy. Living with her in the last week has been like using a blender with no lid. Which is why she went down to Bayble Pier in Point yesterday and finally did the Ice Bucket Challenge. She didn’t stop at the bucket and splash though but then hopped, stepped and jumped to the edge and dived gracefully into the briney leaving hardly a ripple as she slipped elegantly beneath the white-tipped breakers rolling in from Achiltibuie. That is the official line and I am certainly not suggesting anything different happened.

When I got soaked on Monday, for my nominations I put up our council convener, leader and chief executive. Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the authority tells me two of the three gentlemen concerned are unavoidably detained on hugely-important business on the mainland and cannot possibly rush back for a spot of ritual humiliation by tonight’s 6pm deadline. Ooh, let me think. You know something, I think we are all quite happy to wait.

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Honorary sheriff faces police tax blagging probe

An honorary sheriff is being investigated by police after an accountant complained that tax officials had been hoodwinked into handing over his private tax details.

Police are now investigating the role of Stornoway chartered accountant Roddy Cunningham and a retired partner from his firm, Jack Kernahan, who is an honorary sheriff.

It is being claimed that, despite several written warnings from HMRC that they were not entitled to the information, their firm continued to cajole tax staff in Inverness to hand over private details.

Police Scotland were notified in the early summer and it is understood the ongoing investigation centres on the activities of Mr Cunningham, of the accountancy firm Mann Judd Gordon, and Mr Kernahan.

Mr Kernahan is an honorary sheriff who regularly sat on the bench in Stornoway. He is now retired in Fortrose. Previously a partner with Mr Cunningham in Mann Judd Gordon, the firm has been involved in a protracted dispute over the last 10 years with another former partner, Angus Nicolson.

Mr Nicolson has since run Nicolson Accountancy with his accountant wife Sue and they have offices in Glasgow and Stornoway. He called in police after using data protection legislation to get details of correspondence and phone calls received by HM Revenue and Customs about his tax affairs.

A source close to the investigation said: “Angus complained after he discovered that, during the period from November 2007 to May 2008, certain figures at Mann Judd Gordon unlawfully obtained access to his personal tax records. He had ceased to be a partner in that firm in October 2004.
“The documents showed that HMRC received a phone call where someone from Mann Judd Gordon was “blagging” – by giving the impression they were acting as Angus’s tax agents and were entitled to the information. HMRC has also now received a formal complaint from Angus about the fraudulent actions which led to the tax officials being encouraged to break the law.”

The source claimed there had already been a letter from HMRC in March 2006 to Mann Judd Gordon advising the firm it had no right to Angus Nicolson’s tax details.

The source added: “Angus has told HMRC that Mann Judd Gordon committed a deliberate breach of the Data Protection Act and, by fraudulent misrepresentation, induced at least two revenue employees at Young Street in Inverness to breach the Finance Act, which is also a criminal offence.”

At this stage, HMRC is not prepared to go into any detail. A spokesman said: “We do not comment on individual cases.”

However, it added: “HMRC take the security of taxpayer data extremely seriously and take every care to ensure that taxpayer information remains confidential and secure.”

Police Scotland confirmed they had received a complaint. A spokesman said: “As this is an ongoing police inquiry, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

Neither Mr Cunningham nor Mr Kernahan responded to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Angus Nicolson said he had no intention of saying anything about the matter while police were investigating what had happened.

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Moderator gets soaked in Stornoway

The Rt Rev John Chalmers, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, has taken part in the Ice Bucket Challenge during his visit to Lewis after being nominated by Rev Michael Mair, the youngest minister in the Church of Scotland.

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Digger wanted for ice bucket challenge

Any local contractors willing to lend me a digger for the council leaders’ ice bucket challenge?

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An ice bucket challenge


“Thank you Alex Macdonald, the Point shepherd, for nominating me. My challenge will benefit the Motor Neurone Disease Association. Now I nominate Angus Campbell, Norman A Macdonald and Malcolm Burr – that’s the leader, convener and chief executive of Western Isles Council. You have 48 hours – from Monday evening.”

To donate to Motor Neurone Disease Scotland go to: http://www.mndscotland.org.uk/fundraising/donations/
Or just ring 0141-945 1077 with your card details.

Posted in council, Western Isles | 2 Comments

Macneil meets with HIE

Angus Brendan MacNeil MP today met with representative from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). Representing HIE was Chairman, Lorne Crerar, Alex Paterson, Chief Executive, Giles Hamilton, Board Member and Rachel Mackenzie, Area Manager.

Following the meeting Angus MacNeil MP said: “I was pleased to be able to meet with key members from HIE today to discuss many of the issues arising in our islands.

“I was particularly pleased to hear that HIE are actively marketing the premises and skills set of the highly trained former GSH employees in Harris.

“There is an excellent opportunity for companies looking for a high standard of back-office functions with a stable and highly trained staff, working to asset management “Maximo” software.

“I wish HIE well in their efforts, the outcome of which will be important to the former GSH employees and also the wider Harris community.”

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Fire in the Castle Grounds

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No, it’s not another blaze due to the hot and dry conditions. Yeah, well…  It’s actually a view of the Vikings’ fiery torches as they marched at the recent tattoo.   Pic: Morris Macleod

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