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Fergus Ewing's tribute in Holyrood chamber to Highland mover and shaker who died in A9 crash

By Tom Ramage

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Inverness and Nairn MSP Fergus Ewing has used a Holyrood debate on rural estates' contribution to Scotland's wellbeing economy to pay fulsome tribute to the late Philippa Grant.

Mrs Grant died tragically in an A9 crash at the Slochd in September, last year.

She was one of Badenoch and Strathspey's most significant movers and shakers and a great character.

Mr Ewing, a tireless campaigner for the dualling of the road, grasped his opportunity last Tuesday to remind fellow members of the contribution both she and the estate made.

The late Philippa Grant.
The late Philippa Grant.

After thanking MSP Finlay Carson for his motion to welcome the economic contribution made by rural estates like Rothiemurchus, Mr Ewing said: "I'd like at the start to say this is the first opportunity I have had to pay tribute to the late Philippa Grant who sadly passed away in a tragic road incident on the A9 over a year ago.

"Philippa was much loved in her own community. She achieved huge things in the Highlands. She exuded good cheer and she lived a very full life. And she attended every meeting of the committee session of the national parks legislation 24 years ago, and that's where I got to know her.

"So we will miss you, as will your family..."

Related articles:

Philippa Grant: A life force who will be greatly missed by family and friends

Hundreds of mourners celebrate the life of Lady Philippa Grant

After applause from the chamber, Mr Ewing went on to point out that rural estates like Rothiemurchus made enormous contributions to his part of Scotland.

"There are different ones, of course, some moreso than others," he said.

"Most of them are actually businesses first, really. It doesn't matter so much whose name is on the land certificate, the title deeds.

"What matters is what use the land is put to and in that respect it seems to me that the arguments of the past, the quarrels of history centuries ago should always be remembered and celebrated, or drowned in sorrows or whatever your view is, but they shouldn't govern our approach now – that should be to get the best for Scotland from the landed estates."

Kindred spirits: Fergus Ewing and Philippa Grant worked well together for the community's benefit. (Library)
Kindred spirits: Fergus Ewing and Philippa Grant worked well together for the community's benefit. (Library)

After some applause from the floor, Mr Ewing continued: "I think there are two opportunities, one in housing and one in energy. With housing, I've made this speech twice previously, at least in this chamber, but I do think that working in partnership with estates, which already happens to some extent, could happen a lot more.

"There's an unrealised potential, on a massive scale, for estates to contribute towards the housing shortage in rural Scotland. If planning permission can be relaxed, provided there is some element of support for the grant or loan funds .

"I would suggest that the Scottish National Investment Bank could help here.

"I would also suggest that the minister should dust off two plans that the Labour-Liberal regime brought forward in their days of devolution – the agricultural business development programme and the agricultural business improvement scheme, both of which stimulated rural investment with a bit of grant finance. The enterprise companies ran those.

"Housing is a big opportunity and I think permitted development would really open up the overly restrictive approach that planning has in rural Scotland, which is treated in sort of aspic, compared with urban, in a way that I think reflects outmoded attitudes."

Mr Ewing then looked at the potential of energy provision.

Fergus Ewing: golden opportunity exists for government to work with rural estates like Rothiemurchus.
Fergus Ewing: golden opportunity exists for government to work with rural estates like Rothiemurchus.

"Here I think there are enormous opportunities to build on what we were able to achieve during my tenure as energy minister, namely encouraging not just community benefit at 5k per megawatt but community ownership.

"If a developer has 20 turbines, add another two. Get the SNIB to pay 10 per cent of the capital costs – they're not getting it for free, they're paying for it – and 90 per cent levered from commercial lenders.

"That happened when I was minister, albeit not from the major banks, which fell short I'm afraid, but from Triodos, the Co-op Bank and Close Brothers. That went well until renewables obligation certificates were scrapped but I think that could come back now.

"The developers have nothing to lose. They have a lot to gain, but communities are far more likely to support windfarm developments, if they have a stake in ownership, than object, as well as – and this is the main thing – creating a financial legacy for our children and our children's children."

Mr Ewing concluded: "I very much hope that we will grab golden opportunities to work better, deeper and more frequently with landowners of all sorts in Scotland, farmers and estates.

"There's a golden opportunity here and, sadly, the window of opportunity can rapidly slam shut on your fingers if you don't take it while it's available."

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