A SUPER-RICH and powerful main character, an anxious group of people who are reluctant to speak out, and a simmering sense of inequality: themes that could easily have slipped from the pages of a George Orwell novel.
The Inner Hebrides’ Isle of Jura, where in the aftermath of World War II Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, his dystopian novel of oppression, inequality and abuse of power is, of course, a huge leap forward in the imagination of the fictional Big Brother State of Oceania.
And yet, while nervous locals – some worried about speaking too outspoken – wait to see if a development bid by a domain owned by a wealthy Australian hedge fund trader is approved, some may find it hard not to. make subtle comparisons. .
In a fortnight, a group of councilors from Argyll and Bute will make the rare decision to visit the Jura to judge whether its main village will be overwhelmed if staff accommodation plans for the 12,000-acre Ardfin Estate go ahead. before.
The move is unusual: some councilors will have to spend up to three days making the trip, traveling the islands by ferry and then traveling four miles on a single-track road to reach Craighouse.
There, a location has been chosen for what the estate says is a “critical” one-and-a-half-storey development to house up to 40 permanent and seasonal staff to run its 18-hole golf course and luxury hotel.
“The site was chosen to locate staff as close as possible to essential local amenity services at Craighouse and to create a residential environment separate and distinct from their working environment,” Ardfin Architects say in a design statement. submitted to Argyll. and Bute Council.
“The chosen site is within a pre-determined settlement area, adjacent to existing utilities, and offers minimal visual impact compared to alternative sites on the estate.”
SUCH development for a small island in the Hebrides – the kind where you so often hear locals calling for investment and new families – might sound positive.
Yet it’s the latest move from the estate, owned by wealthy Australian hedge fund manager Greg Coffey – nicknamed “the Wizard of Oz” for his knack for making huge sums of money – to annoy locals.
Although rarely seen in the Jura, since its takeover the once ‘benign’ estate has become a destination for the wealthy.
An 18-hole golf course, carved into the moor and which saw a working farm on prime land closed to make way for it, was originally for private use. Instead, it has opened up to those who can afford around £1,500 for a hotel room and an extra £500 to play the course.
Few who visit, say islanders, stop to spend money on local businesses.
Meanwhile, Jura House, built in the early 19th century, has been transformed into a luxury retreat where a minimum stay of three nights costs £24,000 a night and its famous walled gardens, popular with locals and tourists, closed to visitors. visitors. Meanwhile, dotted around the island, properties have been bought up by the estate – some left empty – which it is alleged have driven up property prices even further.
To add to the concern of the islanders, some of its temporary workers are said to have caused a range of problems, ranging from drunk driving to drug use and road accidents.
“People are eager to put their name to it because the estate employs a number of people on the island and has a lot of influence,” said Sheena Gow, one of the few to speak out.
“Even if people are not directly employed, they may have family members employed by the estate or have contracts with it through their companies.
“It’s a small community, and we all have to get along. People are cautious. But what has been proposed does not match the rest of the island,” she added. “A sudden influx of 40 people to an island of around 230 people is going to create a big impact.”
Some point out that 40 new residents will increase the island’s population by a fifth, with impacts on infrastructure and services, including healthcare and policing.
“For a small community like this to be sustainable, we need people living here who are interested in the island, as opposed to transient workers who come and go,” she said.
‘Voluntary organizations such as the Development Trust, the Coast Guard, the Fire Service and even the Parents’ Council rely on people who have made a commitment to live here and want to give something back. We get the feeling that we don’t get that from succession.
“The domain has the potential to do a lot of good in terms of supporting infrastructure, but that hasn’t happened. It seems to be a case of ‘we do what we want to do’.
Ardfin Domain was approached for comment but did not respond. Instead, its planning statement says the 40-bed development is “essential to the operation of the Ardfin estate and golf course, and it is expected that the jobs generated by the venture will help maintain levels of population on the island and to provide long-term employment”. opportunities, including skills and knowledge.
Its proposed location in the village, however, has brought back memories of the last time a large group of temporary workers arrived to work on the estate.
“When the golf course was built and Jura House was renovated, the workers were housed in modular huts on a wasteland next to the village,” said local councilor and former police officer Dougie McFadzean: ” Mr. Coffey has invested a lot of money in the island and hotel employees, but it is a transient workforce.
“He wants his staff to be five or six miles from his station but that will change the dynamics of the village.
“People perceive it as if the island has been taken for their benefit.
“It’s not ‘not in my backyard,'” he added. “The Juras like the growth of their island, but they want constructive growth.”
LOUISE Muir, a Jura islander for 18 years, recognizes that there is a touch of Orwellian romance here. She said: “The ignorance they have of the power and influence they have on the island defies belief.”
Former GP Lesley Morrison, who has close ties to the island, says recent events have highlighted the rift between the estate owner and the community.
“He raised awareness of the power imbalance on the island.
“This person has bought a fifth of the island and has shown no awareness of the social fabric and what people think of the land. He is completely unaware of the impact of his plans on the fabric of the community and is using his money and his power simply for his own gain.
“At a time when there is an urgent need for housing to retain young families who want to contribute to island life, he is taking potential properties and land out of their reach. He is engaged in the releases of the 21st century.
Ardfin domain has been approached for comments.