Please send me SCA's fortnightly briefing:

October 8, 2008

Government to hand ownership to community

Just after World War 1, the Government took ownership of three farm estates on the south west of Harris in the Western Isles. Last week, the crofters voted overwhelmingly to take back control of the land and the West Harris Crofting Trust has started to negotiate the terms of the handover. The community have plans for a renewable energy project, a whisky distillery and affordable housing

Press and Journal

Residents of west Harris voted to buy out their crofting estates yesterday. A postal ballot returned a 77% vote in favour of a takeover.

Tenants and residents in all three estates which make up the district agreed to take control of the land.

The turnout was 95%.

A government estate has never been passed directly to crofters, but now the first three will be taken over by tenants in one swoop.

Last month, the West Harris Crofting Trust was established and will now negotiate the terms of the takeover with the Scottish Government.

The original farms at Luskentyre, Scarasta Mhòr and Borve on the scenic coast of south-west Harris were taken over by the Government after World War 1.

Now, there is only one child under school age in the district. Residents hope to tackle the issues of depopulation, lack of jobs, and scarcity of housing.

A feasibility study has explored ways of regenerating the community and attracting investment.

One idea is to build a renewable energy hydro scheme which could pave the way for other revitalisation projects. About £32,700 could be made available annually.

The community may build its own whisky distillery and grow barley for a Harris malt on the flat, sandy machair, with the first test crops expected to start next spring.

Land has been identified for potential house building to try to encourage young families to stay and work locally.

The trust would negotiate with the Church of Scotland to buy a glebe at Scarista for housing plots.

New legislation would be used to create crofts, with new holdings planned for each district.

The area could capitalise on its stunning white sand beaches and mountains for tourism and the promotion of the Scarista golf course.

The need to develop and exploit broadband connections is considered essential to allow workers to work at a computer from home.

Scottish Crofting and Environment Minister Mike Russell said: “I would like to offer my congratulations to the people of west Harris for realising the potential benefits of community ownership.

“I hope that a conclusion is reached as soon as possible.”

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan said: “This is, I hope, the first step towards a better future for people in this part of Harris.

“These estates were created by the Government after World War 1 and it now makes sense for the people to be masters in their own land.”