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March 23, 2011

Hostile bid to buy estate

Scotland’s first ever hostile community land buyout has received the go-ahead. The Scottish Government has approved the bid of crofters on the Pairc Estate to purchase the land they live on – very much against the wishes of the owner. The estate owner had discovered a loop hole in the land reform legislation that would have allowed him to profit from a massive wind farm development on the estate.  The community now have six months to raise the purchase price

David Ross, The Herald

SCOTLAND’S first ever hostile community buyout received the go-ahead yesterday, after the Scottish Government allowed crofters on a Lewis estate to buy most of it against the owner’s wishes. 

Barry Lomas, a Warwickshire-based accountant whose family bought Pairc Estate in 1924, said he is considering legal action.

An independent valuer will establish the price for the 26,800-acre estate and local people will have six months to raise the money.

Almost 400 people live on the estate, which covers an area similar in size to Edinburgh and embraces 11 townships and 208 crofts. 

In 2004 the community, whose population has fallen from 4000 to 400 in the past 100 years, voted in favour of a buyout from Mr Lomas, who was reluctant to sell. 

He then set up a 75-year lease with a subsidiary company that signed a deal with Scottish and Southern Energy to erect a £200 million windfarm. 

The Scottish Land Court, ruled such “interposed leases” were legal, so ministers had to legislate to close the loophole. 

Despite further negotiations with the owner, the community believed the only route was to use land reform laws that give crofting communities a unique absolute right to buy, with ministerial approval. 

Yesterday, Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham said the community-based Pairc Trust could take over the eligible land. 

“The plans the trus have should help inject new life into the area, rejuvenate the economy and boost fortunes of all those who live, work and visit this spectacular part of our country,” she said.

Plans include building affordable housing, developing a ranger service, a camper van site, holiday packages, improving paths and exploring renewable- energy opportunities.

Pairc Trust chairman, Angus McDowall, said:  “This sends an unambiguous message that the economic and social development of Pairc in the interests of the whole community should be ranked above private financial gain.”

Mr Lomas said last night the trust insisted on taking the hostile route “seemingly for the glory of having taken on the landlord”.

He warned: “Pairc Estate may yet continue with actions in various courts:”.