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April 6, 2011

Crown estate or community estate?

The Crown Estate Commissioners, and the role they play in relation to Scotland’s seabed and foreshore in particular, has been under the spotlight of late. Both in Holyrood and at Westminster, questions have been raised as to why the management of our crown estate is not directly answerable to the Scottish Parliament and providing more direct benefit to the communities most affected by it.  Communities like Glenelg for instance

As the narrowest stretch of water between Skye and the mainland, Kyle Rhea is already a seaway with history, but the power of its tides could soon write another multi-million pound chapter. A provisional agreement has been struck that would give a marine energy company access to the seabed to install a £40 million four-turbine tidal farm in Kyle Rhea, the first off the coast of Skye. It would be capable of providing power to 8000 homes.

The turbines are of similar design to the one that has been standing in the mouth of Northern Ireland’s Strangford Lough since 2008. They resemble an upside-down wind turbine – with the blades beneath the water but the towers rising more than 40ft above the surface. More than one company is interested in trying to harness Kyle Rhea’s tides which can run at up to nine knots, with one pursuing a development to the south which would be completely underwater. But it was Bristol-based Marine Current Turbines Ltd (MCT), which announced yesterday that it had now finalised an “Agreement for Lease” from the Crown Estate Commissioners in respect of the seabed.

The firm, which installed the Strangford Lough turbine, is aiming to have the Kyle Rhea tidal farm running by 2014. To do that it expects to submit a planning application to Marine Scotland in early 2012, once the project’s baseline surveys and impact assessments have been completed.

Martin Wright, MCT’s chief executive, said securing the Crown Estate Commissioners’ approval was a vital part of the process to deliver the development. Local reaction was generally supportive.

However John Angus MacLean, joint chairman of the Glenelg and Arnisdale Community Council and a director of the Glenelg Development Trust, said that while he was in favour of harnessing the power of the tides, he was disappointed in the way it would be delivered.  “We as a community have been trying to negotiate for some time that we could have the rights to this. We wanted something like the Norwegian model where the local communities have the rights to development. But because of the way the Crown Estate behaves in leasing the seabed to these companies, we can’t do that. So it will be the same as the Hydro and everything else in the Highlands, big companies will come in and rip the asset off.”