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August 10, 2011

Concession on Crown Estate

The saga of who should control the Crown Estate in Scotland rumbles on. While the Scottish Government wants control to lie with Holyrood. Westminster favours the status quo with the London based Crown Estate Commission continuing to manage the crown estate and collect the associated revenues. By way of compromise, the Coalition Government have proposed that a larger share of marine revenues is to be diverted to Scottish coastal communities through a new Lottery fund



COMMUNITY campaigners have backed the Scottish Government’s bid for full devolution of Scotland’s Crown Estate land following a Treasury announcement of a new lottery fund based on the revenue.  Critics have described the move as a “red herring” claiming that it distracts from the real issue of ensuring that Scottish communities fully benefit from Crown Estate land and sea.

Chief secretary of the Treasury Danny Alexander announced last week that 50 per cent of the revenue from Scotland’s Crown Estate marine activities would be put into a new fund run by the Big Lottery Fund Scotland. The fund will start off with £1.85m a year for the Highlands and Islands and £2.05m for the rest of Scotland.

However, this week the Big Lottery Fund Scotland was unable to explain how the money would be distributed or even whether the Scottish or UK committees would make that decision. And community campaigners said that the Scottish people deserved to benefit much more from activities on the Crown Estate, which are predicted to rocket as the Scottish Government aims to turn Scotland into a renewable energy leader with the development of offshore windfarms.

Angus Hardie, Scottish Community Alliance director, said: “This decision to allocate some of revenues from the Crown Estate to communities is a bit of a red herring. The real issue is about where control and accountability sits for what happens to Scotland’s Crown Estate.

“There just seems no logical argument in support of the current arrangement which allows a remote London based property management company – Crown Estate Commissioners – to make crucial decisions about what happens around Scotland’s coastal waters.

“If responsibility were to lie with the Scottish Parliament then at least we could have a more open and transparent debate about how any  revenues should be allocated and whether coastal communities – those most affected – should get more. “

The move has also been criticised for pre-empting an investigation by the Westminster Scottish Affairs committee, which is currently collecting evidence on how Crown Estate revenues could be best used to the benefit of local communities in Scotland.

A report expected to be published later in the year.

David Cameron, chairman of Community Land Scotland, which represents Scotland’s community land owners including many coastal communities, said: “For decades the Crown Estate has been criticised for taking a lot of revenue, but giving little back. I hope the important precedent that at least half of the marine revenues going to coastal communities can be built on in future.

“How the fund is administered, together with the detailed criteria will be crucial.

“However, the Crown Estate is in need of much wider reform and, important though today’s announcement is, it should not distract from that reform agenda. We will be giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee in September on some of the other reforms of the Crown Estate we would like to see.”

A spokesman for the Big Lottery Fund this week could not give details of how this new coastal community fund would operate, stating: “We can confirm that we are in discussions with the Treasury about the best way such a fund could be delivered.”

Following the announcement last week, Richard Lochhead, Scottish Government cabinet secretary for rural affairs and the environment, said: “It is good that the UK Government has finally woken up to these demands – however this measure does not go nearly far enough. Scotland should benefit from 100 per cent of Crown Estate revenues, not 50 per cent.

“Full devolution of the Crown Estate would give the people of Scotland a say in how public assets are used, rather than leaving decisions to the unelected commissioners who manage the Crown Estate.”