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March 21, 2012

Breakthrough in Crown Estate saga?

An interesting development in the long running saga of who should control Scotland’s Crown Estate and in particular our foreshore and seabed.  Scottish Government’s position on this is that responsibility for our Crown Estate should lie with the Scottish Parliament.  But the Scottish Select Affairs Committee at Westminster has just recommended control be handed directly to coastal communities – bringing a cash windfall of millions to many of the most marginalised communities in the country.  Anyone care to hazard a guess at what the Treasury’s reaction will be?


SCOTLAND’S coastal communities could be handed control of the country’s shorelines under plans that would bring them a multimillion-pound windfall. Devolving both the administration of the seabed off Scotland’s coasts and the booming income from renewable energy leases of up to £50 million annually by 2020 was described as offering the chance of rejuvenation for many remote and marginalised communities. The call, in a report by MPs, was described as “perfect” by Dr Michael Foxley, leader of Highlands Council. It piles pressure on the Treasury to devolve the Crown Estate in Scotland.

Yesterday the document by the Commons Scottish Select Affairs Committee was welcomed by the Scottish Government, and met with huge enthusiasm on the ground by community representatives, and seen as creating a unique opportunity for reform.

Dr Foxley said: “The Secretary of State for Scotland must enter into urgent discussions with the First Minister to ensure devolution of the Crown Estate responsibilities to a local level are implemented as quickly as possible. This is vital to the future well- being of coastline communities in our remote and island locations.”

Philip Maxwell, chairman of community-based Islay Energy Trust, said boosting local wealth by one-fifth would allow job-creation and infrastructure pro-jects, but added: “One should never underestimate how strong Treasury resistance can be but I think it will be very difficult for them because there is now such unanimity of purpose here.”

A Treasury spokesman said: “The Government will consider the recommendations of the report and provide a full response in due course. The Crown Estate is working hard to improve its communications and engagement in local areas and the Government supports this work. We have also set up the Coastal Communities Fund, which will deliver a multimillion-pound boost to coastal communities in Scotland and across the UK.”

Gareth Baird, the Crown Estate’s Scottish commissioner, said: “Our commitment to Scotland and its economy remains full and whole-hearted, and we will be studying the report’s recommendations closely.”

Committee chairman Ian Davidson was critical of the Crown Estate Commission (CEC) and spoke of an “accountability vacuum” in Scotland, adding: “We visited various communities in Orkney, Shetland, Caithness, Argyll and the Western Isles and took evidence from every interested party we could find. Considering the nature and extent of the problems identified to us, almost exclusively in relation to the marine and coastal assets in Scotland, we have had to conclude the CEC should no longer be the body responsible in these areas.”

The Glasgow South West MP said the key was maximising the local benefit from resources, adding: “We are convinced the only way this can be done is by devolving as much of the responsibility – and benefit – down to the level of those local communities as possible.”

The report said devolution to Holyrood should be conditional on the Scottish Government handing down the powers and revenues to communities.

Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead claimed credit for the suggested, two-stage model of devolution. He said: “Our progressive plans, which have also been backed by the Scottish Parliament, would see revenues from Crown Estate invested directly into local communities. The Scottish Government is clear this is the right approach – the communities most affected are the ones which should benefit.”

A Scotland Office spokesman said the report’s conclusions clashed with the previous position of the Scottish Government which offered no guarantee to pass on powers devolved to Edinburgh.