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February 27, 2013

Council says signing is a mistake

The argument over who should have control over Scotland’s Crown Estate rumbles on. Judging by recent press coverage, the body that currently manages Scotland’s foreshore and seabed, the London based Crown Estate Commissioners (CEC), is on a bit of charm offensive. Working hard to get communities on side – new agreements are being signed to allow local developments to happen. Western Isles Council has refused to sign, arguing that communities could and should be getting a better deal.


WHFP 15 February 

‘AN unprecedented opportunity’ to reform the Crown Estate must not be ‘lost through compromise’, it has been warned.

Councillors agreed this week that the Comhairle would not sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Crown Estate because urgent reform was needed to give communities more control.

This comes as a North Uist organisation have secured a Local Management Agreement (LMA) with the Crown Estate to take forward their plan for a new marine leisure development.

A report before members at the Comhairle said: “This draft Memorandum of Understanding’ prepared by the Crown Estate, sets out a continuation of existing Crown Estate activity and some relatively modest investment in local projects and research. While this may represent a welcome first step in negotiations with The Crown Estate, the Comhairle is concerned that the unprecedented opportunity for reform presented by the Scottish Affairs Committee is about to be lost through compromise with The Crown Estate,”

The Scottish Affairs Committee last year carried out an inquiry into the management of The Crown Estate in Scotland and their final report endorsed the Comhairle’s view that ‘urgent reform’ was needed and ‘decentralistaion to the maximum extent possible of The Crown Estate’s responsibilities to Local Authority and local community levels.”

The Comhairle is of the view that the critical report from the Committee represents an ‘open door’ for radical reform of the Crown Estate.

There was concern that following a recent meeting of the Highlands and Islands Conveners Groups, some authorities in the region had indicated their intention to sign the Memorandum of Understanding, closing the door on the possibility of radical reform. 

The Comhairle have invited Alison Nimmo, Chief Executive of The Crown Estate to the islands and agreed that the basis of a ‘Highlands and Islands Crown Estate Action Plan’ be developed outlining some key activities which will move all parties closer to the level of reform recommended by the Scottish Affairs Committee.

Today’s (Friday) news that LMAs have been finalised for North Uist and Portree are however, important stages of progress for local projects.

LMAs give not-for-profit organisations access to areas of the foreshore and seabed, with specialised support from The Crown Estate’s staff across the UK, to develop proposals for projects that will deliver direct benefits to the local community. Once proposals are developed, organisations can acquire the right to manage the assets, enabling them to implement their plans.

LMAs were introduced by The Crown Estate last year in response to calls to give coastal communities a more direct role in the management of local foreshore and seabed. The Skye and North Uist projects were frontrunners to become the first pilots – and the agreements are now finalised, placing Highland & Islands firmly at the forefront of this new form of community management of foreshore and seabed assets.

The potential development at Lochmaddy will involve floating pontoons with 26 berths, a 15-space car park and an eight-space boat park. The project will be managed by Comann na Mara and North Uist Estates and the income generated will be used for further facilities as well as community events.

Portree Area Community Trust is working with the local moorings association to develop a new breakwater, extend and refurbish the pier, build a new RNLI boathouse and install pontoons and berthing facilities. Both projects will now develop detailed business plans and consider how to raise funds for the developments.

Angus Macaulay, Chair of Comann na Mara, said, “This proposed project will strengthen the local economy by taking advantage of the huge and growing opportunities offered by marine tourism, which brings an estimated £270 to £300 million a year into the Scottish economy.[1] This project, when combined with other developments, such as those planned at Lochboisdale, will help ensure that the Western Isles is firmly on the map for leisure sailors.”