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July 3, 2019

Localising the Crown Estate

The vexed question of who should control what happens on the foreshore and seabed around Scotland’s coastline, and in particular who should benefit from that activity, is beginning to find some answers. For obvious reasons, Scotland’s island communities have long recognised the potential benefits that could accrue if these powers were devolved locally. With enabling legislation passed by Scottish Parliament in 2016 and 2019, opportunities have started to open up.  An innovative partnership between Western Isles Council and community land owner Galson Trust has just been struck.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

Following decades of campaigning by the Comhairle and its partners, control of the Outer Hebrides foreshore and seabed, currently in the hands of The Crown Estate, is set to return to the local community on a pilot basis.

The new Crown Estate (Scotland) Act 2019 makes provision for management of the foreshore and seabed to be devolved to local organisations and, in a joint bid to Crown Estate Scotland, the Comhairle and Galson Estate Trust are seeking these powers on a pilot basis. 

Crown Estate Scotland and Scottish Ministers have awarded the Comhairle / Galson Trust bid ‘Preferred Project Status’ meaning that, subject to the conclusion of negotiation around some detailed points, the Outer Hebrides proposal can move towards implementation in the near future.

Under the proposal, an Outer Hebrides Marine Development Partnership, comprising representatives of all agencies and regulators with an interest in the Hebridean seas, will assess applications for foreshore or seabed leases before making a recommendation to local decision makers – Galson Trust for Renewable Energy developments in the Galson Trust sea area (out to 12nm) and a Committee of Elected Comhairle Members for all other developments across the Hebrides Marine Region (out to 12nm).

Commenting on this development, Comhairle Convener, Norman A Macdonald, said, “The Comhairle and its partners have lobbied vigorously over many years for a greater say in the administration of our islands’ foreshore and seabed.  Historically, these areas have been managed by The Crown Estate with little local involvement in decision making.  This Pilot project allows local people and local experts to decide what is best for the local sea area and, for the first time, there will be a particular focus on securing socioeconomic benefit for the local community from any commercial activity that takes place in the sea around our islands.  Although this Pilot is restricted to managing foreshore and seabed assets, we continue to press the Scottish Ministers on the return of revenues from these leases to the communities hosting the developments and we are making good progress on this.  Through partnership with Galson Trust, the Comhairle is reversing a long history of external control and is empowering our own communities”.