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9 April 2003
Crofters plot course for island windfall
John Ross and Edward Black
The Scotsman, 19 March 2003
Reproduced from The Scotsman with permission
(Filed 9 April 2003)
IN THE 1920s, Lord Leverhulme offered the Galson
Estate on the island of Lewis to the locals for free. They turned
Now, the roles are spectacularly reversed; crofters
on the island want the estate, but the current landowners arent
Yet the modern-day crofters have a powerful new
weapon at their disposal: Scotlands Land Reform Bill. They
believe they can use the legislation to push through the purchase
of Galson from an unwilling vendor.
Critics of the bill feared it would come to this,
a forced buy-out against the wishes of the landowner. Last night,
the Scottish Landowners Federation said funding a disputed
purchase was a poor use of public money. Those behind the buy-out
plan conceded that the move was controversial but said they found
it "exciting" to be involved in a potential landmark case.
There is certainly much at stake.
The 55,000-acre estate is the potential site of
the largest wind farm in Europe and, with financial benefits likely
to come to the landowner, some crofters are keen to push for a sale
and reap the rewards for themselves.
More than 90 per cent of the land is in crofting
tenure and it is felt ownership would give locals access to other
assets, like mineral rights, plots for businesses and affordable
Yesterday, leaflets were being sent to over 2,000
residents of the area to gauge support for a community-buy out.
If a majority back the move, the residents could follow buy-outs
in Eigg, Knoydart and Gigha, as well as their neighbours in North
Harris, who will officially take over the estate of a cider millionaire,
Jonathan Bulmer, on Friday after a £4.5 million deal.
The sale of Galson, with up to 94 per cent of
the purchase price possibly coming from the lottery-backed Scottish
Land Fund, would make it the first community takeover of land since
the Scottish Parliament passed the Land Reform Bill.
The land has been in the hands of the Graham/Macrae
family for the last 76 years, but none of the owners could be contacted
for comment yesterday. However, in a statement, they said the estate
has never been offered for sale: "From its inception, the estate
has actively supported community ventures. If the wind-farm project
goes ahead and turbines are erected on the estate, the owners, crofters
and the community will share the revenues. This would provide additional
income for the further development of community projects."
But James MacDonald, the chairman of a steering
group investigating a buy-out, said there was broad interest in
a buy-out, disputed or not.
He added: "If there is a majority in favour
of a buy-out, we will go for it. At the moment, the signs are that
there is interest, very much so.
"The feeling is if there is to be a wind
farm on the land, the crofters should benefit. Its been my
opinion and the opinion of others all along that the estate should
be in the hands of the community. There has been nothing put back
into the estate. They have never been an obstacle but at the same
time nobody knew who the landlords were. I am sure my parents never
got to know who their landlords were, they just hid behind closed
Mr MacDonald said he was aware the owners are
not keen to sell, but said he is not concerned about possibly being
the first to use the new legislation. "That would make it more
exciting," he said. "I can see a lot of other communities
buying their estates as well. And if there is the support we think
there is, then I dont think raising the money for a purchase
will be a problem at all." The estate was bought from Lord
Leverhulme in 1926. It has remained in the ownership of the Graham/Macrae
family for three generations since.
It was in 1919 that Lord Leverhulme acquired the
700 square-mile estate on Lewis and became landlord to its 30,000
residents. He earned the widespread respect of locals for his attempts
to create a prosperous base within the Hebrides so locals could
benefit from the abundant fishing stocks.
Leverhulme realised that improvements in the islands
infrastructure were crucial to his development plans for Lewis and
consequently embarked on ambitious plans to develop the islands
economy via the processing and marketing of fish.
Distance from the market-place and the perishable
nature of fish had long been a problem for local merchants. Lord
Leverhulme hoped to resolve this through improved transport systems,
better harbour facilities and industrialisation.
He intended to acquire a number of refrigerated
ships to carry fresh fish from Lewis to mainland markets. What fish
he could not sell immediately would be canned on the island.
Lord Leverhulme envisaged producing up to 120,000
tins of fish per week which he estimated would realise about £25,000
net profit per annum. He said: "I want to interest the people
in the locality where the industry will be carried on. The Stornoway
people will have their company at Stornoway, but there will be another
company with a canning factory at Port of Ness, and a third at Carloway,
and so on, possibly a score of companies with canning factories
all over the island." Unfortunately, his efforts to boost the
local economy were doomed to failure and road and rail schemes and
ice-making and canning factories were abandoned.
Although no figure has been mentioned for a Galson
buy-out, this would be set by a district valuer. The potential benefits
are huge with the energy company Amec planning to build up to 300
turbines in a £600 million development with landowners possibly
earning about £1,000 a year in rental from each turbine.
Calum Ian MacLeod, a local councillor who supports
a buy-out, said: "The catalysts for this have been the Land
Reform Bill and talk of wind farms. People are saying, If
there are going to be benefits, why should we not get them all?
Why should the landowner get half?
"There will have to be a ballot before anything
happens and, if the crofting townships are not interested, then
it will not happen."
He added: "I think it is a wonderful opportunity.
There is money in the land fund and its the communities who
show an interest and come up with viable business plans who will
get the money.
But Katie Mary Mackenzie, another councillor,
said: "There has been a lot more interest because of the wind
farm but I am not sure that everyone would be in favour of a buy-out.
There are a lot of unanswered questions about this. I also feel
that the Galson Estate has been a very good landlord."
Maurice Hankey, a director of the Scottish Landowners
Federation, said: "Its not cut and dried in the sense
that because the community wants to buy, its necessarily going
to happen. There are issues about the process and where these things
are going to be funded, which have to be addressed as we move down
"There is a question that, if these communities
are simply funded from public money, what are the policy priorities
that allow the money to go here rather than anywhere else. We are
crying out for a range of services in rural areas. Is that the best
use of this money?"
SINCE the buy-out of Assynt ten years ago, more
than 70 pieces of land have come into community ownership or management.
About 26,000 people in communities across the
Highlands and Islands now own 3 per cent of the land, or about 300,000
acres. The deals include:
February, 1993 - North Assynt: The first community
buy-out took place . Edmund Vestey sold 13 townships and 21,300
acres for £1 million to a Swedish land speculator who went
The Assynt Crofters Trust secured the land
Autumn 1995 - Hope and Melness: Michael Foljame
gifted a third of the Hope and Melness estate, some 10,700 acres,
to local crofters in what he called a piece of "social engineering".
The crofters now use income from house rents, shooting leases, a
peatland management project and a woodland grant scheme, to help
run the estate.
June, 1997 - Eigg: The islanders finally took
control of their own future when a £1.5 million bid was accepted
by the creditors of the German artist Maruma to put the land back
in community hands for the first time in 250 years.
March 1998 - Abriachan: The 140-strong population
of Abriachan, overlooking Loch Ness, acquired 540 acres of woodland
from the Forestry Commission for £150,000, giving them control
of a major amenity and providing inspiration for a number of similar
July, 1999 - Knoydart: The 70-strong population
in Knoydart led a bid to buy the estate from creditors of the private
owner for £800,000. The deal was funded by the John Muir Trust,
the Chris Brasher Trust, Highland Council, the Cameron Mackintosh
foundation and an anonymous donor.
March 2002 - Gigha: The residents of Gigha raised
£4 million to buy the island, rather than see it sold to another
private landlord. Money from the National Lottery secured the islands
future after businessman Derek Holt decided to sell up.
March, 2003 - North Harris: Islanders celebrated
the success the largest ever community buy-out of the 50,000-acre
Amhuinnsuidhe Castle estate on North Harris from cider millionaire
Johnathan Bulmer. A trust set up by the 800-strong Western Isles
community helped raise the £4.5 million needed.
© The Scotsman
Further Reading Recommended by Land-Care
Magnus Linklater (2003). Land law with head in the clouds. Scotland
on Sunday, 26 January 2003.
(Filed 28 January 2003, www.land-care.org.uk,
here to view).
Magnus Linklater. From the Highlands to the Lowlands, in future
it's going to be anybody's lands. The Times, 23 January 2003.
(Filed 23 January 2003, www.land-care.org.uk,
here to view).
Watson, Jeremy (2002). Scotland's first 'land grab' victim. Scotland
on Sunday, 8 December 2002.
(Filed 9 December 2002, www.land-care.org.uk,
Community buy-out possible on the Isle of Harris.
(Filed 2002, www.land-care.org.uk,
click here to
Further Comment from Magnus Linklater on possible community buy-out
on the Isle of Harris.
(Filed 2002, www.land-care.org.uk,
here to view).