The Scottish Government has been seeking views across the country on how best to manage onshore and offshore Crown Estate assets in Scotland after transfer of powers to Holyrood is completed. Responses to this consultation were due by 29th March and a number of organisations in the Outer Hebrides have submitted views, including Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Community Land Scotland and Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn.
The Comhairle pressed for devolution of management to local authorities in its response, whilst Community Land Scotland and the Urras presented cases for devolution to community organisations, such as land trusts, with local authorities as the default body in the event of there being no suitable community organisation. All parties supported a proposal to roll-out devolution to the three island authority areas of Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland first.
Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, commented “There are opportunities for democratic renewal, further devolution of decision-making to the local level and for communities to benefit from the net revenue. The devolution also enhances our ability to align future management of the Crown Estate with other reforms by Scottish Ministers such as community land reform.”
The consultation firstly tackled the need to change the remit of the Crown Estate in Scotland away from purely commercial considerations to embrace social and community benefits. It went on to identify three broad options to manage the Crown Estate’s Scottish portfolio.
Option 1: Retain management of all assets at the national level.
Option 2: Devolve management of all assets to local authorities or communities.
Option 3: Case-by-case arrangements for each asset of the Crown Estate.
Scottish Government made it clear it favoured Option 3, involving a large measure of central control with management devolved locally only for specific assets or classes of assets. Both Community Land Scotland and Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn gravitated towards Option 2 with an emphasis on community organisations managing assets with only limited central controls, so that these organisations could integrate management of their existing and additional Crown Estate assets to maximise local benefits.
Community Land Scotland and Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn are calling for the Scottish Government to demonstrate confidence in community land trusts in particular, as formally constituted bodies already managing a range of assets that are ideally placed to take on devolved management of Crown Estate portfolios.
Agnes Rennie, chair of Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn, stated “There should be a presumption in favour of devolution to community organisations who can demonstrate legal competence to own and manage assets as is required under the Community Empowerment and the Land Reform Acts. It follows that community land trusts would be very appropriate organisations. Beyond this, there would be clear advantages in developing a broad policy framework to cover the approach to devolution, at a strategic and directional rather than operational level. Such a framework should promote accountability of locally managed assets and provide the necessary flexibility to enable communities to set out their own management and operational priorities.”
Crown Estate devolution is being delivered through the Scotland Act 2016, involving a Transfer Scheme being made by Treasury which will require agreement from Scottish Ministers and the the UK Parliament. This is expected to be in place by April 2017. The Scottish Parliament aims to complete consideration of a Scottish Bill on the Crown Estate during 2019 and the provisions could potentially go live during the 2019/2020 financial year.
Crown Estate ownership includes the seabed from the high watermark to 12 nautical miles, except for some small areas which have been transferred to third parties, plus rights within the 12 to 200 nautical mile zone. The Crown also owns around 50 percent of the 18,000 km length of Scotland‟s foreshore, with exceptions relating to land owned by a third party under udal tenure in the Northern Isles or acquired from the Crown over time by other landowners. It is also a significant landowner itself with rural estates held on behalf of the Crown currently totalling 37,000 hectares, plus urban property in Edinburgh and joint venture interests in Fort Kinnaird shopping centre near Edinburgh. In 2015/16, the gross revenue from the Crown Estate assets in Scotland to be transferred was £14m and the property value was £271.8m.