Scottish Government reaffirmed its aspirations for communities on its crofting estates to consider the merits of a community buyout. Addressing Community Land Scotland’s annual conference on 22nd May 2015, Dr Aileen McLeod - the then Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform – confirmed that,“… whilst Scottish Government will first and foremost remain a willing landlord, if a crofting community expresses a desire to take control of its own future we will support those ambitions and be an agreeable seller”.
To facilitate this Highland and Islands Enterprise, working in partnership with Community Land Scotland, will assist those communities wishing to explore the opportunities and responsibilities of becoming a community landowner and crofting landlord. For communities preferring not to consider ownership at this time it will be ‘business as usual’ - Scottish Ministers will continue as landowner.
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Through the Community Empowerment Act, Scottish Government is increasing opportunities for communities to own assets and has set a target of increasing land in community ownership to one million acres by 2020. As one of Scotland’s largest landowners, with 58 crofting estates comprising of 235,000 acres, the Government is encouraging local communities to consider taking ownership of these lands. A map and list of holdings can be found on the menu to the left.
Whilst wishing to be very clear that there is no intention to dispose of their estates, Scottish Government strongly believes that local decision-making and self-determination is key to delivering sustainable and resilient communities. Communities that take control of their lands release further development potential and opportunities. West Harris is a good example.
The West Harris Trust, a community company with open membership to all residents, purchased three contiguous crofting estates – comprising the townships of Losgaintir, Seilebost, Horgabost, Na Buirgh and Sgarasta Mhor - from Ministers in 2010. The 120-strong community aims to grow the local population, create new housing opportunities, generate renewable energy and safeguard the rich natural and cultural heritage.
Since owning the land the West Harris Trust has created eight affordable house plots, installed an 81m pontoon at Horgabost beach, installed two wind turbines (53kw and 5kw), opened 4 motorhome hook-ups and have just started building their Community Enterprise Centre in Horgabost. The centre will provide 120m2 of office/business/studio space, an exhibition area and a performance venue with full catering facilities together with three caravan pitches. The second phase seeks to create six social rented/shared equity housing units. The Trust currently employs 2 FTE and is also progressing a 100kw hydro project.
Scottish Government is willing to consider the sale of all croft land on its crofting estates. It is for the community to determine the extent of the land it wishes to acquire; this could be one or more townships or a whole estate.
The eligible land includes tenanted crofts, common grazing and any land in which a tenant of a croft has a right to crop or graze. It also includes salmon fishings in inland waters, sporting rights (shootings and other fishings) and mineral rights held in their ownership.
It does not extend to owner-occupied crofts, crofts and croft house sites which have been decrofted, or areas of land that have been resumed from crofting tenure.
A community buyout of a Scottish Government crofting estate does not affect crofters’ existing rights. A crofting community body will be acquiring the ‘landlord’s interest’ in croft land tenanted by crofters. The crofters’ security of tenure, individual crofters’ right to buy, and all the benefits and protections and responsibilities conferred upon crofters by crofting legislation will continue under community ownership.
For the purposes of this Programme, a crofting community is the community residing on a crofting estate owned by Scottish Ministers. It includes croft tenants and other residents. The crofting community definition is based on the crofting township or crofts that share a common grazing. It can comprise a single township of a group of two or more townships, or a whole estate. Crofting tenants and other residents are regarded as part of the crofting community provided they meet the following criteria:
Route to ownership As Scottish Government is a willing seller, there is no need for communities to use the crofting community right to buy provisions of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Instead, the simpler Transfer of Crofting Estates (Scotland) Act 1997 will be used.
Ballot To ensure community support an independent and secret ballot will be undertaken. Recognising their specific interest, crofting tenants will be given a veto in the ballot. This means that a buyout cannot proceed unless the majority of the crofting community (crofting tenants and residents) are in favour and also that the majority of crofting tenants are also in favour. There will be one vote per eligible individual, one ballot, and two counts (all votes together, then a count of the crofter votes only). Two majorities in favour are required.
Purchase price The purchase price of the estate will be set by an independent valuation. We will work with you to help raise the required funding package.This could involve making grant applications to relevant funding programmes such as the Scottish Land Fund and raising private finance through loans and fundraising.
A range of support is available and a package will be agreed to best suit your needs and circumstances. The support will help your community consider the merits or otherwise of a buyout; there is no obligation to take a project forward – the community can walk away at any time.
Stage 1 Is there community support to consider a buyout?
We can help you arrange a public meeting to see if the community is interested in finding out more. At the meeting we can share the experiences of other crofting estate buyouts, outline the process, and answer any questions.
Stage 2 Initial investigation
If there is sufficient community interest, we can help you investigate what a community buyout might mean to your community. The support on offer will include:
• dedicated HIE officer support – an experienced case officer will be assigned to guide you through the process;
• mentoring support from Community Land Scotland – practical help, advice and guidance from those who have been through the process;
• start up costs – to hold community meetings, set up a steering group, undertake a valuation etc;
• visit to a community-owned crofting estates – learn from the experiences of other communities who own and manage crofting estates.
Stage 3 Detailed project planning
If there is community support to move on to the next stage – detailed project planning – we can help you with the following:
• feasibility and business planning – to ascertain the viability of a buyout proposal;
• purchase price support – help to secure grant assistance and private investment as required to meet the purchase price;
• provision and funding of mapping – should the purchase take place Scottish Government will help with the mapping exercise that is required by Registers of Scotland when title to land changes hands;
• ballot support – assistance to fund an independent and secret ballot of the community to confirm support for the proposed purchase.
Phone Highlands and Islands Enterprise on 01520 722988 and ask to speak with someone regarding the Community Ownership of Ministers’ Crofting Estate Programme or email