Councillors to raise support to change Crown Estate administration Published: 02 October, 2007
Councillor Richard Durham
NORTH councillors will try to get Parliamentary momentum behind a campaign to change the administration of the Crown Estate in Scotland, when they give evidence to the Scottish parliaments rural affairs and environment committee later today.
A report commissioned by six north local authorities and Highlands and Islands Enterprise concluded that the Crown Estate in Scotland, including property in Edinburgh, the Glenlivet Estate and the seabed out to 12 miles, is not being managed to bring the most benefit for local communities. The report was initially rubbished by the Crown Estate Commission (CEC), and dismissed by Westminster civil servants. The former Secretary of State for Scotland, Douglas Alexander, said he wanted to pursue the matter but he has since been moved to International Development.
Former Highland Council vice-convener Michael Foxley, who has pressed for 20 years for the Crown Estate Commissions management powers to be devolved to local authorities, said he was optimistic that the present Scottish Government would take up the issue. Councillor Foxley said: We have to ensure that the report prepared for HIE and the local authorities, is armed and strengthened and used. The Councils own natural resources working group is to consider this at an early stage. I have spoken to the Minister for the Environment mike Russell, whos very interested in the subject, and in the impact that the CEC has in the Highlands and Islands.
He added: That impact has been considerable in past decades in terms of development like fish farming. It will be considerable for years to come as well, because at the moment the CEC has the final say on renewable energy development and takes all the benefit from it, which I feel should go to local communities. 30 years ago the first anyone knew about fish farms was when sea cages arrived in their sea loch with no consultation, no direct community benefit and no involvement of public agencies. If we are to have offshore renewables we must ensure full consultation and full community benefit. The only way to do that is to have local control of the resource and the process. I want the Government to take action on this matter. The civil servants dont want to rock the boat. Theyve told me for years this was a matter reserved to Westminster. That was wrong. Too many people confuse the Crown Estate with the Crown. We have to make clear this is an institution managed from London, with the profits going to the Treasury and the management and profits should be in the local community.
Councillor Richard Durham, the former chairman of the Crown Estate Review Working Group, has been asked by the convener of Highland Council to give evidence to the rural affairs and environment committee. Councillor Durham said: I would hope that our report would have familiarised people with the facts about the CEC and the Crown Estate. There are clear grounds for saying that the Crown Estate could be managed to greater benefit for local communities if control was taken away from the CEC. I would like to see the estate managed under the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament, with the financial benefit remaining in the Scottish financial system. Personally, I would like to see management of the seabed being managed by local authorities, answerable to the Scottish Parliament. Its the greatest resource Scotland has and the sensible route forward is more devolution of these issues and control coming to the Parliament.
Fish and shellfish farmers, and harbour trusts in the Highlands and Islands have also complained that while the CEC imposes rents for their use of the seabed, very little of the money, which goes to the Treasury, is returned to be invested in the area. The Scottish Port Authorities asked the Government in 2002 to amend the Crown Estate Act 1961 to free harbour authorities from having to pay rent for the seabed within harbour authority areas. This was refused although most of the authorities said they would prefer the Scottish Executive as their landlord, rather than have to go to the Executive to help with development projects only to see some of the money going out as rent to the CEC.
The Scottish Executive wrote to harbour authorities in February, asking them to detail their relations and any issues they have with the CECs management of the seabed. They wanted details of rents paid for the use of the seabed within harbour authority areas, and the effect this is having on developments planned within the harbour areas.
The CEC has claimed that the recommendations would lead to a loss of public benefit, and they claim support from a wide range of customers and partners.
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