Crown Estate review call: top-level meeting sought –

Crown Estate review call: top-level meeting sought Published:  21 February, 2007

THE organisations calling for a review of the management role of the Crown Estate Commission (CEC) in Scotland, have written to the Scottish Secretary and the First Minister, asking for a meeting to discuss the issue.

The report commissioned by six North local authorities, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and CoSLA has concluded that a review of the Crown Estate to ensure that it contributes more fully to Executive policies and the wellbeing of the Scottish people is needed. Councillor Richard Durham who chaired the working group examining the Crown Estate said that the report swept away much of the mystique surrounding the Crown Estate, and made clear that the Crown Estate, and especially the seabed, should be managed in a very different way, to ensure that it benefits the Scottish people.

Councillor Durham said: “This will be an election issue and so far we have received cross-party political support for what we have done. A review of the Crown Estate is in a number of manifestos for the May elections already. The Crown Estate hands over £11m a year to the Treasury, and returns only a fraction of that in project investment. The great potential earner however, is the development of renewable energy and the rent that could be earned from the seabed around the Scottish coast.”

The report criticises the adverse impact of foreshore and seabed rents charged by the CEC, particularly on fish and shellfish farming interests and on harbour trusts wanting to expand their facilities. The working group also sees the UK Government’s Marine Bill, for which a White Paper will be published next month, as the ideal opportunity to make any legislative changes required to transfer the management of the Crown Estate to the Scottish Executive. As matters stand, although ownership of the Crown Estate in Scotland has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the management of the Crown Estate, which is carried out by the Crown Estate Commission, has been reserved to Westminster.

Councillor Durham added: “No major constitutional change is required, simply a tidying up of legislation to bring the management of the Crown Estate into line with the transfer of the authority over the Crown Estate. I have written to the First Minister Jack McConnell and Scottish Secretary Douglas Alexander with a copy of the report, and we would like to meet them to urge them to conduct this review urgently. The Forestry Commission has grasped that devolution has changed things and had tried to go with it, the CEC has not. I would also like to take issue with the chairman of the CEC Ian Grant. His reply to an earlier draft report was intriguing and surprising. He suggested that a lot of the report was inaccurate and that we were wilfully misleading people. That is frankly nonsense and I hope that in the fullness of time Mr Grant will apologise for it. Mr Grant himself in his letter referred to ‘our ownership of the seabed’. The CEC doesn’t own the seabed. They are simply a management organisation but they perceive themselves to be much more.”

The CEC claimed the proposals for change would be damaging, costly and bureaucratic. Ian Grant, CEC chairman said: “An impression has been created that Scotland loses out from its relationship with the Crown Estate. The reverse is the case. Scotland generates around 6% of the Crown Estate’s total contribution to public spending. What comes back to Scotland in terms of its share of public spending is much greater. The foreshore around the Highlands and Islands in Scotland generates around £250,000 in gross revenue. In many areas the costs of management and collection exceed the income received. In addition, the Crown Estate in Scotland invests around £500,000 per year in coastal projects through its Marine Stewardship Fund. The Crown Estate has also committed a further £600,000 to fund measures to restore confidence in the Scottish salmon farming industry. The report seems to be the efforts of a minority with an opposition in principle to the Crown Estate which blights common sense.”

Councillor Durham said: “I think it’s very difficult to dismiss this as the view of a minority, when six local authorities, HIE, most of the fish farmers and shell farmers, and harbour authorities throughout the Highlands and Islands, feel a review is urgently required.”

Report author Robin Callander said: “This is unfinished business as far as land reform is concerned. Land reform stopped at low water mark. That has left us with a situation where 53% of Scotland’s property is managed by a body which describes itself as a leading property investment company. With the Marine Bill coming out shortly, this couldn’t be happening at a better moment.”