Letter to all Highlands & Islands MSPs
The enactment of the Crown Estate (Scotland) Bill will be a significant milestone for island and other coastal communities, which recognises the need for a new relationship between the Crown Estate, Government, Local Authorities and communities, a policy objective of many Island and rural councils for many years, and to put into practice mechanisms which embed principles of community engagement, empowerment and benefit from the resources which surround these communities.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, together with neighbouring Councils, has consistently called for reform of The Crown Estate, principally because seabed leases around the Outer Hebrides were being negotiated and issued with no local consultation and all revenues arising from these leases were leaking out of the island economy. The Comhairle’s and others’ position has consistently been that decision making on seabed leases around Scotland’s islands should be localised and that all revenues arising from deployments around these islands should be retained in the Local Authority areas hosting these deployments. Vigorous lobbying by the Comhairle and others, through the Our Islands: Our Future campaign led to the inclusion of favourable recommendations by the Smith Commission in September 2014. The Commission took evidence from interested parties and published its report on 27 November 2014, containing the following welcome recommendation: “responsibility for the management of [Crown Estate Scotland] assets will be further devolved to local authority areas such as Orkney, Shetland, Na h-Eileanan an Iar or other areas who seek such responsibilities”.
We were further encouraged by Scottish Government’s ’Ten Point Manifesto for Islands’ published in April 2016. One of the ten points is, “Island communities will receive the full revenues from Crown Estate assets around their shores and have a greater say in how the assets of the Crown Estate are managed”. In her accompanying comments, the First Minister said, “Not only will our island communities benefit from 100 per cent of the Crown Estate revenues that they raise, but they will have a greater say in how the assets of the Crown Estate are managed”.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Orkney Islands Council consider, however, that there is an opportunity to enhance the Bill even further at Stage 3, and would request your support and that of your Party in relation to the amendments attached to this e-mail. These amendments, in the name of Liam Macarthur MSP, supported by Andy Wightman MSP, seek an addition to Section 3, to the effect that Scottish Ministers must make provision for the transfer from Crown Estate Scotland to a relevant Local Authority which requests such transfer, of the right to manage any area of the seabed within the relevant Scottish Marine Region out to 12 nautical miles, reflecting, we believe, the intention of both the Smith Commission that effective management of Crown Estate resources within what could be classed as local waters should best be done at a local level. The proposed amendment to Section 4 is along similar lines. The Bill as currently drafted gives the potential for such a transfer, but only following Ministerial approval.
An amendment is also sought to Section 13, to require that Ministers make provision for a Community Benefit Request Scheme in relation to assets within the 12 mile area, confirming the long held wish that there be not just appropriate local management of Crown Estate assets, but that the communities in which these assets are situated should derive some benefit from them. This would place Crown Estate assets on the same basis as, for example, renewable energy developments which have a clear impact, however welcome, on the areas in which they are situated. Local authorities, communities and the private sector have worked very harmoniously and purposefully in bringing about appropriate levels of community benefit in these cases, and we are confident that similar reasonable and sustainable arrangements can be put in place for Crown Estate assets.
The proposed amendments to Section 31 confirm the Smith Commission conclusions, and would enact political commitments in favour of transfer of net revenues to islands areas.
We look forward to your support and would be happy to assist with any questions in advance of the debate on Wednesday.