A crofting community is in the process of attempting a 'hostile' buyout of Lord Strathnaver's 6,422-acre Skerray Estate in Sutherland, using the Land Reform Act (Scotland) 2003
A slight hitch for the crofters, reports the Scotsman newspaper, is that the owner, Lord Strathnaver, son of the Countess of Sutherland, "has said he would resist any sale and believes the community would be better served under the existing ownership."
Community buy-outs of land in Scotland have previously been achieved more or less, with the agreement of the landowners involved. However, the Land Reform Act does indeed allow a "hostile" take-over of crofting land, whether or not the owner wishes to sell, if there is sufficient support among residents.
Matching a client's right to own land versus the rights of tenants to exercise control over land they rent is a thorny issue, and ultimately not one to generate public sympathy for landowners - particularly those who have been known to use well known law forms to bully tenants into submission or have their plans delayed indefinitely by somewhat underhanded techniques.
Despite some scare stories in the media, mostly all has went well with community buyouts of land under the Land Reform Act, so embracing the future & dealing with it, rather than clinging to the past may be a good place to start.
JOHN ROSS (The Scotsman)
IT SOUNDS like no contest. On the one hand, a small crofting community who want to buy the land on which they live; on the other, one of Scotland's best-known landowners who doesn't want to sell.
A few years ago that would have been the end of the matter. But the 91-strong population on the Skerray Estate in Sutherland may use land reform legislation to force a sale.
The residents, 55 of whom are involved in crofting, are working towards a community purchase of the 6,422-acre estate on a rocky promontory between Tongue and Bettyhill.
But Lord Strathnaver, son of the Countess of Sutherland, has said he would resist any sale and believes the community would be better served under the existing ownership.
So far, community buy-outs in Scotland have been achieved with the agreement of the landowner. But part of the Scottish Executive's flagship Land Reform Act allows a "hostile" take-over of crofting land, whether or not the owner wishes to sell, if there is sufficient support among residents.
Skerray Estate consists of 11 scattered townships and two islands. The Skerray Community Ownership Trust (SCOT) has been investigating self ownership and a feasibility study has suggested ways for the community to generate income.
Philip Taylor, a member of SCOT, said: "We are at the beginning of a long-term process. No one has attempted a hostile buyout in Scotland so far and the technicalities can be difficult.
"Lord Strathnaver has indicated he doesn't want to sell and we have not heard anything to the contrary. We will approach the estate again and ask them about a purchase."
Lord Strathnaver could not be contacted yesterday and no one at Sutherland Estates was available for comment.
But the feasibility study by economist Steve Westbrook said: "In a meeting with our consultancy team, Lord Strathnaver made it clear that Sutherland Estates would resist selling the land - having an attachment to the area and believing that residents would be served better through continued ownership by Sutherland Estates than through a community purchase.
"This opposition to a community purchase would need to be taken into account by the community in deciding how to move forward - although strong backing from the community for a purchase might possibly influence Sutherland Estates' stance."
He adds: "The purchase of the estate should stimulate economic and social activity to the benefit of the community.
"Past outward migration from Sutherland shows the need for people to be at the heart of area development and have access to resources, including land. For Skerray to thrive, the area needs to retain, attract and nurture able and motivated people, enjoying a good standard of living in a strengthened community."
His report says two-fifths of Skerray is aged over 60 and a lack of affordable housing is a barrier to keeping young people or encouraging others to move in. It suggests fishing, walking and other outdoor activities could be developed, along with eco-tourism.
Income could also be derived from a small-scale wind farm.