First hostile buy-out goes ahead as 'whipping boy' laird forced to sell
THE first hostile buy-out of an estate in Scotland has been given the go-ahead, with the local community granted the right to purchase land the owner does not want to sell.
Environment minister Roseanna Cunningham yesterday paved the way for crofters to acquire the 26,800-acre Pairc Estate in Lewis.
But the decision may yet face a legal challenge from Barry Lomas, the Warwickshire businessman whose family has owned the land since 1924.
Almost 400 people currently live on the estate, which has 11 crofting townships and 208 crofts spread over an area the size of Edinburgh.
The Pairc Trust, the body seeking to buy the land on behalf of the community, first mooted a buy-out in 2004 but talks with Mr Lomas broke down. It later applied to acquire the estate using the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which gives crofting communities the right to buy the land they croft and adjacent land whether or not the owner wishes to sell, if ministers approve.
A decision on the buy-out has been awaited since October after a consultation on the move, and ministers had been accused of procrastination.
But Ms Cunningham said yesterday that approval will now be followed by the appointment of an independent expert who will determine the market value of the land. The trust will then have six months to raise funds.
Ms Cunningham wished the community well in raising the money and said the trust's plans should help inject new life into the area and rejuvenate the economy.
The local population has dropped from 4,000 over the past century, and the trust's plans to regenerate the area include new affordable housing, a camper van site, holiday packages for visitors and exploring renewable energy opportunities.
Trust chairman Angus McDowall said: "This is an historic step forward for our community, and sends an unambiguous message to the landlord that the economic and social development of Pairc in the interests of the whole community should be ranked above private financial gain.
"It is a complete vindication of the persistence which we and the whole community have shown over so many years in trying to exercise our rights under the (Land Reform] Act in order to plan a better future for local crofters and residents."
He said the trust would now contact Mr Lomas to resume discussions about a possible voluntary transfer of the whole estate, adding he was confident the community could raise the money required for the purchase.But Mr Lomas - who previously claimed a forced sale would breach his human rights and that he was the "whipping boy of land reform" - said last night he is still considering legal action.
He said he had offered a deal last year but the trust insisted on taking the hostile route "seemingly for the glory of having taken on the landlord".
The decision was welcomed by politicians and community groups, Western Isles SNP MSP Alasdair Allan saying he hoped Mr Lomas would now accept a fair price for the land.
Angus Campbell, leader of Western Isles Council, said putting the community in charge of the land would result in significant social and community regeneration. And David Cameron, from Community Land Scotland, the umbrella group for community landlords, said it was an "excellent day for community landownership in Scotland".
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west