Crown Estate devolution a ‘recipe for chaos’

The handover was included in the Smith Commission blueprint. Picture: Alex Hewitt
The handover was included in the Smith Commission blueprint. Picture: Alex Hewitt
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PLANS to hand power over the Crown Estate to Holyrood in line with the Smith Commission devolution blueprint are a “recipe for chaos”, MSPs have been warned.

Nationalists even accused the UK government of an “abandonment of the Smith agreement” after it emerged the Crown Estate could make future investments in Scotland – with any profits going to the Treasury.

Leading land expert Andy Wightman said the UK government proposals don’t meet the terms of the commission led by Lord Smith to hand Scotland more powers after the referendum No vote.

The Crown Estate manages Scotland’s seabed and half the coastline, meaning it has a key role in fishing and renewables industries. A key Smith recommendation was for the administration and management of these interests – to be handed to Holyrood.

Mr Wightman suggested yesterday that the plans drawn up by the UK government only suggest the Treasury “may” devise a scheme for this transfer – and it would be conditional on powers being further passed on to local authorities.

He said: “There’s some suggestion these powers will not be transferred until such time as the Parliament has itself developed a scheme of decentralisation.

“That is not necessary in order to implement the Smith Commission.”

The land expert added: “It’s up to parliament how you then decentralise these functions to local authorities, how you might have a scheme giving ports and harbours the right to take ownership of the seabed etc…” he said.

“I just think this is a recipe for chaos.”

Mr Wightman is one of Scotland’s foremost land experts and author of the acclaimed Who Owns Scotland?

The Crown Estate manages four rural estates in Scotland, mineral and salmon fishing rights, about half of the coastal foreshore and almost all of the seabed. It plays a key role in aquaculture, marine leisure, ports and harbours and offshore renewable energy.

The Smith Commission said Holyrood should be handed control over its assets and the revenues they generate.

But it emerged yesterday that after the transfer of its current assets, the organisation could then “start again” and enter new commercial deals in Scotland

Vivienne King, director of business operations and general counsel at the Crown Estate, said: “The Command Paper makes reference for it being possible for the Crown Estate to make investments in Scotland after the transfer and they will remain a reserved matter.”

Nationalist MSP Linda Fabiani, who sat on the Smith Commission, said this was “brand new” to her.

“This represents nothing less than an abandonment of the Smith Commission agreement by the UK Government,” she added.

“The UK government’s plans would mean there are two Crown Estates operating in Scotland at the same time – this idea isn’t just bizarre, it’s completely unsustainable.”

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