MSP hits out over Bute’s ‘absentee laird’ Johnny Crichton-Stuart
HE IS the dashing former racing driver and distant cousin of the Queen who hosted Stella McCartney’s star-studded wedding at his ancestral home on the island of Bute.
However, Johnny Crichton-Stuart, the 7th Marquess of Bute, has been branded an “absentee laird” and serious questions have been raised over his stewardship of the island.
The convener of Holyrood’s powerful rural affairs committee has accused the marquess, whose estate runs 90 per cent of the land on Bute, of allowing the island to fall into decline by blocking new development. MSP Rob Gibson says some tenant farmers fear they could be thrown out of their homes and families have been deterred from buying empty properties.
Residents have also spoken out after a survey of Bute’s tenant farmers, carried out by NFU Scotland, suggested there was overwhelming dissatisfaction with Mount Stuart Trust, which runs the estates on the marquess’s behalf.
Gibson said: “The marquess is basically an absentee laird. He only visits occasionally and apparently has made it very clear that he wants very little to do with the running of the place.”
The Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP claimed widespread disquiet among the island’s farming community emerged during a recent meeting with MSPs. He said: “Tenant farmers are concerned for the future as many of them are on short and limited duration tenancies of five and ten years and feel they can be individually targeted.”
Gibson also suggested vast stretches of the island were being kept off limits to families and new businesses.
He said: “There are houses which have been empty for 20 years around Bute and there has been no attempt whatsoever by the estate to do anything with them.
“There is an effective ban on anyone else buying a plot of land in the countryside.”
The MSP said the committee would continue to monitor the situation closely and may call on ministers to implement a radical overhaul of tenancy legislation.
Bute councillor and tenant farmer Robert MacIntyre said he had also expressed his concerns to senior representatives of the marquess, who is understood to spend most of the year in Switzerland.
He said: “On a personal basis I’ve no problem at all, but there does seem to be an uneasy relationship between the marquess and some of his tenants. What is needed is new blood, new ideas and secure tenantships. I would like to see vacant farms being let to new tenants.”
Secondary school teacher Aidan Canavan, who recently moved to the island with his partner, claimed their dream of buying a home in the countryside had been thwarted. Canavan, 32, said: “There are a number of derelict houses on the island which have been left to crumble over a number of years,” he said.
“We would be happy to buy one of the buildings and invest in it and the island, but we can’t because we are being impeded every step of the way by the estate.”
The recent NFU survey, which was completed by more than 30 of the island’s farmers, found that 80 per cent of respondents felt their relationship with the landlord was “middling to bad.” One tenant farmer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “I’ve been warned that my future on the island could be affected if I spoke out. But it’s no exaggeration to say that people on the island are living in fear.”
The estate was bequeathed by the current marquess’s father to the Mount Stuart Trust, an independent charity, which is responsible for Mount Stuart House and its surrounding land.
Connie Lovel, the trust’s chief executive, said: “We are disappointed to learn that the convener of the Scottish Government’s rural affairs and environment committee has had concerns expressed to him about the Bute Estate.
“The marquess, John Bute, and his family make no financial gain from the estate’s running. Nothing about the Bute estate is profit driven but rather people-driven, a feature which the trust understands was much praised by Rob Gibson and the rest of the committee on their recent visit.”
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 3 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West