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Scalpay residents take control of their island

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  • by ALISTAIR MUNRO
 

Residents on the small Scots island of Scalpay off Harris have voted to take over the running of the island.

The current landlord, English businessman Fred Taylor, had offered inhabitants the Outer Hebridean island as a gift for free.

After a vote at Scalpay Community Hall on Tuesday it was a clear result in favour of the takeover - with 197 for and just eight against.

Islanders also voted to go into partnership with the North Harris Community Trust – subject to its own £2.2million buyout in 2003 – to run the island, once a busy fishing community.

The island’s population of 320 has almost halved since the 1970s and 80s.

Its primary school closed after the roll fell to four and Paul Finnegan, of Scalpay Community Land Buyout Steering Group, said they already had plans for the building.

He said: “One suggestion that has come forward is using it for business units for small craft workshops.

“We’ve already identified three people who live in Scalpay who are keen to take them on.”

Boosting tourism, developing fisheries and installing wind turbines are also ideas being considered.

Finlay MacRae, secretary of the steering group, said that Scalpay was unlike any of the other community buyouts who had to fight and raise money to buy their land.

He said: “We are unique in that sense.”

The island is officially owned by the Taylor family trust and sole trustee Mr Taylor is also offering to gift land owned by him personally - the glebe park next to Scalpay Lighthouse and the former Ministry of Defence tracking site.

Mr Taylor, who acquired the island following the death of his father, John, owns a house on Scalpay.

Scalpay, which is around 2.5miles long, was joined to neighbouring Harris by a £6.4m bridge in 1997.

There is a community-run shop and consultants investigating the potential of a takeover said the island could become a centre for yachts visiting the Western Isles.

The historic Eilean Glas lighthouse is a major tourist attraction and there is potential to upgrade the footpath to it and create an improved coastal round-island walk.

Background: Communities take advantage of their right to buy land

The Community Right to Buy allows communities with a population of less than 10,000 in Scotland to register an interest in and the opportunity to buy land when it comes up for sale.

In 1993, Assynt Crofters Trust bought North Assynt Estate for £300,000. Four years later, Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust bought Eigg for £1.5 million. In 1998, Abriachan Forest Trust bought the woodland for £152,000. Knoydart Foundation purchased the estate on the peninsula for £750,000 in 1999 and, in 2000, Culag Community Woodland Trust purchased Little Assynt for £244,000. Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust this year celebrated a decade since buying the island for £4m.

North Harris Trust made a £2.2m community buy-out in 2003. Assynt Foundation bought Glencanisp and Drumrunie Estates in 2005 for £2.9m, Stòras Uibhist purchased South Uist Estate in 2006 for £4.5m, and Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn bought Galson Estate on Lewis for £1.2m in 2007.

 

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