Highland estate bosses enter war of words with land campaigners
TWO Highland estates have defended their work following moves by campaigners to get absentee owners give more power to local people and land rights activists.
A campaign led by Land Action Scotland has seen more than 90 applications being made for membership rights to Mount Stuart Trust, which owns 28,000 acres on the Isle of Bute, and the Applecross Trust, which owns 61,000 acres on the Wester Ross peninsula.
The group’s co-ordinator Andy Wightman said: “The aim is to democratise these private organisations which are meant to operate on a charitable basis.
“They exert enormous influence over the local communities of Bute and Applecross and yet they remain in the exclusive control of a handful of people who to date have shown no interest in extending participation to local residents.”
The Mount Stuart Trust is wholly controlled by five members of the Marquess of Bute’s family, plus an accountant and lawyer – none of whom live on Bute.
Connie Lovel, Chief Executive of the Mount Stuart Trust, said: “The Trust will be carefully considering the applications for membership and how this may serve the best interests of the Trust in fulfilling its charitable objectives.
“It is, however, important to make clear what the objectives of the Mount Stuart Trust are as well as what has been, and is being, achieved.
“It is deeply regrettable in our view that the achievements of the Trust and what is provided for the public good is not recognised in any way by the campaigners.
“The fact that over 100 people are employed by the Mount Stuart Trust on Bute over the course of a year is ignored. The fact that Mount Stuart is a significant tourist destination delivering benefit to the island year in, year out, is not acknowledged. Key decisions are taken on Bute for the benefit of Bute and the wider public.
“The Mount Stuart Trust is a charity whose primary focus is the advancement of the arts, heritage and culture and the Board’s over-riding objective is the preservation of Mount Stuart, its house and gardens, for the public benefit.
“This the Board has successfully done for over 20 years with more than 500,000 visitors thus far having appreciated this important part of the nation’s heritage.”
She added: “Maintaining a property such as Mount Stuart for the public costs around £500,000 a year.
“The Board has a long term programme to invest in Bute Estate to improve its housing stock and the Trust continues to commit resources in this way.
“Since 2005 the Trust has spent in excess of £1.6m on repairing and maintaining the residential houses on Bute. In 2010 the Trust approved a fund of £675,000 that has been successfully used to return a dozen Estate properties to habitable use. This process is ongoing.
“In 2011 the Estate completed the first phase of its redevelopment masterplan for Bute – at a cost of £1.7m – approved by Argyll and Bute council – and will continue this programme of building and developing properties on Bute over the long term for the benefit of the people on Bute.”
Meanwhile, Archie MacLellan, trust administrator of the Applecross Trust, said: “It is unfortunate that a number of points made by Andy Wightman in regard to the workings of the Applecross Trust as are incorrect and misleading.
“It is also very disappointing that as the author of the Land Action Scotland campaign Mr Wightman has requested basic financial information from the Trust but has made no approach to discuss or enquire about any of our activities.
“It is also notable that of the 87 applications received to join the Trust, none are from Applecross.
“The Applecross Trust prides itself on maintaining much of the Applecross Estate in such a way as to preserve its unique and historic character for public benefit.
“This is done with a view to ensuring protection of the estate’s environment and amenities while encouraging access to and appreciation of the estate.
“We are involved in many community partnerships since the objectives of the Trust primarily relate to land management and public access to the estate.
“Community engagement is therefore integral to all decisions made. These can be large scale issues such as affordable housing, rents and employment or more discreet initiatives which aim to enhance the lives of those who live and work on the peninsula.
“The Company within the last 12 years has sourced and invested in excess of £6million in the Estate.”
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