ONE of the largest property owners in the whole of the UK, the Crown Estate owns land across Scotland stretching from the Shetland Islands to the Scottish Borders.
The Crown Estate, a portfolio of assets that belong to the monarch of the day, is currently worth £261.5 million in Scotland.
It owns the rights to salmon fishing and gold mining in Scotland as well as vast amounts of property - several rural estates and properties in urban areas.
The assets range from the ancient - such as ownership of the seabed up to 12 nautical miles from the shore - to more recent acquisitions including 39-41 George Street in Edinburgh which was purchased in the mid-1990s and now home to fashion store Anthropologie.
In London, The Crown Estate owns virtually all of Regent Street.
North of the border, it also owns 50 per cent of Fort Kinnaird retail park outside the capital and has done major deals with fish farming firms and offshore renewable developers working in its waters.
It has extracted rent from part of the country’s quite fragile communities and not put anything back.Andy Wightman, land reform campaigner and Green Party candidate
Half the country’s foreshore is on its books and includes Rhu Marina near Helensburgh and a total of 5,000 licensed moorings.
Its four estates cover 37,00 acres of land and are Glenlivet and Fochabers in Moray, Applegirth in Dumfries and Galloway and Whitehill in Midlothian. The famous Balmoral Estate, a favoured holiday retreat of the Queen is privately owned by the Royal Family and not part of the Crown Estate.
The Queen can neither profit or sell these assets, which she does not privately own, with the Crown Estate Commission legally tasked with maximising profit of the estate in a socially responsible way- with surplus paid back into HM Treasury.
Last year in Scotland, £14.6m in revenues were generated, mainly from coastal and energy-related business activity with £7.7m investment made, largely in a wave tidal development in the Pentland Firth.
Last year, The Crown Estate returned a total of £267m to the Treasury. This UK figure guides how much the Queen is paid for her duties and the running of the Royal Household. This is done through the Sovereign Grant which was around £35.7m last year.
Deep reforms to the Crown Estate in Scotland are due with powers over management and finance to be transferred to Scottish Ministers, who will effectively become landlords of the assets. The transfer will controversially not include Fort Kinnaird given it is owned in partnership.
It follows years of cross-party criticism that the Crown Estate Commission has not been accountable to a democratically electable body in Scotland or the communities close to the land it owns.
Its significant property portfolio in Scotland sits aside some key policy areas in Scotland, including growth of renewables, sustainable rural communities and land reform.
Andy Wightman, land reform campaigner and Green Party candidate in the forthcoming Holyrood elections, said there had been resentment of the Crown Estate Commission in the past but that it had become more “flexible” in its approach in recent time.
“The organisation has always been unaccountable and that’s what people have resented from the 1970s when fish farms began appearing in lochs with no consultation with local communities.
“Subsequently, it has conducted its business with no reference to any democratically elected body.
“Some of the decision have been perfectly okay but the problem has been accountability.
“It has extracted rent from part of the country’s quite fragile communities and not put anything back.
“It has always seen it remit as essentially maximising revenue and it is a organisation driven by increase in profits. In recent years it has become more flexible.”
Mr Wightman said he was not confident about the devolution of power over the Crown Estate saying provisions in the Scotland Bill were unnecessarily “convoluted”.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead also called the arrangements “a bit of a dog’s breakfast”.
Mr Wightman said the Scotland Bill did not fully devolve the finance, with the revenues to be paid into the Scottish Consolidated Fund.
He added: “The reforms are substantial but they are constrained in some ways. The land shall always remain Crown land.”
“The commissioners have failed to understand that the Crown assets are legal distinct under Scots law and have continued to believe they should remain as one.”
In Scotland’s seas, the Crown’s claim to mussels and oysters found naturally in Scottish waters have recently been removed and passed to Marine Scotland.
Walter Speirs, chief executive of Muckairn Mussels Ltd and a director of Mussell Inn restaurants in Glasgow and Edinburgh has been a Crown Estate tenant for 30 years. His aquaculture plant is on Loch Etive.
At a parliamentary committee last year he favoured Crown Estate retaining management - which he said they did “very well”.
He said; “Speaking on behalf of the aquaculture industry, the last thing that we need is another period of uncertainty about who our landlord and/or regulator is.”
Local authorities including Highland, Moray and Western Isles have strongly pressed for devolution of Crown Estate powers to Scotland, with plans to further shift powers to councils in time.
A Crown Estate spokesman said: “Over the four years to 2014/15, our gross capital investment in Scotland was £33.4 million. This was invested in a range of assets including marinas, rural housing and farms as well as activity to support the offshore renewables industry.
“The Crown Estate is working closely with both the Scottish and UK governments to help deliver the devolution of the management of our economic assets in Scotland, as recommended by the Smith Commission and reflected in the Bill now before Westminster.
“We are working to inform the process to ensure a swift and smooth transfer of the management of our assets and are committed to protecting the interests of our staff, tenants, customers and the communities with whom we work throughout the process.”