Barra and Vatersay residents consider land buyout

Vatersay residents will be asked about land buyouts along with Barra. Picture: Brian Sutherland
Vatersay residents will be asked about land buyouts along with Barra. Picture: Brian Sutherland
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RESIDENTS on two Scottish islands are being asked whether they wish to become the latest community to consider a land buyout.

A series of meetings are taking place on Barra and Vatersay in the Western Isles this week for islanders to consider a takeover, which would include all fishing and mineral rights on the 16,000-acre isles.

Barra are Vatersay, which are linked by a causeway and have around 1300 inhabitants, are currently under the ownership of the Scottish Government’s agriculture department, as a result of a long-standing historical arrangement and after additional land was handed to it in 2003 by former laird Iain MacNeill.

Part of the deal by Mr MacNeill, whose family lines go back more than 1000 years on Barra, was that the estate should be given to islanders free of charge should they decide to vote for ownershup.

Residents are now attending public meetings to investigate whether they want to take this step.

They will not only discuss the 9,000 acres donated by Mr MacNeill, who died two years ago, but also the possibility of taking over the remainder of Barra and Vatersay, which has over 400 crofts.

This has been under the control of the agircultural department through an historical legacy of the Land Reform uprising a century ago.

The debates have been organised by Coimhearsnachd Bharraidh agus Bhatarsaidh – Barra and Vatersay Community.

A spokesman for the community-owned company aimed at the future development of the islands, said:

“The whole purpose of the meetings is basically testing the temperature of the water, and seeing what the feeling is locally.

“It is for the community toconsider the pros and cons of a community buyout. This is an important step in the potential development of a land buyout.

“This is a pre-feasability to see what the local mood and perception is.”

Local councillor Donald Manford said: “I am sure the islanders want to take control of their own affairs, although there will still have to be a vote to decide.”

Three guest speakers are helping inform the debate and gather local reaction.

These include David Cameron, chair of Community Land Scotland which helps support small rural communities in considering taking ownership of public land.

Also taking part is Murdo MacKay, director of the West Harris Trust which recently won a Lottery grant of £380,000 to help kick start a process of allowing their community to manage their own affairs as they develop plans for affordable housing, a hydro-electric scheme and other economic development projects.

Helen MacDougall of HIE Community Assets Branch is also speaking about how they assist communities in the preparation for a bid and offers start-up advice.

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil, who lives on Barra, said: “We will have to wait and see what the feeling in the community is regarding the community buy-out.”

A community buyout of Barra and Vatersay would be the latest in a long succession throughout the Highlands and Islands.

Only last month, residents on the small island of Scalpay, off Harris, voted to take over the running of their own affairs.

The Community Right to Buy allows communities with a population of less than 10,000 in Scotland to apply to register an interest in land.

The In 1993, Assynt Crofters Trust bought North Assynt Estate for £300,000. Four years later came the purchase of Eigg for £1.5million by the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust.

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 the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust this year celebrated a decade since buying the island for £4million.

North Harris Trust made a £2.2 million community buyout in 2003, while Storas Uibhist purchased South Uist Estate in 2006 for £4.5million.