Ministers in bid to reap the benefits from crown's Scottish estate profits

THE body that manages the seabed around Scotland should be more accountable to the Scottish people to help the country benefit from its own natural resources, according to Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead.

Scottish ministers are to seek the support of the UK government to change the way the Crown Estate is managed in an attempt to help communities north of the Border benefit directly from the millions generated by its assets.

The body, which runs the Queen's hereditary land on behalf of the UK, boasts a marine estate that includes half of Scotland's foreshore as well as the territorial seabed around the country to a distance of 12 nautical miles. It also manages around 102,000 acres of land in five rural and urban settings in Scotland.

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Last year, the organisation's income generated in Scotland fell by a quarter to 13.1 million, with profits of around 9.1m, money the Scottish Government hopes can be used to benefit Scotland directly.

At present, cash from the activities undertaken by the Crown Estate, which is one of the largest landowners in the UK, is paid to the Treasury.

With income generated on Scotland's seabed expected to soar in the wake of a series of licences granted to offshore renewable operators, Scottish ministers believe it is an appropriate time to act on a recommendation made by the UK Treasury select committee in March that a memorandum of agreement be signed by the Scottish Government and the Crown Estate.

The committee called for a "consolidation" of the working relationship between the pair in order to improve the management of assets in Scotland.

Mr Lochhead has already held a number of meetings with UK government and Crown Estate officials to discuss altering the set-up, which he described yesterday as "out of step with modern and progressive political arrangements" as other responsibilities for the marine sector were currently being devolved.

"The people of Scotland should benefit from our marine and natural resources yet, despite the arrival of devolution over a decade ago, the Crown Estate remains unaccountable to Scotland," he said.

"It is time for the Crown Estate to deliver greater benefits to Scotland and our communities. The election of a new UK coalition government provides the opportunity for the Crown Estate to fully adapt to the post-devolution era, with greater transparency and accountability for their activities north of the border.

"A series of meetings have already begun between Scottish Government officials and their Crown Estate and UK government counterparts to explore the options. At my most recent meeting with the Secretary of State for Scotland we agreed to hold further talks in the near future about the Crown Estate. Scotland's offshore energy potential is vast and we have the opportunity to be a world leader in this area. Therefore we are continuing to work closely and constructively with the Crown Estate on our ongoing offshore renewables work."

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Labour's Highland MSP Peter Peacock said his party had argued for the Crown Estate to adapt in Scotland, and would welcome any improvements in management. However, he added: "Scotland has access to the UK-wide revenues of the Crown Estate, and they are now and will remain for many years greater than any purely Scottish revenue generated."

Nobody at the Crown Estate could be contacted for comment.