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. Curtailing their power should be welcomed, argues Brian Wilson.
Given the glacial pace of change on such matters, it would be churlish not to welcome the unanimous decision at Holyrood to endorse the first stage of a Crown Estate Bill which will bring more controls and revenues to local authorities and communities. I first encountered the Crown Estate in the early 1980s when I discovered that they had, without an iota of local consultation, granted a long term lease over an entire west coast sea loch to a multinational company in the early days of salmon farming.
The Crown Estate largely ensured that salmon farming would develop along large, corporate lines rather than through smaller, more sustainable units as was certainly possible at that time. It was bizarre that an unaccountable body of which few people had then heard could hold such power to determine public policy.
My next discovery was that the Crown Estate was protected by an extraordinary Act passed in 1961 which made it an offence to call into question any action taken by them. As I became familiar with their capricious behaviour in many spheres, this was an offence which I cheerfully committed on many occasions.
At Holyrood, the Green MSP, Andy Wightman, referred to the Crown Estate as a “feudal relic” which should now be swept away. Instead, the legislation will create a “complicated structure of devolved management” which at least gives local authorities a role. Such reforms have long been resisted by a body which makes self-preservation an art form.
Andy Wightman is right and the Bill is still only a halfway house. However it should bring real benefits to fragile coastal communities and that was the straightforward aim when all this began.