Our estate strives to land secure future for Islay

Private landowners in Scotland make convenient whipping boys for those who are obsessed with land reform.

Islay Estates Company wants a bright future for Islay. Picture: Contributed
Islay Estates Company wants a bright future for Islay. Picture: Contributed

Most private landowners I know salute the efforts of community groups who make a fist of owning land. It’s not easy for anyone, be they private or publicly funded. It’s a pity the same recognition is not afforded to privately run estates which make a significant contribution to the rural economy.

On Islay Estates we have felt this very acutely recently, in that we seem to be at the centre of misguided attempts to undermine private landownership in Scotland.

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In her Perspective article (5 May), Lesley Riddoch confected a picture of Islay Estates as being somehow a barrier to local development and derelict in its duties.

In doing so, she chose to link Islay Estates with the issue of unoccupied houses. The houses mentioned in the article are not even owned by the estate, a fact conceded.

The estate is doing all it can, working with Argyll Community Housing Association (ACHA) and Argyll and Bute Council, to provide affordable housing. Land for 20 affordable houses has been recently conveyed free of charge to ACHA, with the estate picking up many of the legal and professional fees.

We own more than 40 well-maintained properties used for residential lets. Priority is given to key workers such as teachers and medical staff, but sometimes a let becomes available and no enquiries come forward.

We have 41 agricultural holdings, with 35 secure tenants occupying these lets. We are encouraging business to flourish on the island, with 16 industrial units, again let out at considerably below the mainland average. There is a plan to provide 12 small commercial units at Bowmore. We have invested heavily in the Bridgend Hotel over six years to make a loss-making operation profitable.

We are not perfect, however. We have had disputes with a small number of tenants and there are two with whom we are in current negotiations. We know our strengths and weaknesses.

The estate, however, wants a bright future for Islay and to suggest we are detached from seeking the best future is a falsehood that cannot go unchallenged. We believe our story is one of striving for success for the island, its businesses and its residents.

• Alastair Margadale is chairman of the Islay Estates Company