Roseanna Cunningham: Devote Crown lands to the common good

Under reforms a council or local community could seek to obtain rights to manage salmon fishing. Picture:  Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
Under reforms a council or local community could seek to obtain rights to manage salmon fishing. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
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Earlier this week, I introduced to the Scottish Parliament plans to reform the Scottish Crown Estate, and give local communities the opportunity of more control over assets in their area.

This will include opportunities for councils and local communities to directly manage the Crown Estate assets in Scotland. These assets have a total capital value of £275.7 million – generating approximately £15 million of gross annual revenues.

As you may be aware, the Scottish Crown Estate includes a diverse range of assets that influence many aspects of rural and coastal life in Scotland. The estate includes thousands of hectares of rural land, mining rights, urban property and half of Scotland’s foreshore. The estate also includes leasing rights to the seabed out to 200 nautical miles for nationally important infrastructure such as telecommunication cables and oil and gas pipelines, as well as for activities such as renewable energy.

This is a significant moment for Scotland as it is the first ever legislation on the Scottish Crown Estate. For many years there had been calls for the Scottish Crown Estate to be devolved and that became a reality in April last year, when Scottish ministers secured devolution of management of the Scottish Crown Estate under the Smith Commission.

The result is that for the first time in the modern era the Scottish Parliament can legislate on management of the Scottish Crown Estate, including opening up the possibility of local councils and communities taking control over the management of assets. I am pleased that some local councils and communities have already expressed just such an interest in taking control of some assets and I look forward to working with them to make these ambitions a reality, where possible.

Following extensive consultation last year that looked at a number of options to reform the framework of the Crown Estate in Scotland, the Scottish Crown Estate Bill proposes reforms to enable management of the estate assets in a way that can better contribute to wider social wellbeing, economic development and the environment while maintaining the estate’s overall value.

It will also make it possible for the first time to change who manages individual assets. For example, under these reforms a council or local community could seek to obtain management rights over their local foreshore or manage salmon fishing rights on particular stretches of Scotland’s rivers.

It is clear, however, that a “one size fits all” approach is simply not practical for such a diverse range of assets. I therefore want it to be possible, on a case-by-case basis, for local communities as well as councils to manage individual assets while recognising that some assets may need to continue being managed at the national level.

Change needs to be handled carefully and sensitively to ensure uncertainty for staff is minimised and tenants and other customers can continue to receive a high standard of service. Importantly, the Crown Estate in Scotland will continue its excellent work in managing the estate across the country, creating prosperity for Scotland and its communities.

My intention is for the proposed reforms to happen within a national framework that ensures assets can continue to be well maintained, while enabling management in a way that reflects local priorities.

The reforms have been designed to create significant opportunities for Scotland while also protecting the Crown’s interests in these areas.

I look forward to healthy debate about how we best promote and inform decisions on managing assets while ensuring that benefits for communities and the country as a whole, are maximised.

At the same time high standards of openness and accountability are key which is why I have put these principles at the very heart of this important Bill.

Roseanna Cunningham is Cabinet Secretary for Land Reform