First Minister renews calls for Crown Estate to be devolved

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By a Newsnet reporter
 
First Minister Alex Salmond has renewed calls for the Scottish Parliament to be given control of the Crown Estate (CE) after the matter was raised during yesterday’s First Minister’s Questions.
 
Responding to a question from SNP MSP Chic Brodie Mr Salmond insisted that Scotland’s future economic growth relied on Holyrood having control over the nation’s assets and called for the Crown assets to be “returned democratically” to Scotland.

The SNP leader said that the current Scotland Bill offered an “excellent opportunity to do this” and pointed out that the Parliament itself had supported the devolving of Crown Estates to Scotland by a “large majority”.

Mr Salmond said that Michael Moore, the current Secretary of State for Scotland, should reflect on the Parliamentary vote and the SNP’s election mandate and consider including the powers in the Scotland Bill.

Responding to a description of the current system as “archaic” Mr Salmond revealed that the CE had generated a surplus of almost £10 million since March and said: “The Crown Estate in Scotland should be administered in Scotland accountable to this Parliament.  The revenues should benefit Scotland and communities directly.”

Mr Salmond referred to the UK coalition’s plans to dispense around half of Scotland’s CE generated funds through the Big Lottery and added:

“I think that democratic process of accountability would be somewhat better than having some sort of lottery which is the most recent extraordinary proposal from the United Kingdom government which has been roundly criticised by our coastal communities.”

Crown Estate manages rural estates, retail premises, mineral and salmon fishing rights as well as around half the foreshore and almost all the Scottish seabed.  Currently all profits from Scotland go straight to the UK Treasury in London.

Figures show that the value of Scottish property assets increased by 13 per cent last year to £207.1 million.  This included a 42 per cent increase in the value of the marine estate, largely due to offshore renewables.

The SNP wants devolution of the Crown Estate to be included in the Scotland Bill, the party has said control over Crown assets would allow more money to be invested within Scotland and would allow the country to make the most of the massive offshore renewable- energy opportunities.

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Controversy

The issue is one of controversy.  Immediately after their resounding victory in the Holyrood elections the re-elected SNP government argued that control over the Crown Estate should be one of three additional powers, along with corporation tax and borrowing, to be included in the Scotland Bill.

In October last year there was anger after it emerged that the Crown Estate’s London administrators had sold commercial properties in Edinburgh without consulting Scottish Ministers.  The money raised went straight to the UK Treasury.

Crown Estate Chairman Sir Stuart Hampson recently implied that Scotland lacked the technical expertise needed to manage the complex renewable projects and that the Crown Estate’s pool of UK wide talent was needed in order to minimise the likelihood of investors losing confidence.

Writing in Bella Caledonia respected economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert said:

“[The Crown Estate] includes large holdings of rural and urban land, as well as extensive marine assets.  These marine assets include over half of the foreshore of the UK, all of the seabed out to the 12 nautical mile limit, and mineral rights, (excluding hydrocarbons), over the continental shelf.  These marine assets are particularly important in the Scottish context.  With the growth in renewable energy, there is likely to be a very large income derived from marine sites for generating and transmitting renewable energy.”

In another article in Bella Caledonia Andy Wightman wrote of the Crown Estate Commissioners:

“The first thing to note about this outfit is that it styles itself “The Crown Estate” which causes much confusion since this term (defined in the Crown Estate Act of 1961) actually describes what the CEC manages. The second thing to note is that the property rights that make up the Crown Estate are all defined by the Scots law of property and are all devolved (so in theory they could all be abolished by the Scottish Parliament). The CEC merely administer these public rights and collect the revenues (£9.1 million in 2009-10).

Why is the Crown Estate still administered by Commissioners in London who are unaccountable to the Scottish Parliament and yet manage Scottish public land? Why, when all the planning and environmental regulation is carried out by Scottish local authorities and Marine Scotland at some cost to the public purse do net revenues still flow straight to HM Treasury?”