Seven out of thirteen responses received by the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the role of the Crown Estate in Scotland favour its transfer to Scottish control.
Among the four defenders of the status quo is the Crown Estate Commission itself the West Highlands Anchorage and Moorings Association, Tobermory Harbour Association, Plockton Harbour Community Interest Company and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI).
Lining up in favour of transfer are the Scottish Government, the Highlands Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), Community Land Scotland, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and land reformer Andy Wightman. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland which is part of RSPB UK sits on the fence.
The Crown Estate Commission argues that it has pledged over £100m of future investment backed by its UK wide asset base to the development of marine renewables in Scottish waters and has developed effective partnerships with both Scottish public agencies and private investors. The SCDI admits that there are differing views among its members on the need for a new legal framework for the CEC but concludes that there “would appear to be a risk of a near term reduction in
the revenues available for investment in Scotland if the CE’s revenues and expenditure were to be fully devolved”. The West Highlands and Tobermory Associations express a strong preference for dealing with the London based Crown Estate rather than their local authority though Tobermory confusingly concludes “I am in total support of a Scottish Crown Estate that delivers directly to Scotland and plays a full and continuing role in regulating the seabed”.
Arguing for accountability to the Scottish Parliament Highland Council finds that the CE is not sufficiently responsive to delivering Scottish public policy objectives and has failed to demonstrate transparency or consistency in its dealings with local authorities in maximising the economic benefits for Scotland and for local communities. It claims that a proposed Memorandum of Understanding with the Estate has faltered on the issue of securing direct community benefit. Echoing Highland’s call for a transfer of responsibility the Western Isles Council claims that it would be “simply unacceptable for the Crown Estate to control the Outer Hebrides seabed and all its revenues from London as marine energy around these islands grows into a multibillion pound industry”.
As both an enterprise and a community development agency Highlands and Island Enterprise finds that the Crown Estate’s strong commercial focus and limited local reinvestment can work against community benefit and calls for the its transfer to Scottish control on the model of the devolved Forestry Commission Scotland.
SCVO and Community Land Scotland both argue that the Estate should be made accountable to the Scottish Parliament but with all revenues going specifically to local communities.
Pointing out out that the Crown Estate has the power to sell Scottish assets including the seabed without even consulting the Scottish Parliament the Scottish Government has condemned the current arrangements as “archaic” and called for the transfer of all its Scottish functions to Scottish control promising to use future revenues to establish a fund for future generations.