Thursday 12 March 2015

Crown Estates : The Land Question in Scotland

Yr Aflonyddwch Mawr welcomes the fact that Land Reform has now become a hot issue in Scotland.

Over 200 people turned up in Kirriemuir to hear leading land rights  expert Andy Wightman give a talk on the Land Question.

The question of the Crown Estates is a major subject of interest to the people of Wales and Scotland but as the report below shows be prepared for subterfuge and backtracking by the British State.

UK MINISTERS were accused last night of abandoning key guidelines from the Smith Commission over devolving Crown Estate lands.

The criticism came after it emerged during a session of Holyrood’s devolution committee yesterday that after the assets are devolved the Crown Estate would be able to make new investments with profits from them heading to the Treasury.

SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, who is a member of the committee and represented the SNP on the Smith Commission, said the move ran contrary to her understanding of what was discussed at the Smith Commission.

“This represents nothing less than an abandonment of the Smith Commission agreement by the UK Government,” she said.

“Despite what was agreed by all the parties in the Smith Commission, the Westminster government has unilaterally decided that the UK Crown Estate should be able to continue to buy up land and assets in Scotland – with all the revenue flowing to the Treasury in London.

“In effect, the UK Government’s plans would mean there are two Crown Estates operating in Scotland at the same time – it’s completely unsustainable.

“The UK Government simply can’t get away with this ludicrous plan, which goes entirely against the spirit of the Smith Commission proposals.

“They must listen to the experts and ensure that full responsibility for the Crown Estate and its assets are in Scotland’s hands.”

The revelation followed an earlier attack on the process of transferring powers over the Crown Estate to Holyrood by leading land rights’ expert Andy Wightman.

Giving evidence to MSPs he said the proposals set out in the UK Command Paper made the transfer process too complicated.

“I welcome the Smith Commission recommendations but I do not think as currently drafted the Command Paper does in fact implement the intent of the Smith Commission,” he said.

“It has the potential of frustrating the fairly simple task, in my view, of devolving the administration of the management of these rights in what should be a straightforward matter.

“In the way it’s been drafted this scheme could end up in the quagmire.” He added that the process should be a straightforward matter requiring sections of the Scotland Act to be repealed.

But the UK Government had proposed a complicated scheme to proceed with the reforms which he believed were “wholly unnecessary”.

The original recommendation of the Smith Commission was for responsibility for the administration and management of the Crown Estate up to 200 miles from the shore to be devolved to Scotland – but the UK Government’s Command Paper instead proposes a “scheme” for devolution of powers over the Crown Estate.

“As matters stand in the Command Paper, this is a recipe for confusion, conflict and chaos,” he added.

The Smith Commission recommended that Scotland got control of all Crown Estate land and assets. It would mean that all money coming in through rents from rural estates, mineral and salmon fishing rights, about half of the coastal foreshore, almost all of the seabed, as well as ports and offshore renewable energy, would come under the control of the Scottish Parliament.

During the committee hearing the boss of an offshore wind energy company said that it was in the interests of businesses aiming to develop green energy to have a simplified system of land ownership and control in place as it would make their work easier.

“We are one of the largest wind energy developers in the world. We choose to come to the UK to develop offshore wind because of the scale of the market,” said Dan Finch EDPR managing director.
“We chose to set up our base in Scotland because of the support of the Scottish Government, in particular, for wind energy.

“One of the problems we have is that while we broadly agree with the proposals, there are also powers that are retained with the UK Government, which would not facilitate the development of wind energy in Scotland.

“We need access to the market as a whole.”

A spokeswoman for the Scotland Office said: “The draft clauses published on 22 January transfer responsibility for the Crown Estate to the Scottish Government.

“There are several reasons for this: because assets and liabilities will be transferred they need to be properly identified; the rights of Crown Estate staff need to be protected; as do interests of defence and national security.

“Discussions are under way between the Governments to determine these matters.”


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