The North West Mull Community Woodland company describes its plans to bring the island of Ulva into community ownership as “both viable and sustainable”
THE COMMUNITY GROUP behind plans to bring the Hebridean island of Ulva into community ownership have defended the feasibility of their proposals, following criticism from the island’s current owner.
Last week, the buyout plans received endorsement from the local community, including Ulva’s six residents as well as all those who fall under the membership area of the North West Mull Community Woodland Company (NWMCWC). Of the 255 people who voted in the postal ballot on the issue, 163 – or 63.9 per cent – voted in favour of the proposed buyout.
The NWMCWC now has eight months to raise £4.2m to purchase the island. Following the vote, the Independent newspaper also reported that the Scottish Government had blocked the sale of the island to billionaires in order to allow locals the chance to organise a buyout of their own.
“When I put the island up for sale, I was looking for a buyer who would have Ulva’s interests at heart and have the funds to run it.” Ulva landowner Jamie Howard
However, the island’s current landowner Jamie Howard, who inherited Ulva from his mother in 2014, was quoted in the Times newspaper questioning the NWMCWC’s ability to run the island, even if they were able to purchase it.
“When I put the island up for sale, I was looking for a buyer who would have Ulva’s interests at heart and have the funds to run it,” Howard told the Times.
Arguing that it would take a further £4m to properly administer the island, Howard went on to say: “I don’t see how they can find the funds to run it properly.”
Howard also reportedly stated that the Scottish Government has behaved “shamefully” over the issue of the buyout, possibly referring to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement at the SNP’s Autumn conference last year that the Scottish Government had granted permission to the people of Ulva to bring the island into community ownership.
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Permission was sought by the community group under the Land Reform (Scotland) 2003 Act, which allows rural communities first right of refusal on land for sale.
Responding to Howard’s remarks, NWMCWC chairman Colin Morrison told CommonSpace that it was confident in the feasibility study it had commissioned, as well as its draft business plan, saying: “The analysis shows that the development proposals contained in the accompanying business plan are both viable and sustainable in the longer term within the context of an integrated development strategy.”
“We are not aware of any actions by the Scottish Government that are contrary to the relevant legislation.” NWMCWC chairman Colin Morrison
Morrison: “As with any business, the speed of development impacts greatly on the capital requirements. You will see from the foregoing that we would not agree with Mr Howard’s analysis. Which is not to say that we feel he has acted other than in good faith in the limited dealings we have had with him.”
Responding to Howard’s accusations towards the Scottish Government, Morrison said: “Mr Howard suggests that the Scottish Government has acted “shamefully” but we are not aware of any actions by the Scottish Government that are contrary to the relevant legislation.
“Over the coming months, should we be granted the right to proceed, we anticipate that we will be extremely busy with a major programme of fund raising and publicity to ensure that the project remains to the fore.”
“This goes to the heart of the land reform process which is about who makes the decisions and has control over the destiny of communities.” NWMCWC director John Addy
Following the success of the postal ballot, NWMCWC director John Addy commented further, saying: “A new owner would be free to make his or her own decisions on what happens to the island, who and how many people can live there, and whether or not to encourage visitors or even whether to continue to allow operation of the ferry and access to the pier by fishermen.
“Community ownership however, will bring certainty that repopulation of the island and its social and economic development for the common good will always be the top priorities.
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“This goes to the heart of the land reform process which is about who makes the decisions and has control over the destiny of communities – landlords or the communities themselves? We strongly believe it should be the latter.“
The NWMCWC’s proposals for the Ulva buyout include the provision of security of tenure for existing and future residents, improving housing stock and infrastructure, revitalising and expanding agriculture, a sustainable forestry policy, improving tourism, enhaving biodiversity and safeguarding natural habitats while supporting marine industries, fishing and aquaculture.
The decision as to whether to trigger the NWMCWC’s right to buy now falls to Cabinet Secretary for Land Reform Roseanna Cunningham.
Picture courtesy of James Stringer
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