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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 July, 2003, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Highland estates buy-out hope
Loch Bi, South Uist - image supplied by Graham Leary
The estates cover South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula
Talks have begun on what could be the largest community buy-out of land in Scotland to date.

Owners of the 93,000-acre South Uist Estates have entered negotiations with members of the community in the Western Isles.

The estates, which cover South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula, are home to almost 4,000 people.

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Morrison said the idea of a community buy-out was "an excellent and logical development".

Under the Land Reform Act, passed by the Scottish Parliament in February, the community will have first refusal when the property comes on the market.

Strong support

Community representative Angus MacMillan said talks are taking place with the nine families who currently own the land.

Speaking on BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme, he said the next step is securing a mandate from the community before thinking about funding.

There is strong support on the islands for the buy-out, Mr MacMillan said.

Alasdair Morrison MSP
This is a process that is going to continue and we will support it
Alasdair Morrison MSP

He said: "Both the board of South Uist Estate and the community feel that in the long term there are opportunities that haven't been available until now, and it is always a problem in an area of this nature to try and generate funds that will be to the good of the community.

"There's economic benefits, social benefits and there's obvious environmental considerations as well."

Mr MacMillan described the relationship stretching back 40 years between the community and the current owners as excellent.

That relationship had made talks "easy" and both sides hoped to progress the issue amicably, he added.

As well as 850 crofts, the area includes fish farming operations, mineral quarries and potentially lucrative shooting and fishing rights.

Referring to previous community buy-outs, Mr Morrison said: "A beacon was lit in North Harris and, of course, in Assynt 10 years ago.

"This is a process that is going to continue and we will support it.

"The Scottish Executive and the UK Government support it, the financial framework is there, the legislative framework is there, as is the drive in various communities."

Angus MacMillan, community representative
"We have to get the finance and a lot more has to be done"

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