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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Disunity hits community bid
Loch Bi, South Uist - image supplied by Graham Leary
The estates cover South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula
An island community's attempt to stage Scotland's largest land buy-out is being challenged by part of the local crofting group.

Talks began this month between 3,000 islanders on the South Uist Estates and their landlords.

But Eric Wallis, one of the 800 crofters on the estate in the Hebrides, said about half that number were opposed to any such deal going through.

The 90,000-acre estate stretches across Eriskay, South Uist, and most of the island of Benbecula.

The community and the landlords, the nine families who currently own the land, had raised concerns that the recent reform of land legislation could allow the fragmentation of the most profitable areas on the estate by private interests.

However Mr Wallis, who has been appointed chairman of the crofters action group, said that he wanted plans for the buy-out stopped before negotiations went any further.

A handful of people have so far rejected the idea of a community buy-out
Ralph Thompson,
Community steering group
"I am not convinced that private interests will come in from outside to, as some people have put it, cherry-pick profitable parts of the estate," he said.

"I think some of what has been said at the public meetings has been scaremongering. I'm sure the estate owners would prefer to sell it all at once instead of taking a piecemeal approach.

"In October, when the crofting reforms kick in, we will have the right to buy our crofts individually without having to be part of a large community scheme."

Mr Wallis said that some residents living on the estate had been angered by a lack of information about talks for a buy-out.

North Harris
Community buy-puts have been growing in scale
But Ralph Thompson, also a South Uist crofter, said that public meetings were being held to inform locals about what was happening.

Mr Thompson, a crofter at Daliburgh and spokesman for the community steering group which is behind the bid, said he was unsure of the basis for the negative comments.

"The whole point of the public meetings is to give people information," he said.

"A handful of people have so far rejected the idea of a community buy-out."

The community eventually plans to submit a bid to the Scottish Land Fund, which allocates money for community buy-outs.

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

The South Uist Estates are almost double the size of Scotland's largest community buy-out to date, the 55,000-acre North Harris Estate, sold earlier this year for 4.5m.

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09 Jul 03  |  Scotland
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13 Aug 01  |  Scotland
Isle be yours - for 3.85m
10 Aug 01  |  Scotland

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