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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 November, 2004, 14:52 GMT
Tenants vote to 'force' land bid
Pairc Estate sign
The landowner faces what amounts to a hostile takeover
A community in the Outer Hebrides has become the first in Scotland to try to force a laird to sell up under Holyrood's new land laws.

Crofters have voted for a "hostile" buyout of the 25,000-acre Pairc Estate, on the east side of the Isle of Lewis.

Earlier negotiations between a community trust and the landlord, Barry Lomas, an accountant from Warwickshire, failed to produce an agreement.

The historic move was backed by 70% of people on the estate who cast a vote.

The vote to take over the land will be the first test of the Scottish Executive's right-to-buy legislation.

Previously, all community buyouts have been negotiated with the consent of the owners.

No doubt the proposals for the windfarm have hastened things along nicely
John McKenzie
Scottish Rural Property and Business Association
Under the shake-up, crofting communities can force a laird to part with land even thought it has not been put up for sale.

The tenants have six months to prepare a case for submission to the Scottish Executive, which will make the final decision on the bid.

Plans have been drawn up for a multi-million pound windfarm on the estate.

'Pernicious legislation'

As many as 125 giant turbines could generate an estimated revenue stream of almost 1m annually for the next 25 years.

The decision to attempt to force the Pairc estate's owner to part with his land was attacked by the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association, formerly the Scottish Landowners' Federation.

Spokesman John McKenzie said: "It was obviously predictable that sooner or later some community would take advantage of this pernicious legislation and no doubt the proposals for the windfarm have hastened things along nicely.

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"It is difficult to actually see where the benefit is going to come from."

He added: "I think there will not be a large number of these hostile buyouts but clearly the prospect of huge incomes is going to distort that."

"Compulsory purchase is absolutely fine for hospitals, schools, roads and that sort of purpose but this is not in that league."

But Donald MacKay, a former convener of Western Isles Council and Sandra Holmes, from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said a forced buyout was about creating a future for the next generation.

Mr MacKay said: "If it materialises that we are able to take over the estate, we can begin to look at how we can constructively do something for the young folk of the community."

Community ownership

Ms Holmes added: "One of the benefits, as we see it, of community land ownership is that it gives the local community control over the land asset that they all live and work on.

"They can then make decisions regarding the land asset with the best interests of the community at heart, which can be different to a private landowner who is perhaps looking after their personal point of view."

Reforms giving Scotland's rural communities the right to buy the land where they live came into effect in June.

Crofters have voted for a "hostile" buyout
The legislation is aimed at giving local groups a legal right to take over tracts of land where it is in the community's interest.

The right-to-buy laws force landlords to sell land, although it has to be proved the move would be beneficial to the community.

Land reformers have welcomed the strengthening of the right-to-buy.

But opponents said they would be concerned if the new laws led to a distortion in the land market and have compared the overhaul to a Zimbabwe-style land grab, rather than to a reversal of the Highland clearances.

First refusal

Groups of rural residents are able to register an interest in taking over land when it comes on to the market.

This would give them first refusal if the land was put up for sale.

However, they would have to show that such a buyout would contribute towards the sustainable future of their community and was not merely a negative attempt to block new development.

Earlier, MSPs had decided to change the definition of a community by increasing the population limit from 3,000 to 10,000.

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