TheCrown Estate in Scotland – New Opportunities for Public Benefits

The Crown Estate in Scotland – New Opportunities for Public Benefits

Issued on behalf of the Crown Estate Review Working Group

A major report, published today (Wednesday), sets out the case for a review of the Crown Estate in Scotland so that the resources involved, including Scotland’s seabed and much of its foreshore, produce greater benefits for local communities.

The report – “The Crown Estate in Scotland – New Opportunities for Public Benefits” – has been produced by the Crown Estate Review Working Group, which consists of representatives of all six local authorities covering the Highlands and Islands as well as  Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).

These organisations have all endorsed the report and copies have been submitted to the First Minister, Jack McConnell, and the Secretary of State for Scotland, Douglas Alexander, with a request for a meeting to discuss the report’s recommendation that:

“The Secretary of State for Scotland and Scottish Ministers should, given the changed circumstances of devolution, implement an appropriately constituted review to ensure that the property, rights and interests which make up the Crown Estate in Scotland contribute more fully to the delivery of Scottish Executive policies and the wellbeing of the people of Scotland.”

Expectations within the partners that there will be a review have increased as both the Secretary of State and First Minister have already said they will examine the report closely.

The property rights, which make up the Crown Estate in Scotland, are managed by the Crown Estate Commission (CEC) as part of the UK-wide Crown Estate, but are a distinct component of it because they are owned by the Crown in Scotland under Scots law.

Chairman of the CERWG, Councillor Richard Durham, said: “Many people have heard of the Crown Estate, but most are uncertain about what it is and how it is managed.  This report clears away the mist.  It provides for the first time a clear description of the property rights which make up the Crown Estate in Scotland, including their nature, ownership, use and management.  The report then identifies ways in which these property rights could be managed to deliver greater public benefits and accountability in Scotland.”

Since devolution, the Scottish Parliament can legislate to affect the Crown Estate in Scotland, but the administration of these Scottish property rights by the CEC is still reserved as a legacy of the transfer of the administration to London in the 19th century. 

Each year more than 80% of the CEC’s income from Scotland is net surplus revenue that goes to the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund for general government expenditure.  There are other property rights of the Crown in Scotland that are already devolved to the Scottish Executive and contribute to the Scottish Consolidate Fund.

There has been a marked contrast in the response of the CEC to devolution compared to that of the Forestry Commission (FC), which was in a similar position to the CEC at devolution. Both have re-structured their operations in Scotland since 1999:

the FC has created Forestry Commission Scotland accountable to the Scottish Parliament and acting as a department of the Scottish Executive to help deliver the Executive’s policies in Scotland

The CEC has ended its management of the Crown Estate in Scotland as a distinct unit of the Crown Estate (the Scottish Estate), closed its Scottish HQ and integrated the management of the property rights of the Crown in Scotland sector by sector with those in the rest of the UK.

The CERWG report shows that there are immediate opportunities to increase the benefits from the Crown Estate in Scotland within existing arrangements as well as further opportunities under more devolved arrangements.  The planned Marine Bill at Westminster is identified as a key means by which Scotland could again become responsible for the administration of its own territorial seabed.

Councillor Durham added:  “It is over 50 years since anyone had a proper look at this issue.  There is now a compelling case for new arrangements given the changed circumstances of devolution. This is a Scotland-wide issue, but there is particular potential for the management of Scotland’s seabed and public foreshore to contribute far greater benefits to the many remote and rural communities in the Highlands and Islands.  Increased local control and accountability will be particularly important with the development of marine renewable energy in the region.”

The CERWG’s landmark report is over 180 pages long.  It is available as hard copy and on Highland Council’s website via the home page.