Al-Fayed protests land reform Bill

rz29s tony at
Mon Apr 22 11:57:44 BST 2002

Al-Fayed vows to quit Scotland if land reform Bill is passed 

By jenifer.johnston at 
Jenifer Johnston

Mohamed al-Fayed has threatened to quit his Highland estate and Scotland,
claiming the Scottish parliament's land reform Bill will turn the country
into a Russian backwater. 

Al-Fayed owns the lavish Balnagowan Castle on the shores of the Cromarty
Firth and 60,000 acres of surrounding land. He bought the property in 1972
for £60,000 and has spent 10 years and more than £4 million restoring the

Speaking to the BBC's Frontline Scotland programme, to be broadcast next
week, he said the bill, which gives crofters first refusal on land when it
comes up for sale, would be 'a stupid, completely unintelligent practice'. 

'We are not in Russia. This would be OK in Russia but not in Scotland. I
think those people have to go into a mental hospital. They must not be
Scots. It would be a disaster -- it will drive away everyone like me. It is
not acceptable, especially if I pack up and go, and I regret to say I would
do that.' 

Al-Fayed insists he will abandon Scotland, which he says is his 'home', if
the Bill, which gives local communities the chance to buy land from private
estates and gives crofters compulsory powers to buy valuable salmon fishing
rights, becomes law. The bill has passed the first stage and the Executive
will consider amendments in early June. 

Al-Fayed said: 'In Scotland people will remember me if those idiots go
forward and the Bill goes through -- I am giving back to the clans and the
Highlands and they will remember me, they can't move me. Scotland is my
home. I work hard -- I believe in the country and I believe in the
community I have invested in. This [Bill] is communism.' 

The Conservatives have compared the Bill to the Mugabe land-grab in
Zimbabwe. However, it is widely expected that the Executive will approve it. 

Alex Fergusson MSP, Tory convener of the rural development committee, said
al-Fayed's comments were to be expected. 

'This is what we warned about -- the fact is there are people who have a
considerable amount of money to spend and they will be completely
frightened off by the Executive. 

'We have to ask where that money will flow to now and money means jobs. The
principle undoubtedly is that the threat of the provisions in the Bill will
halt inward investment.' 

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, joint convener of the cross-party crofting group,
said al-Fayed did not want to consider the needs of local people. 

'His comments are over the top and he has given no thought to the people
that work and live on the land -- there is nowhere else for them to go. 

'Some landowners are excellent and work well with the community. But some
communities may feel they could do a better job themselves. There is a
responsibility for them to step up and register their interest in the land.' 

Dr Michael Foxley, chairman of Highland Council's land and environment
committee and himself a crofter, said the comments were 'totally absurd'. 

'Al-Fayed has nothing to fear from this Bill. He has grossly exaggerated
the impact to his estate and certainly to others. His salmon fisheries are
under no threat, and if the community decided they wanted to bid on land
that came up for sale it would be a long, arduous and difficult process. ' 

Despite the government's continued refusal to grant al-Fayed a British
passport, he considers his Highland estate -- prime land for farming,
fishing and shooting -- to be his home. The castle, with its pink turrets,
described as a 'monument to his millions', includes 12 sphinxes and other
statues with his face carved on, which al-Fayed has made listed monuments. 

He said: 'The local people are astonished that someone can come back from
Egypt, believing in the Scottish culture, Scottish history and the place as
home. I am so popular there.' 

Balnagowan factor Gordon Robertson said there was a clear economic benefit
to retaining large landowners in Scotland. 

He said: 'The jobs and employment which have been created at Balnagowan are
vital to the area. 

'The estate employs 27 full-time and four part-time staff. They include
gardeners, an electrician, a joiner, a mechanic, forestry workers, a farm
manager and cleaners for the holiday cottages. 

'All the employees are local people and it is estimated that around
£500,000 a year is generated within the local economy.' 

Sandy Chalmers, who lives in a house in nearby Bonar Bridge, where
unemployment is amongst the highest in the Highlands, said he believed the
proposed law should go even further. 

He said: 'The feudal system up here is just totally unacceptable.
Landowners own everything and everyone else has got to grub by with
nothing. More benefit should be coming back to the community because it is
our asset, yet it is controlled completely by people who don't live here.' 

Tenant farmer George Holden said of his boss: 'To describe himself as a
Scot is at the very least being very romantic. You don't become a Scot
because you can afford to buy a kilt. 

'The man is living in cloud cuckoo land if he thinks that is the case. To
his credit, he provides employment, but he should be working hard to fit in
with clauses of the Bill which might not do him harm but might actually do
him some good.' 

Frontline Scotland, BBC1, 

Tuesday, 10.35pm
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