Crofters' first compulsory land purchase

Ecovillage Network UK evnuk at
Mon Dec 6 15:28:05 GMT 2004

Are TLIO and these crofters advocating Mugabe style land grabs?
Wey-ho - up the cause of the crofters !!

Three VERY different articles here - The controversy is just beginning
click here for the 
Tony 0117 373 0346

Land grabs to the Right and Left
Ross Clark
(Filed: 05/12/2004)

England's cricketers were not present to witness the sad sight last week of 
a white landowner being thrown off the 26,800 acre estate that his family 
have lovingly tended for nearly a century. In fact, they were 6,000 miles 
away in Zimbabwe. But there were several Conservative spokesmen on hand to 
condemn a vote by crofters on the Isle of Lewis to exercise their right to 
buy the Pairc estate against the will of their English landlord, Barry 
Lomas - the first group of crofters to take advantage of the 
compulsory-purchase provisions in the Scottish Land Reform Act 2003.

Bill Aitken, the Conservatives' chief whip in the Scottish Parliament, 
describes the Scottish Land Reform Act as a "Mugabe- style land grab". The 
Conservatives' rural affairs spokesman, Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, says that 
granting crofters the right to buy estates undermines "the principles of 
private property and freedom of contract which underpin a free society".

I wouldn't choose to argue with this analysis, but I do feel that the 
Conservatives' opposition to the Land Reform Act would be a touch more 
convincing had they not spent the past 25 years devising their own ways of 
depriving landlords of their property.

Since Margaret Thatcher introduced the "right to buy" in 1980, 11.5 million 
council house tenants have exercised the right to buy their homes, and in 
not one of those transactions was the council, or its ratepayers who had 
paid for the homes to be built, allowed a say.

Now, the Conservatives have promised to extend the right to buy to one 
million housing association tenants. Like Highland lairds living in the 
shadow of Scottish land reform, housing associations now have a 
disincentive to invest or maintain their properties, knowing that a future 
Conservative government could force them to sell up. Disgracefully, as Bill 
Aitken complains, the Pairc crofters are being helped to buy Mr Lomas's 
estate with the aid of lottery funds. Yet the Tories are proposing similar 
subsidies for housing association tenants, who would be granted generous 
discounts when exercising their right to buy.

The Conservative Party is very good at standing up for the rights of rural 
landlords, yet it has done everything to undermine the rights of urban 
landlords. In 1967, the party supported Labour's Leasehold Reform Act, 
which gave the leaseholders of houses the right to buy their freeholds 
whether or not the freeholder wished to sell. As the Environment secretary 
in 1993, Michael Howard pushed through the Urban Development Act, which 
extended the right to buy to the leaseholders of flats.

As a result of these two measures, London's great residential estates, 
which were responsible for creating the city's much admired garden squares, 
are gradually being broken up. Worthy charities have been obliged to sell 
property investments to wealthy leaseholders.

What chance a Conservative spokesman using the term "Mugabe-style land 
grab" to describe the process by which an assortment of bankers, lawyers 
and television personalities is allowed to wrest the freehold of a house in 
Belgravia from an unwilling Duke of Westminster? None at all. Yet there is 
no fundamental distinction between this and the act of crofters depriving a 
laird of his estate, just the small matter that the residents of Belgravia 
tend to vote Tory while Highland crofters do not.

The defence of private property was once a central tenet of the 
Conservative Party, but it has become reduced to a vague principle to be 
discarded at whim according to electoral advantage.

Those poor landlords: My heart is breaking

Listening to some, one might believe that there had not been such pillage 
and violence in Lewis since the time of the Vikings. Apparently we are the 
new Communists and Mugabes, and who knows what else.

The people of the Pairc district of Lewis have decided to be so bold as to 
opt to buy the land where they live from their landlord despite the estate 
not being on the market.

The people of the area have a history of being at the forefront of changes 
in the Highlands and Islands. In 1887, they became legends because of the 
famous Pairc Deer Raid. The potato crop had failed and there was a famine, 
that led the locals to 'steal' deer from the moors so that they could have 
some food. They showed that they were no longer prepared to be docile and 
peaceful while injustices raged around them.

And they are again ahead of others by going ahead with a hostile buyout of 
the estate, regardless of the will of the landlord.

And what about the rights of the landlord?

Oh please.

Listening to some of them, you would think that the barbarian crofters were 
taking from them their ability to live, their homes, their possessions, and 
their first-born. That the hordes of crofters were falling upon them armed 
with scythes, flaming torches, and guns.

They are not. They are buying the estate from the landlord.
That word again, buying.

A little different from what is happening with Mugabe and his ilk.

The Pairc Estate is under the ownership of Barry Lomas, who lives in 
Warwickshire in England. He inherited the land from his father whose family 
have had it since the 1920s.

No-one has anything against the man himself, but simply the view that the 
set- up has to change.

And although the locals were to "seize" the land, Lomas would still have a 
home, food, and family. Many landlords left Gaels with a much grimmer 

And again, he will receive money for his estate. He will not lose anything 
without receiving something in return.

It is claimed that the new law will damage the rural areas, that it is a 
case of "Don't repair what isn't broken." Don't break up communities.

Unfortunately. Things are very broken indeed. The impression of crofters in 
caps and women in headscarves happily waving to the landlord who was always 
so generous to them was always false.

And as for breaking up communities.

There was plenty of breaking up at the time of the Clearances. And even 
taking the Clearances out of the equation, the landlords have always 
belonged to another world altogether.

They did not speak the same language as the community. They didn't take 
part in the same things. They did not live among the community.

I am afraid that the situation is very broken.

Prior to the First World War, there were 46,000 people living in the Outer 
Hebrides. Today there are only 24,000. Even if the landlord situation were 
not entirely to blame, the decline shows that the system is not keeping the 
people in the communities.

In the Pairc area of Lewis, where Lomas has his estate - and his father had 
before him - people have been lost even more quickly.

Prior to the First War, there were 2,000 people living in the area. Today 
there are about 400. Each village has empty houses. The village of Calabost 
has only one house inhabited.

The former Convenor of the Western Isles Council, Donald MacKay, who lives 
in the area, explained that much of the decline happened after 1945, when 
the work began to become scarce.

He said: "It used to be the case that people would leave and then return to 
raise families. Now they just leave and never come back apart from a very 
few who come back after they retire.

MacKay, a regular churchgoer from the village of Gravir in Lewis, is 
anything but a Robert Mugabe. He is a member of the local trust which wants 
to buy the estate.

But he has some outspoken views.

He said: "The landlords have never done anything for the people of this 
area. Every development and business that ever arrived was done by the 
locals themselves."

Lomas was unavailable for comment.

And is that not the case all over the Highlands and Islands? Landlords 
bring little to the local economy. The rural jobs are slipping away and the 
landlord system is doing nothing to benefit a living soul.

And then what about the argument that the new law is going to hurt 
landlords hard by making it uncertain whether they will receive anything 
for the land that they have bought?

Excuse me again. But they will receive a cash sum which will have been 
independently assessed.

And in any case, isn't everything in this world subject to change?

There have been many ups and downs and changes which have wiped out 
businesses in the Highlands.

The end of the Napoleonic War destroyed the kelp industry and changes in US 
fashions hammered the Harris Tweed. The islands once sold vast amounts of 
salt herring to the Russians, a trade which collapsed after the 1917 
Revolution. And then later the people of Ross-shire and the Isles profited 
from the coming of the Klondyker ships in the 1970s and 1980s, a trade 
which was then swept away by the end of the Soviet Union.

And all along the landlords said nothing.

And now they deserve no pity.

Landlords, welcome to the world.

The Sunday Times - Scotland,,2090-1389147,00.html
December 05, 2004

Comment: Allan Massie: Mugabe would be proud of this land grab

‘The whole principle of landlordism is being ripped apart.” It was with 
these triumphant words that Alasdair Morrison, the Labour MSP for the 
Western Isles, greeted the news that the residents of the 28,000-acre Pairc 
estate on Lewis have voted by a handsome majority to compel the estate’s 
owner to sell his property to them. Pairc is owned by Barry Lomas, an 
accountant (bad), who lives in Warwickshire (worse), and he does not want 
to sell the estate, which his family have owned since the 1920s and which 
he inherited from his father last year. Too bad; he’s going to be ousted.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 has, as Mr Morrison delightedly 
proclaims, destroyed the security of property rights in the Highlands, and 
Mr Lomas is going to be its first real victim. Other estates have, under 
the act’s provisions, already passed to crofters and residents, 
controversially enough, but with at least this saving grace: that in all 
previous examples, the proprietor had put his property on the market. This 
case is different. Mr Lomas doesn’t want to sell, but he is in effect to be 
made the subject of a compulsory purchase order; and this for no better 
reason than that other people want to take possession of what is legally his.

Now compulsory purchase orders are sometimes justifiable, even if they 
never seem so to people who are on the receiving end of them. But in any 
such instance, a court of law has to be satisfied that the public benefit 
is so great as to justify the infringement of the rights of the property 

In the case of the Pairc estate, there is no evident public benefit. There 
is certainly a substantial private benefit for the 379 people who live on 
the estate (even though 49 of them voted against the proposal to buy). They 
are lucky, of course. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act relieves them of any 
obligation to demonstrate public benefit. It’s enough simply for them to 
say “we want”, and then grab the estate at the price to be determined by an 
independent valuation. That price will, almost certainly, be lower than 
might be obtained if the estate was offered for sale on the open market. 
But this, though bad luck for Mr Lomas, is a minor matter.

Now granting people the right to take possession of something that isn’t 
theirs when its owner doesn’t want to sell would be deplorable enough if 
the would- be purchasers were paying for it themselves. But they aren’t. 
They are going to be given it as a present. The money to buy will be 
provided by the Scottish Land Fund, which is financed by the lottery, and 
by the Highlands and Islands community unit, which gets its money from the 
taxpayer. Could anything be more agreeable — for the residents of the Pairc 
estate, that is? At no expense to themselves — or next to no expense — they 
are going to be given a capital asset.

What is the justification? Why did the Scottish parliament choose to 
imitate the actions of Robert Mugabe, if, admittedly, in a more gentlemanly 
and orderly fashion? For the same reason actually: that indulging in this 
land grab was righting an ancient wrong. The Labour MSPs who, with a little 
help from their Liberal Democrat colleagues and the support of the SNP, got 
the measure through the parliament, claimed that it corrected the 
injustices of the Highland Clearances of the late 18th and 19th centuries.

But of course it didn’t. The people who suffered from the clearances are 
long dead. Their children and grandchildren are dead. Almost all their 
great- grandchildren are dead. It is impossible that the injustice they 
suffered can be corrected. To pretend otherwise is sheer sentimentality.

The 379 adult residents of the Pairc estate have suffered no injustice 
themselves. But they are being rewarded as if they have suffered 
grievously. Indeed the situation is still more ridiculous. The residents of 
the estate are going to become the latest beneficiaries of the clearances — 
the latest, but not the last, because others will follow their example. 
They are going to make a good thing out of the misfortunes of people some 
200 years ago, thanks to the sentimentality of our parliamentarians. It’s 
enough to make the most hard-faced asset-stripper chortle.

They may indeed make a very good thing out of it. Southern Energy has plans 
to build a 125-turbine wind farm on the estate; it will be capable of 
producing 250 megawatts of electricity at a rent for the next 25 years of 
£1m per annum. Nice work if you can get it.

And thanks to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, the 379 adult residents look 
likely to get it all, instead of part of it going to Mr Lomas. One assumes 
that what would have been his share will be taken into account when the 
independent valuation is made and the purchase price decided. That would 
mean, of course, that more public money would be needed to buy the estate 
for the private benefit of the residents. Lovely.

Or possibly not, for there is trouble ahead. Some of the residents don’t 
want the wind factory to be built. One, Martyn Imrie, who is the founder of 
the Pairc Protection Group, voted for the community to take control of the 
land in order to be able to reject the Southern Energy proposal. This may 
make for some amusement — for the rest of us anyway.

I expect Mr Imrie will fall. Few people refuse the offer of a large sum of 
money when it is dangled in front of them. For that reason, I can’t for a 
moment blame the residents of Pairc for taking advantage of the 
parliament’s generosity with other people’s money. They would have to be 
very high-principled to reject the chance of getting something for nothing.

Nevertheless the right provided for by the relevant clauses of the Land 
Reform (Scotland) Act remains objectionable. When one thinks of the poverty 
experienced by many in the shabby housing schemes of our cities, and the 
wretched conditions in which so many Scots are condemned to live, who can 
doubt that there are more worthwhile uses to which public money can be put 
than buying Highland estates? Who can doubt that there are more deserving 
recipients of public largesse than people living in the already highly 
subsidised Highlands and Islands? There is finally one desirable piece of 
land reform that the parliament has so far neglected, but which, if 
enacted, would be of far greater benefit than buying Highland estates. This 
is a reform of our unnecessarily stringent planning laws, which as they 
stand now have the effect of severely rationing the supply of land 
available for building, and so keep the cost of new houses artificially high.

Such reform would however give our MSPs no glow of self-satisfaction, no 
sense that they have righted an ancient wrong; it would only be useful. No 
fun in that. Certainly not when compared with the delight in ripping apart 
“the whole principle of landlordism”, which will incidentally ensure that 
there will be less and less private investment in Highland estates — and 
so, of course, a greater “perceived need” for more publicly funded 
compulsory purchases.

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