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SIC “should be able to buy seabed”

Local authorities, MPs and MSPs in the north of Scotland are to rally together to push the Crown Estate Commission (CEC) into handing over control of the seabed to Scotland.

A delegation of councillors from throughout the Highlands and Islands met with Scottish environment minister Michael Russell yesterday morning (Tuesday) to voice their frustration with the current system of seabed ownership.

The CEC claim an ancient right of ownership of the marine environment out to the 12 mile limit, charging rent for any offshore activities from harbours and marinas, to fish farms and renewable power schemes and pouring the income into the UK Treasury.

Yesterday’s meeting with Mr Russell was to brief him prior to a meeting Crown Estate chairman Ian Grant.

Shetland councillor Alistair Cooper said last night that the delegation had asked Mr Russell to push the case for a transfer of seabed ownership at least to Scotland.

“He said what we were trying to achieve was going to be difficult and it was only by showing a unified voice that we would change the Crown Estate’s approach to things,” Mr Cooper said.

In 2006 all Scottish councils signed up to a report calling for more local control of the seabed.

Now they will seek to win the support of MPs and MSPs for a joint demand for some degree of ownership transfer, which will be presented to Mr Russell in the autumn.

Mr Cooper said Shetland Islands Council alone pays £40,000 a year to the Crown Estate, who also receive high rental payments for the islands’ marinas and fish farms.

He said he would like to see local authorities being able to buy their seabed so they could control its use, renting it out for development.

“I would like to see a greater recognition of the local dimension and an ability for the local community to buy areas of the seabed which we want to develop,” Mr Cooper said.

“If you build a wind farm onshore then the community can be paid a dividend, but if you go to sea with a wind farm or a tidal generating unit there’s no community benefit. That’s something that needs to be investigated and needs the Crown estate to be more helpful.”

Pete Bevington

Shetland Marine News

18 June 2008