A legal fight in a test case to stop the community buyout of the Pairc estate has began in Stornoway Sheriff Court.
A last minute appeal against what would be Scotland’s first hostile crofting land buyout was lodged in the court on Thursday.
Without the legal challenge crofters could take control of the land by Christmas but the papers lodged just before the deadline risks railroading the forced purchase..
Landord Barry Lomas wants to overturn Scottish Government’s decision to award the Pairc community the right to buy the 20,000 acre estate – plus the potentially lucrative right to build windfarms – against his wishes.
The first airing of the appeal will be in Stornoway on 23rd June.
Mr Lomas has also been considering re-launching a fresh judicial review against the Scottish Government alleging that the Land Reform Act breaches individuals’ human rights under European laws.
The forced land sale legislation has never been used in anger since it was introduced by the former Labour administration. Elements of it was found to be seriously flawed which hampered the Pairc bid and required corrective legislation.
Pairc Trust, the body driving the buyout says the independent valuation of the estate should be known by 18th May. It is being carried out by Baird Lumsden, who have been appointed by the Scottish Government. The firm’s appointment followed an objection by Mr Lomas to the originally appointed independent valuer.
If the legal challenge is unsuccessful it has until 21st September to find the cash and complete the buyout.
Angus McDowall, chairman of Pairc Trust, said: “The latest legal action by the landlord is deeply disappointing but par for the course.
“It has been clear for many years that he will use every tactic at his disposal in an attempt to delay and frustrate the legitimate and clearly-expressed aspirations of our community, and we can expect more of the same now that the Government has backed us.”
He added: “Meanwhile, we will re-double our efforts to carry out the wishes of the community. We have already given our views to the independent valuer on the value of the assets to be purchased, and we await his conclusions with interest.
“We have also launched a fund-raising campaign which we will be pursuing in the weeks and months ahead. I would ask everyone who has supported us throughout this long saga to help us financially as we approach the vital final stages – all donations will be acknowledged, and will be returned if for any reason the buyout does not proceed.
“I should also like to reiterate that, as we have always stated since the Trust were formed, all current Directors of Pairc Trust will stand down once the community has purchased the land and lease, and a new election will take place for Directors to lead the new community-owned estate.
“None of us is involved in this for any personal gain, and we totally reject the scurrilous and libellous accusations made by the landlord in his increasingly desperate efforts to divide and rule the community.”
Pairc Trust insists “there is no truth in allegations that certain directors of Pairc Trust are pursuing the buyout for personal financial gain.
It maintained the the “misunderstanding seems deliberately to have been fostered by the landlord for his own ends” arose because two directors are crofters in villages where SSE plan to build a giant commercial wind-farm.
The Trust said: “Any financial gain will therefore arise because of their position as crofters, not because they are directors of Pairc Trust.
“Moreover, decisions on where turbines should be located were made by SSE and Pairc Renewables Ltd (a company controlled by Mr Lomas), not by the Pairc Trust, and the Pairc Trust have no role in the decision on whether the wind-farm should be approved.
“The position of the Pairc Trust on the commercial wind-farm proposals is neutral, although they have been mandated by the community to maximise the community benefit from any commercial wind-farm should one proceed.”
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