The first test of the controversial Scottish Land Reform Act will be ensnarled in the courts for many years after the latest outcome of a hearing at Stornoway Sheriff Court.
The legality of the human rights’ aspect of the Scottish Government sanctioning a forced right-to-buy the bulk of the Pairc crofting estate on Lewis will be decided by the Court of Session after sheriff David Sutherland directed that the top civil court in Edinburgh was the appropriate jurisdiction.
Landlord Barry Lomas, a Leamington Spa accountant, arguments includes the unreasonableness of the right-to-buy decision and its conflict with natural justice.
Mr Lomas has offered an amicable deal to villagers on the crofting estate in South Lochs on the east coast of Lewis.
The community body, Pairc Trust, which is driving the buyout has not yet indicated if it will accept his offer.
In the meantime, the decision of the Scottish Government to permit a hostile buyout to force Mr Lomas to hand over the land is entangled in a maze of legal action.
The Edinburgh court will now consider if the Scottish Parliament acted lawfully under the European Convention on Human Rights by permitting a community to take control of a crofting estate despite the owner’s express refusal to sell.
It will take at least 12 months before the case even reaches the Inner House of the Court of Session and the final outcome may not be known for many years.
If Mr Lomas wins then the Scottish Government may raise a challenge in the Supreme Court in London.
Only then will the rest of the legal battle take place. A raft of other objections has now been suspended at Stornoway Sheriff Court until the crucial findings are known from the Court of Session.
Yesterday Mr Lomas’ solicitor Duncan Burd said: “My client is increasingly frustrated at the inability of those representing the local community to come forward with meaningful proposals and it is likely that the eight wasted years may well be doubled in time before judicial procedures are exhausted and that can not be in anyone’s interest.”
Ironically, nobody actually lives on the 20,000 acres of boggy moorland being fought over but at stake is the control of potentially lucrative profits from a £110 million wind farm.
Residents have declined to buy out the croftland villages, opting, instead, for the unoccupied common grazings.
The ground presently has little value expect as rough pasture for livestock but Scottish and Southern Energy’s application to build a giant windfarm has dramatically raised the odds.
But, in a layout revised since the original buyout was mooted, about half of the 26 turbines would not be located on common grazings and some would be sited on apportionments – land specifically reserved for individual crofters including some of the community’s leading figures supporting the buyout.
A spokesperson for the Pairc Trust community body was not available for comment
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding