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Tenants Force Laird to Sell

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Huw WilliamsToday's reporter Huw Williams
The Isle of Lewis is witnessing a community's historic decision to buy the land they live on against the wishes of the land-owner.

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Huw Williams meets the people of Pairc in the Outer Hebrides who have voted to buy the estate they live on from their laird. (30/11/04).
Welcome to Pairc sign

Welcome to Pairc sign
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Counting the votes

Counting the votes.
Is it a yes or a no vote?

Is it a yes or a no vote?
Donnie MacDonald

Donnie MacDonald, Chairman of the Pairc Trust
A community in the Outer Hebrides has become the first in Scotland to try to force a laird to sell up under Holyrood's land reform laws.

The vote to take over the land will be the first test of the Scottish Executive's new right-to-buy legislation. All previous community buyouts have been negotiated with the consent of the owners.

But the people of the Pairc estate, on the eastern side of the Isle of Lewis, say they've tried unsuccessfully to reach an agreement with the estate's present owner, Barry Lomas, who's an accountant from Warwickshire.

On Monday night they voted overwhelmingly to use legal powers to force the sale, even though Mr Lomas doesn't want to put his land on the market.

Mr Lomas told me he wouldn't comment on the move until he'd had time to consider all the details of the residents vote, and what it meant.

But the decision has been attacked by the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association, formerly the Scottish Landowners' Federation.

"Pernicious legislation"

Spokesman John McKenzie said: "It was obviously predictable that sooner or later some community would take advantage of this pernicious legislation ... -but it is difficult to actually see where the benefit is going to come from."

However, Donald MacKay, a former local councillor for the area is convinced a forced buyout is the way forward.

Mr MacKay told me: "If it materialises that we are able to take over the estate, we can begin to look at how we can constructively do something for the young folk of the community."

The tenants now have six months to submit their case to ministers in the Scottish Executive, who will make the final decision on the bid. If it's approved, an independent expert will assess the market value of the estate, and the people of Pairc will have to try and raise the money.

"Zimbabwe style land grabs"

Reforms giving Scotland's rural communities the right to buy the land where they live came into effect in June. Supporters see them as a reversal of the Highland Clearances, but opponents say the law will result in what some have called "Zimbabwe-style land grabs".

The last time people in this part of Lewis defied their landlord was in November 1887, when more than a hundred killed several deer, and set-up camp on the land. 

The army, Royal Navy, and hundreds of marines were called in to arrest the raiders, but the alleged ringleaders were acquitted by the High Court in Edinburgh. The event is commemorated by a large cairn near the Pairc estate.


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