Highlands & Islands

Crown Estate marine rights should be devolved, MPs say

Shetland's coast
Image caption The Crown Estate owns half of Scotland's coast and almost all its seabed

The Crown Estate's control of 50% of Scotland's coast and almost all the seabed should be devolved to local authorities, MPs have said.

In a new report, the Scottish Affairs Committee said management of the marine environment lacked transparency and public consultation.

The Crown Estate owns the rights to the sites of fish farms, renewable energy developments, ports and marinas.

It said its commitment to Scotland was "full and whole-hearted".

The Crown Estate is owned by the Queen and managed by an independent board known as the Crown Estate Commissioners.

The estate's revenues do not belong to the monarch and surplus revenue from its £7bn-worth of business is paid each year to the Treasury for the benefit of all UK taxpayers.

The Scottish Affairs Committee said the UK government should commit to having the Crown Estate's marine responsibilities and rights related to Scotland devolved to the Scottish government, on condition the powers were further devolved to local level.

'Tax collector'

MPs gathered evidence from communities in Orkney, Shetland, Caithness, Argyll and the Western Isles.

Committee chairman Ian Davidson said they received responses that were highly critical of the Crown Estate.

In the report, the criticism includes claims the organisation behaved like an "absentee landlord" and "tax collector".

Mr Davidson said the Crown Estate had raised millions more pounds from its assets in Scotland than it invested back into coastal areas.

He added: "Considering the nature and extent of the problems identified to us, almost exclusively in relation to the marine and coastal assets in Scotland, we have had to conclude that the Crown Estate Commissioner should no longer be the body responsible in these areas.

"The point is to conserve these assets and maximise the benefits to the island and coastal communities most closely involved with them.

"We are convinced the only way this can be done is by devolving as much of the responsibility - and benefit - down to the level of those local communities as possible."

'Major step'

Gareth Baird, the Crown Estate's Scottish commissioner, said the Scottish Affairs Committee's report would be considered.

He said: "Our commitment to Scotland and its economy remains full and whole-hearted, and we'll be studying the report's recommendations closely, looking at how we can build on the work of our world-class renewable energy team in supporting the offshore ambitions of the Scottish government and local communities."

A Scotland Office spokesman said: "We will consider the Scottish Affairs Committee report and provide a full response but it is clear the report does not support the Scottish government's position as it claims.

"The call for devolution from the committee is to local authorities rather than the Scottish Parliament.

"The UK government has already taken a major step towards putting Crown Estate activity at the heart of Scottish life through the Coastal Communities Fund."

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead welcomed the MPs' report.

He said: "The case for the devolving and democratising the Crown Estate is unassailable.

"Scotland is blessed with fantastic offshore energy potential.

"It is completely contrary to the spirit of self-government to have Scotland's seabed and almost half the foreshore and other assets controlled by an unelected body, with no requirement to consider the will of local communities or consult the Scottish government."

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