A major breakthrough looks to have been secured over Scotland’s first ever attempted hostile land buyout.
Residents on the Pairc Estate in Lewis gathered at a specially-convened meeting last Thursday night to agree a way forward, following a change of heart by estate owner Barry Lomas, who had previously seemed determined to retain an asset which has been in his family for generations.
The community involved accepted the landlord’s offer to sell for £500,000, bringing to an end a bitter 10-year-long dispute.
As part of the deal, Mr Lomas — an accountant based in Lemington Spa — agreed to drop his legal action.
The Pairc Trust, the local group who were leading the buyout negotiations on behalf of the community, made a submission under Part Three of the Scottish Government’s Land Reform Act, the mechanism which enables communities to take over the land against the wishes of the landlord. This was the first ever time it had been deployed.
When an initial appeal by Mr Lomas — claiming that the legislation contravened his human rights — failed, he lodged a second bid at Stornoway Sheriff Court. There, he argued that the ballot to determine local support for a takeover had not been properly conducted.
However, following the decision to proceed with an amicable sale, that court action is now expected to be dropped.
Of the 60 people present at last week’s meeting, 56 voted to accept the landlord’s offer, with four abstentions. Mr Lomas was not present.
It is thought that the £500,000 price tag, which was agreed following months of behind-the-scenes negotiation, is greater than what Mr Lomas would have received had he been forced to hand over the land having lost his legal appeal.
Pairc Trust chairman Angus McDowall said the amicable route offered “a quicker and more certain purchase”.
“An offer will be made to Pairc Estate immediately,” he added. “Before the documents are signed, Pairc Trust will consult the community again on the precise terms through community meetings and a ballot.”
It is envisaged that the protracted buyout, which has been Scotland’s most controversial to date, will be fully-financed through the Scottish Land Fund.
Peter Peacock, policy director of Community Land Scotland, said the decision was a “significant step” towards the community acquiring the land.
“To get this far has required a great deal of determination by the community and latterly all parties have been able to make progress through a process of brokered discussions,” he said.
“This is a good example of how a process of independently facilitated discussions could help many more communities now and in years to come and it is why Community Land Scotland has been advocating the creation of a land agency which would have a function of helping discussions between communities and landowners to secure more land transfers into community ownership.”
When the prospects of a buyout were first mooted, Scottish and Southern Energy had plans for a £400 million windfarm on the estate and had negotiated lease terms with the landlord. However, a number of months ago, they announced they had abandoned the project.
Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan said: “I welcome what seems to be very positive progress in the Pairc land buyout, after a very lengthy and protracted process. If both parties can now agree an amicable deal then this would seem to be a beneficial deal for the community.
“I am very happy to help the Pairc Trust with any approaches they now have to make to funding bodies to raise the necessary funds to complete the buyout. While this matter is certainly not over I hope this is a very encouraging step towards the people of South Lochs taking more control of their own futures.”