BY KEITH MACKENZIE
Crofters in Sleat have accused their landlords of “turning the clock back 200 years” after being hit by huge rent increases.
Residents in the southern end of the peninsula were stunned this week when the Clan Donald Lands Trust issued letters setting out new rents — which in some cases had increased by over 2,000 per cent. Around 100 crofters have been affected by the change.
The Free Press has learned that in one case a crofter, who paid an annual rent of £15.50 to the landlord, had their rent increased to just over £300. Another tenant, currently paying £50 for their holding, has been hit with a demand for £1,000.
Alaistair Culbertson, who at a hastily-arranged meeting on Tuesday night agreed to act as a spokesman for those affected, believed crofters would refuse to pay.
Crofters have questioned the legality of the demand — as the new bill does not take into account the money paid for shares in common grazings. The trust have said grazing shares would be reviewed next year — though crofters maintain that this element must be included within their annual rent payments.
Mr Culbertson (pictured on his croft in Ferrindonald) said that if the demands were indicative of the landlords’ lack of finance, then crofters should be offered the chance to take ownership of the land themselves.
He said: “As highlighted in the Free Press editorial of last week this is a clear example of a situation that needs to be revised under the Scottish Government’s new land reform consultations.
“We have a group of non-UK residents trying to take crofters’ rights back 200 years.
“Therefore, it is the intention of the Sleat grazings committees to recommend to their shareholders that they reject the Clan Donald Lands Trust’s unreasonable demands.
“If the Clan Donald truly cannot afford to manage the crofting estate then they should step aside and give control of the land to the crofters, who are its true custodians.”
Croft rents are traditionally low, as they cover the bare-land holding marked out by crofting legislation for agricultural use.
In a letter sent out to crofters in October the land agents Bidwells, on behalf of the trust, informed tenants that their rent was to be reviewed. However, it came as a shock to crofters when they received confirmation of how much extra they were being asked to pay.
The trust, in their letter, said it was the first review they had carried out in 40 years and the extra money was required to “justify the management of the assets under our guardianship”.
James MacDonald, chairman of the executive committee of the board of trustees, and the current general manager at the trust, Stephen McKeown, were due to meet crofters to discuss the rent rises at a meeting in Armadale last night (Wednesday). The trust did not respond to the Free Press’s request for comment by the time we went to press.
The Clan Donald Lands Trust was established, as a charity, in 1971 — and for many years it benefited from the support of American businessman Ellice MacDonald, who died in 2013. It operates a 20,000-acre estate, and some 10,500 acres of crofting townships, as well as the visitor centre and museum in the grounds of Armadale Castle.