SYSTEM FAILURE: Crofts market branded “out of control”

Crofting work in north Skye Picture, Willie Urquhart

The market in crofts is “completely out of control” and the Crofting Commission is failing to address the crisis in “any meaningful way”.

Those were the words of Donald MacKinnon, chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation, who wrote an open letter this week on behalf of the SCF board to departing commissioners who are nearing the end of their term of office.

He said: “Succession of crofts has stagnated…crofts are unaffordable to local or young people, many crofts are unused and inappropriate decrofting is granted.

“The situation has deteriorated considerably since the Committee of Inquiry on Crofting reported in 2008 yet the recognition of the value of crofting has increased during this same period – in addressing depopulation, the climate emergency and in community resilience.

Plans for a glamping site on a croft in Harris were dropped this week – but the episode has raised many questions about the trade in land for development, at prices way beyond what local people can afford

“There is an urgent need to intervene. SCF takes the position that this is an emergency.”

Mr MacKinnon also criticised the Scottish Government, which has not created any new crofts on publicly-owned land.

He added: “What we want is crofting legislation that enables the system to develop and thrive. But, what we see is crumbling, ineffective law that restricts the effective regulation of crofting, leaving it to wither.

“Law reform has been widely called for, for many years, yet crofting was only referred to in passing in the Programme for Government and progressing crofting law reform did not appear at all.”

All crofts should be used, Mr MacKinnon stressed, and those no longer needed should be passed on to new entrants.

An “empowered, resourced and tasked commission” should be investigating and enforcing breaches proactively, rather than “only responding to a complaint from a restricted few”.

“But, what we see are many hundreds of neglected or completely abandoned crofts,” he said. “The commission seems to have become solely an administrator rather than an effective regulator of crofting.”

Young people are “excluded by exorbitant prices of both crofts and tenancies”, while crofts are bought by people who have “no intention to croft or lack the qualifications and experience to do so”.

Some crofts are occupied for only short periods of the year and not used as crofts, Mr MacKinnon wrote, or assigned to those who already have multiple crofts; to landlords or their close relatives to take back ‘in hand’ as part of the estate, or bought by individuals or companies as development land.

“Crofting is a regulated system; everything in crofting is regulated – except for the market in crofts and croft tenancies,” he concluded.