Ex-Grand Prix driver sells island

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The Independent Online
ONE OF Scotland's favourite holiday islands has been put up for sale just months before new laws are expected to give special purchase rights to communities.

The 7th Marquess of Bute, better known as Johnny Dumfries, the former Formula One racing driver, is selling Great Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde, two miles off the Ayrshire coast.

The island is a well-established destination for generations of day trippers, who make the seven-minute journey by ferry from the mainland.

The sale is expected to raise pounds 2m to pounds 3m and may lead to community ownership. Such a solution would be a landmark for the west of Scotland since Great Cumbrae, encircled by 12 miles of road, is much larger than other islands such as Assynt and Eigg, which have recently been bought collectively from controversial landlords.

However, Great Cumbrae's 1,300 residents are unlikely to benefit from legislation due in the first session of the Scottish Parliament, which would enable them to purchase property at a price laid down by an independent valuer.

It is thought that the speed of the sale may reflect a desire, given the financial difficulties of the Bute estate, to secure the highest possible market price.

Another difficulty is that the marquess does not own all the land or property on the island, so it cannot be sold in one block. Much of the capital, Millport, is outside the estate, though the sale does include five farms, a golf course and grazing land. Crucially, the slipway for the ferry is among the lots to be sold.

The sale is a sign of Johnny Dumfries' difficulties in maintaining the legacy he inherited in 1993 on the death of his father. Although he became one of the richest men in Britain, with a fortune of pounds 144m, he was saddled with large debts. Much of the family's land had been poorly managed, with some farms paying the same rent for 20 years.

Recent rent rises of up to 60 per cent have caused tensions between the marquess and his tenants.

Yesterday, Brian Wilson, the Scottish trade minister, whose Cunningham North constituency includes Cumbrae, said: "This creates a very interesting opportunity. I think some form of community buy-out is an option. If there is to be economic development for Cumbrae, particularly for tourism, it would be a great help to have community ownership of the land." He said he thought there would be interest in a community buy-out and that the possibility of raising funding from different agencies and sources should be explored.

Nicholas Mellish, land agent for the island, said: "We would be very pleased if the community wanted to buy it. At the moment we don't know whether that could happen." He said the sale was a purely commercial decision.

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