Future of pounds 1.5m Scottish estate hangs in balance

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The Independent Online

A group of villagers and environmental campaigners who joined forces to try to secure the future of their remote Scottish estate decided not to bid for it, just hours before the sale deadline yesterday, as the Government announced plans to sell off Scottish land to local crofters.

Offers for the Knoydart estate in Invernesshire, Britain's most remote Highland estate, closed yesterday at midday. The agents, Strutton Parker in Edinburgh, who are handling the pounds 1.5m sale, declined to say yesterday whether a credible offer had been received.

The recently formed Knoydart Foundation, which includes residents, local authorities, the John Muir and Brasher trusts, and the theatre impresario Cameron Mackintosh, decided not to bid after it received the results of a feasibility study.

"We had a meeting yesterday and the foundation considers it needs more time to consider the study. It is therefore not putting in a bid to purchase the estate today," said Nigel Hawkins, a member of the steering group of the Knoydart Foundation and a trustee of environmental group the John Muir Trust.

"But it does not rule out the possibility that it may try and buy the estate at a later stage. It may not be sold today after all. And it has changed hands every few years recently."

According to the feasibility study, running costs on the 16,000-acre estate are around pounds 200,000 a year. This is partly because the estate, while physically linked to the mainland, has no road. Everything has to travel by boat. There is a history of friction between the 50-strong community and a succession of owners. Residents complain that lairds have neglected the 16,000-acre peninsula, which overlooks Skye.

Mr Hawkins stressed that the decision not to make a bid for the estate did not mean the foundation's raison d'etre was defunct. "The foundation was set up to look after the interests of local community and environmental interests ... We'll work in partnership with whoever becomes the owner."

The Government said yesterday it was considering plans to hand over 250,000 acres of state-owned land in northern Scotland to local people. The Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth, visiting the Highlands to meet the Crofters' Commission and the Assynt Crofters Trust, said he would issue a consultation paper on the creation of further crofting trusts.

Three years ago crofters in Assynt banded together to form a trust to buy their entire crofting land from the private landowner. They now have a number of projects under way. "The transfer of power and responsibility to local communities is a key plank in the Government's philosophy and the crofters in Assynt are to be congratulated," Mr Forsyth said.