The Crown Estate in Scotland publishes annual report

7 August 2011

The Scottish Government has once again expressed its intention to take control of Scotland's waters. The call came ahead of a report by The Crown Estate in Scotland who reported a rise in capital investment in Scotland by 76 per cent to £7.4 million in 2010/11, mainly on essential repairs to its landed estates. The Scottish Government believes that it should have control over its seabed to enable it to properly manage and exploit the country's important marine assets for the benefit of its people. They have published a paper outlining a 'phased devolution' of these powers to Scotland.
Currently, the SNP argue that The Crown Estate is unaccountable to the Scottish Parliament, with revenues going direct to HM treasury. With a stronger, SNP majority government in place in Holyrood it seems a logical step for the administration to take, given the value of the assets involved. The Crown Estate reported a 13 percent rise in the property value of The Crown Estate in Scotland over the year to £207.1 million, including a 42 per cent increase in the value of the marine estate, 'largely driven by the progress in offshore renewables.' With renewable energy being seen not only as an environmentally essential but also a hugely lucrative growth industry for the Scottish economy, control over Scottish waters will enable the Scottish Government to fully harness the economic benefits that are being touted in wave and offshore wind energy. It states that Scotland has almost 40% of the total offshore renewable energy resource for the UK and harnessing just a third of this potential could meet Scotland’s electricity needs seven times over by 2050, with a net sales value of £14 billion.
But what exactly is The Crown Estate? And who administers it? Despite the name, the 'Crown' Estate, whilst appearing to belong to the Monarch, is actually supposed to be held and managed for the benefit of the people of the United Kingdom. 'The Crown Estate' is itself a marketing brand for the properties and rights that are managed by the Crown Estate Commissioners, themselves civil servants. Under the Scotland Act 1998, their administrative role is reserved to Westminster. Their ultimate role is to manage these resources in the public interest, but given the name of this public body, it is easy to see why the vast majority of the public are both unaware of their role, and unaware of their public duty.
In terms of its scope, 'The Crown' owns the sea bed of Scotland to a 12 nautical mile limit and has further rights to a 200 nautical mile limit beyond this; it is within its remit to award the leasing of the seabed for renewable energy schemes. It owns much of the foreshore, except where this has been granted out, and except where Udal tenure is in place (namely the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland). Alongside this, it has the rights to all mussels, oysters and salmon fishing where this has not already been granted out. An exception can again occur in the Northern Isles where Udal law can mean rights to these vests in the landowner and not the Crown. Furthermore, the Crown Estate owns five rural estates, including Glenlivet and Fochabers in Moray.
So despite rights in property assets that effectively surround the country, the low public profile of the organisation means few are aware of this, or where the revenue from these assets goes. Alex Salmond said: "The time is right for the archaic legislation governing the Crown Estate to be brought into line with the realities of devolution in a modern Scotland, accountable to the Scottish Parliament and its people and delivering direct benefits to our communities."

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