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The devolution of the Crown Estate could bring an extra £1.5 million per year to Argyll and Bute Council, but councillors have warned this ‘cash cow’ could also come with costly liabilities.
Councillors on the Environment, Development and Infrastructure Committee met to discuss, and amend, Argyll and Bute Council’s response to a Scottish Government consultation on the long-term management of the Crown Estate in Scotland, which closed on March 29.
The Crown Estate owns around £272 million of property across Scotland, including the seabed, much of its foreshore and 370,000 hectares of rural estates. It also deals with rights for salmon fishing, shooting, energy, gas storage, internal waters and mineral rights, which allow people to quarry, mine or otherwise extract materials from underground, for rural estates, as well as the rights to naturally-occurring gold and silver.
The net surplus revenue from the assets currently go to the Treasury, but the money will transfer to the Scottish Government following control being devolved this earlier this month. SNP ministers want to sell off parts or let communities use its assets as part of their land reform agenda, with a target of a million acres of land in community ownership by 2020.
Argyll and Bute Council’s report stated: ‘The devolution of the management and revenue of the Crown Estate in Scotland provides an opportunity to use capital assets and the net revenue generated.’
Councillor Richard Trail told the meeting: ‘It looks like the Crown Estate will come under Argyll and Bute management and there will be income streams.’
The council did not have a comprehensive list of Crown Estate assets, revenues and liabilities in Argyll and Bute, but the report broke down the number and type of agreements it had, including 500 moorings, 136 coastal, commercial and private leases, 130 outfalls, 37 cables and pipelines, 112 in aquaculture (finfish and shellfish) and 36 mooring associations.
The report continued: ‘Revenues in Scotland for 2015-16 were £14 million, with the value of the total asset portfolio within Scotland estimated at £271.08 million.
‘Revenue from salmon farming was around £650,000 in 2013 within Argyll and Bute, so annual aquaculture revenue will be approximately £660,000 at present. A very rough estimate would be that annual lease revenue within Argyll and Bute could be between £1 million and £1.5 million gross. If an optimistic level of 40 per cent was retained for investment, which could be £400,000-£600,000 annually. However, until exact figures are given, accurate assessment can’t be made.’
Councillor Dick Walsh said: ‘We need to be at one and get this devolved to councils.’
But he cautioned: ‘It has always been looked at this is a cash cow – there are liabilities too.’
To illustrate the point, committee chair Ellen Morton added: ‘The roads are an asset for Argyll and Bute, but they do not make any money. They are a liability.’