Voters back community buy-out of Ulva

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A vote on the possible buy-out of Ulva has been backed by the community.

The announcement of the result of a postal ballot among voters in north-west Mull showed a total of 63.6 per cent of eligible ballots were received by the deadline of noon on Monday January 8, of which 63.9 per cent were in favour.

The ballot was ordered by the Scottish Government and organised by Electoral Reform Services.

On the basis of the result and the business plan submitted by North West Mull Community Woodland Company (NWMCWC), the Cabinet Secretary for Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, will now decide whether to trigger the right to buy.

This would give NWMCWC a green light to put together a funding package to complete the purchase in June.

John Addy, a director of NWMCWC, said: ‘It is self-evident to anyone just walking on Ulva that the existing housing stock and other buildings, including the historic Telford church, are in a poor state of repair.

‘Also, the present tenants have no security of tenure as their leases expired in November last year and the lease on the Boathouse restaurant expires in June 2018.

‘A new owner would be free to make his or her own decisions on what happens to the island, who and how many people can live there, and whether or not to encourage visitors or even whether to continue to allow operation of the ferry and access to the pier by fishermen.

‘Community ownership, however, will bring certainty that repopulation of the island and its social and economic development for the common good will always be the top priorities.

‘This goes to the heart of the land reform process which is about who makes the decisions and has control over the destiny of communities – landlords or the communities themselves. We strongly believe it should be the latter.’

NWMCWC said a study carried out by independent consultants concluded that ‘a community buy-out of the Isle of Ulva is feasible and represents a unique opportunity to increase Ulva’s population and enhance the sustainable development of the island, Ulva Ferry and north-west Mull as a whole’.

An independent valuation ordered by the Scottish Government set the price at £4.2 million. This will now need to be raised by NWMCWC over the next five months and it is hoped the Scottish Land Fund (SLF) will be able to contribute the major part. SLF funding is normally capped at £1 million and 95 per cent of the total, though ministers have the power to exceed this.

NWMCWC said it plans to raise significantly more than the minimum five per cent contribution from sources other than SLF and discussions are already in hand with a number of potential partner organisations with a view to raising the capital and to provide development funding.

Last week, Ulva’s current owners criticised the ‘biased and ill-informed’ ballot and said they sought to give ‘correct and accurate facts’ before the vote.

The Howard family also claimed Mull islanders had expressed concern at the ability of NWMCWC to properly manage the 12km-long island, which is home to six residents.

On January 3, the Howard family stated on the Isle of Ulva website that ‘voters should be aware that much of this information provided with the ballot papers is extremely biased and ill-informed. It is only fair that those with a vote are given the correct and accurate facts and figures before making their final decision. We only want the best for Ulva and its future.

‘Jamie Howard recently met Mull councillor Mary-Jean Devon to discuss with her the number of people on Mull, in particular north Mull, who had approached him to express their concern at the ability of NWMCWC Ltd to properly manage Ulva should they be successful in their buy-out bid.

‘It was felt that they would struggle to find suitable funding both for the purchase and development of the island, running into many millions of pounds. Mary-Jean Devon has passed on these concerns to Mike Russell MSP.’