Mull split on Ulva buy-out

The island of Ulva.

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Mull Community Council refused to support a community buy-out of the Isle of Ulva, because a recent local poll backing the bid had excluded most residents from Mull and Iona.

Community councillors voted seven to one against supporting the bid by the North West Mull Community Woodland Company (NWMCWC). The Scottish Government granted NWMCWC the right to buy the privately-owned island in October, giving them an eight-month period to develop a business plan and raise money towards the £4.25 million price tag.

Earlier this month a postal ballot of the residents of Ulva and north-west Mull backed the plan by 63.6 per cent, giving NWMCWC a green light to put together a funding package to complete the purchase in June.

But following their meeting this month, Mull Community Council chairman Billy McClymont told The Oban Times: ‘The members thought the poll should have been island-wide, not just folk close at hand.

‘They do not see a good enough business case. We do not want to see it go from one land owner with no money to another.’

Oban Times columnist Iain Thornber argued the Scottish Government’s ‘unprecedented’ support for a ‘small, unelected group’ in north Mull to buy Ulva and ‘back it financially thereafter is set to create deep divisions which will not be easily healed.

‘If this is what the Scottish Government desires, and I don’t believe it is, it runs contrary to a ballot recently taken by Mull’s democratically elected community council who voted 7: 1 against the proposal. Argyll’s MSP and MP should recognise the island’s local voice and relay this information to the Cabinet Secretary [for Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham].

‘There are good and bad bosses as there are in any business. Holyrood, in setting a target of one million acres of land into community ownership by 2020, has already made its point but Ulva is not Eigg and popular resident owner, Jamie Howard, is no Marlin Eckhard-Maruma.

‘Anyone on Mull with livestock knows there is no money to be made in farming these days, even with the EU subsidy. Sheep and cattle are about to disappear from the hills and forestry and all other grants must soon end. What then of the NWMCWC’s business plan, which reads more like a Christmas wish list?

‘With the aid of the Scottish Land Fund, they may find some of the £4.2 million to bid for the island, but where is the annual running cost, estimated to be in the region of £100,000, to come from? The answer is Joe Public, who would be paying for this foolhardy experiment for generations through a tax hike.

‘There is only one hope for the future of Ulva, and that is for the NWMCWC to withdraw and allow private money to be poured into the island, thus enhancing its environment, and creating far greater employment opportunities than Argyll and Bute Council or the Scottish Government ever could. Public funding simply does not produce the goods.’

However, Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell reiterated his support for the buy-out, saying: ‘Community purchase gives a new opportunity for Ulva. It is simply a fact that the current owners do not have the resources to invest in it and can only preside over continued decline. I have no doubt their intentions are good but they themselves recognise the time for change has come.

‘The question is whether that change should be driven by those who live locally in order to serve the needs of the community or whether it should be dictated by an as yet unknown third party from outside the island whose sole qualification to do so will be the possession of a great deal of money and whose motivation will be primarily about enjoying and protecting their financial investment.

‘In other words this is about the age old question: is it better to do things for ourselves, or have them done to us?

‘There is huge amount of goodwill on Mull, in Argyll, across Scotland and even more widely towards the proposed community buy-out. Moreover, it would give an exciting new start for an island that has great potential which will include plans for repopulation, which this area desperately needs.’

Letters – page eight.