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A community bid to buy the Isle of Ulva has been granted £4.4million by the Scottish Government, enabling open negotiations to begin with the owner.
North West Mull Community Woodland Company (NWMCWC) now has until Saturday June 9 to agree terms with the Howard family, raise the rest of the required funding and complete the sale.
The group hopes to buy the estate, which spans 2,000 hectares and includes the 12km-long Isle of Ulva which is home to just six residents, as well as land on nearby Mull. The buyout group aims to attract new residents by increasing economic activity and housing stock.
In December 2017, following an independent ballot of 401 voters in north-west Mull, almost 64 per cent of people were in favour of the community buyout. The value for both the Ulva Estate (£4.2 million) and Ardulum House, if bought together, is £4.5 million.
Colin Morrison, chairman of NWMCWC, said: ‘Our application to the Scottish Land Fund (SLF) has been approved. Under the Land Reform Act, we already have the right to buy all of the estate apart from Ardalum House for £4,241,000 and today’s SLF grant award of up to £4,415,200 means we can now open up negotiations and make a fair and serious offer for the whole estate.
‘This award from the SLF is hugely significant, not only for Ulva but also more broadly for north-west Mull.
‘Our top priority is to renovate the existing buildings and provide secure leases for present and new residents and businesses. We aim to have 20 or more people living on Ulva within two or three years, rising to as many as 50 or more as new houses are built.
‘Social and economic development of Ulva will bring benefits to the neighbouring communities on Mull. Schools, shops, local services and industry will all receive a boost from the increased population and from the increased number of visitors we are confident we shall see once accommodation and facilities are provided on the island.’
‘We hope we will be able to enter into constructive discussions with the owners so that we can successfully conclude a deal for the whole estate. However, to protect the community’s interest under the right we have been granted, we shall immediately be making a formal offer for the registered land, which comprises the bulk of the estate.
‘This is a momentous day in the story of Ulva and north-west Mull, but we still have much to do. Our fundraising effort has to step up a gear to ensure we can fund not only the purchase but also the high priority developments identified in our business plan.’
SLF chairman John Watt said: ‘It’s with great pleasure the Scottish Land Fund awards this funding to the NWMCWC. This means local people are one step closer to extending the area the community currently owns and in doing so putting the future of the island of Ulva firmly in local hands.
‘It is a momentous day for all those involved and I wish them every success as they go on to raise the remaining funding that will allow them to turn their dreams into reality.’
Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell added: ‘This is fantastic news for Mull, for Argyll and the Highlands and Islands. The proposed buyout of Ulva leads community land purchase in a new direction, seeking to take places that have suffered ruinous depopulation back into the mainstream by devising and implementing community-led plans to attract new inhabitants and develop new enterprises.
‘This is a ground-breaking proposal and I am delighted it has attracted the largest ever grant from the Scottish Land Fund.
‘The fund exists to take forward community ownership of assets presently held by the private or public sector but which would be better managed and run by communities. In recognising the unique nature of the ideas being considered for Ulva, it has expressed its support for a vision of a revitalised, socially just and economically productive highlands and islands and I am sure the community will work hard to achieve their part of it.
‘I hope the current owners of Ulva will now work constructively with the community to complete the purchase. It can be a fine legacy for the work they and their family have done there.’