Scottish Crown Estate Bill Passed

Scottish Parliament FGThe Scottish Crown Estate Bill was passed in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 21st of November.

The Scottish Crown Estate has considerable assets which as well as 37,000 hectares of land also controls leasing of virtually all the seabed out to 12 nautical miles and the rights to offshore renewable energy and gas and carbon storage out to 200 nautical miles.

The Islands Act which was passed earlier on this year included reference to the Crown Estate which was being dealt with in this separate legislation. The passing of the Scottish Crown Estate Bill means more control and management at a local level.

Starting off the debate Roseanna Cunningham said:

Roseanna Cunningham“Today is an historic occasion, as this is the first time that the Parliament has ever legislated on the management of the Scottish Crown estate. It is, therefore, a landmark bill, which continues the process of the devolution of the Scottish Crown estate that started with the Smith commission and the Scotland Act 2016.”

And went on to confirm that:

“The net revenue from Crown estate assets will be paid into the Scottish consolidated fund, and the net revenue from areas out to 12 nautical miles will be distributed to coastal local authorities. It is, therefore, important that, overall, the estate is run in a way that protects and enhances the public finances rather than being a drain on them. It is also important to recognise that there are parts of the estate that cannot be expected to make money and other parts where a less commercial approach may be best to secure wider benefits.”

The Scottish Greens have misgivings about the Bill and felt it did not go far enough. Referring to it as a ‘feudal relic’ Andy Wightman MSP said:

“The Scottish Crown Estate Bill is not the bill that the Greens would have wished to see. It is predicated on a flawed devolution settlement and is based on the assumption that the Crown estate is some kind of coherent suite of assets that, by law, must be maintained as an estate in land on behalf of the Crown.”

The Scottish Greens and the LibDems previously wanted to ‘rock the boat’ over the Crown Estate Bill but in the end settled for it being unfinished business. The Conservatives in principle supporting the Bill voiced concerns over the management of Crown Estate assets by local authorities.

Orkney Islands Council had pressed that “the right to manage any area of the sea bed out to 12 nautical miles will be transferred from Crown Estate Scotland to the relevant local authority if the local authority requests this.” Both the Scottish Government (SNP) and the Conservatives had problems with this and felt community groups may also want to manage areas and wanted it dealt with on a case by case basis.

Finlay Carson MSP said:

“the idea that Dumfries and Galloway Council in my region would by default suddenly become responsible for management of local Crown estate assets is not exactly one that fills me with confidence.”

The Conservatives, however, were in favour of there being a local (community) and a national form of management.

“For example, it is only right and sensible that a national body, with a Scotland-wide overview, be responsible for management of offshore renewables, energy-related assets and cables and pipelines. Recognition should be given to the national significance of the sea bed, which—rightly—should be managed nationally.”

During Topical Questions in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 20th of November , Roseanna Cunningham, The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, confirmed that she would be supporting the Scottish Green amendment to prevent the commercial mechanical dredging of kelp. The harvesting of kelp will now be subject to a review. Greens Gain Backing of Scottish Government to Prohibit the Mechanical Harvesting of Kelp by Dredging

The Bill was passed  For 119, Against 0, Abstentions 0.

On the passing of the Bill Roseanna Cunningham said:

“I am delighted that Parliament has agreed to open up the possibility for local authorities and communities to take direct control of the management of these assets.

“Recognising the diversity of the Scottish Crown Estate, and the need to ensure sustainability of our natural assets, I am also announcing a strategic programme of work to give us the research required to make informed decisions on the sustainability of our seaweed sector. Importantly, this includes a review of the regulatory regime for all kelp harvesting activity in Scotland. “

You can watch the full debate here

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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