It’s Scotland’s Seabed

The Crown Estate Commission plays a strange role in the administration of parts of Scotland. I recently submitted evidence to the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee on the topic and today, had a letter published in the Herald newspaper which I reproduce here.

To the Editor

The development of marine energy is very welcome (Scotland set to realise potential as Saudi Arabia of marine power, The Herald, March 17) but it is important to point out that, contrary to your report, the Crown Estate does not own anything and cannot announce anything.

The Crown Estate is a bundle of property rights administered by the Crown Estate Commission (CEC) and it is this body which has consistently confused the public by adopting the identity of the property which it administers as a branding device.

Furthermore, the CEC does not the seabed, it merely administers the property rights of the seabed. The seabed is crown land, a type of public land defined by Scots law. As such, it is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament to transfer title from the Crown to Scottish ministers and there would then be nothing left for the CEC to administer.

Why does this matter? Because, as Jim Hunter points out in Alan Taylor’s report on the Beauly to Denny pylon controversy, the real issue is how we capture some part of the revenue from renewable energy for the wider community and development purposes in the Highlands.

We can only do that if the seabed is owned and controlled in Scotland either by Scottish ministers or, preferably, by local authorities. Then, and only then, will we be in a position to call the shots and secure the revenues which can be used for the common good around Scotland’s coasts.

Quite why an SNP government has not done anything to repatriate Scotland’s crown lands is a mystery. If, as Alex Salmond has claimed, Scotland’s seas make us the Saudi Arabia of marine power, why is Scottish crown land being administered by a property company in London to whom all the rents will flow?

Andy Wightman

The Scottish Law Commision published a report on the foreshore and seabed in 2003 (Report 190 here) and stated quite clearly that

The Crown’s interest as proprietor of the foreshore and sea bed and the public rights held by the Crown in trust for the public are ……….. not reserved. (para 1.14)

So the Scottish Parliament has full jurisdiction.