BITTERNESS and anger swept through Assynt last night as news spread that an offer by local crofters to buy the North L,ochinver Estate had been rejected.
John Clegg & Co, the selling agent for the 21,000-acre Sutherland estate, 90 per cent of which is under crofting tenure, issued a statement yesterday which said simply that Stoy Hayward, liquidator for Scandinavian Property Services, which owned the estate, "at this stage has indicated that none of the offers received are acceptable".
Alan Macrae, chairman of the Assynt Crofters' Trust, responded angrily. "I think crofters will feel bitterly disappointed and suspect what the motives are in refusing our offer," he said. "We have made it clear that we want our land. We have made it clear that if we fail with a friendly bid we will use the fallback position to resume every last inch that we can using the 1976 crofting act."
Under the 1976 act, each crofter has the right to buy his own croft at a rate determined by the. annual rent paid.
"We are obviously very disappointed.' said the trust's acting secretary. Bill Ritchie. "But we will be taking legal advice as to our position."
One of John Cleggand Co's senior partners, Alan Crowe, made it clear that the estate was still for sale. "If any of the existing batch of offerers wish to improve their offers, or come back to us with alternative suggestions or whatever we are in the business of listening to those suggestions and we'll just take it forward stage by stage," ' he said.
There had been 11 offers, but Mr Crowe refused to say how many had been for the whole estate, which is being sold in seven lots.
The crofters believe it is unlikely that anyone other than themselves would have bid for the entire estate. It is understood that the liquidators are considering the possibility of running the estate for a period in the hope that conditions for land sales might improve.
Stressing that the rejection of the offers was for the moment. Mr Crow said: "The view might change tomorrow, next week, next month or they might keep it for five years. I just don't know."
Assynt crofters vote to set up
company to buy estate land
Legal anomaly will leave landlords without a penny of development value
Stoer, Saturday 20th June West Highland Free Press - 30th June 1992
Crofters in Assynt, Sutherland, took what could be a historic decision here on Saturday night when they wholeheartedly supported a plan to form a limited company to buy out a crofting estate.
Photo Clare Arron
Challenging the big guns, Crofter John MacKenzie, with his dog Ben, survey the Highland scene which local crofters hope to buy
THE NORTHERN TIMES, JULY 24, 1992
All Eyes on Assynt Crofters’ Initiative
Crofters throughout the Highlands are hoping to learn from the experience of Assynt crofters who are attempting to buy into the North Lochinver Estate.
ASSYNT CROFTERS LTD.
THERE WILL BE MEETING OF ALL CROFTERS
THIS WILL BE THE MOST IMPORTANT MEETING OF ALL SO FAR. WE PLAN TO MAKE A HIGH PROFILE LAUNCH OF OUR CAMPAIGN TO BUY OUR LAND.
WE HAVE ENORMOUS SUPPORT NOT ONLY AMONG THE CROFTERS OF ASSYNT BUT FROM CROFTERS EVERYWHERE AND AMONG THE AGENCIES WHO SEEM WILLING TO HELP AND FROM OUR MANY FRIENDS.
AT THE MEETING WE WILL ADOPT THE CONSTITUTION OF THE COMPANY AND LAUNCH
OUR APPEAL FOR FUNDS. WE PLAN TO HAVE THE PRESS PRESENT INCLUDING U.K. WIDE T.V. COVERAGE.
IT IS VITAL THAT WE HAVE A MASSIVE TURN OUT OF CROFTERS AND FRIENDS TO SHOW THAT WE ARE DETERMINED TO SAVE OUR LAND AT ALL COST. IF YOU KNOW OF ANYONE EVEN IF THEY ARE NOT CROFTERS WHO IS WILLING TO SUPPORT US INVITE THEM ALONG.
WITH ENOUGH DETERMINATION WE CAN DO IT AND WE, THE ASSYNT CROFTERS, WILL HAVE SET THE AGENDA FOR CROFTING THROUGHOUT THE HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS.
PLEASE MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO COME.
ASSYNT CROFTERS TRUST FUND
The North Lochinver Estate was sold by the millionaire Vestey family to a foreign property company - SPS lid. That company is now bankrupt and our croft land is being broken up and offered for sale again in small lots. The land is virtually all croft land.
We the crofters have resolved to band together to buy the estate, not for reason motivated by political or romantic sentiment but because we believe that to give our crofting communities the best chance of surviving and prospering in the future, control of our resources - especially the land • will be our best chance.
The crofters are forming a Company Limited by Guarantee - to be known as The Assynt Crofters Trust - and we hope to achieve charitable status. Membership and control of the Trust will be restricted to the crofting tenants of the North Lochinver Estate.
The stated objects of the Trust will be
· to raise funds by way of donation by the crofters and friends, and grant to purchase our land and other resources in the North Lochinver Estate
· to improve the social, educational and cultural environment of the crofting communities and of the natural environment of Assynt Sutherland.
· to help fund viable investment and to secure property development and its management and to secure land renewal and environmental and improvement projects for the crofting communities.
If we are successful 100% of the development value will be retained locally for re-investment instead of 50% being extracted by absentee landlords.
We can create affordable house sites for our local young people.
We can embark on woodland and other management projects creating some part-time employment.
We will create an atmosphere of optimism and opportunity and may be able to help our young people stay in their own communities and develop economic opportunities.
Whilst we expect some support from the public agencies it is vital that we the crofters raise most of the funds ourselves with help from our many friends.
What's in it for me?
Frankly, a place in history if we succeed. Every person who donates to our trust fund will receive a certificate and will have their name in a roll of honour which will be bound and pieced in Stoer Post Office. Everyone who donates £500 or more will be entitled to become an Honourary Member of Assynt Crofters Trust without voting rights and receive regular updates on our activities.
How can I help?
If you would like to help the crofters secure their land and their future, complete the attached form carefully, sign it and sent with your donation or pledge to Assynt Crofters Trust, Lochinver. If our offer - which will be based on the funds donated and promised by our pledges - is successful we will call on you to honour your pledge.
If we are unsuccessful In having our offer accepted the crofters of Assynt are resolved to acquire the title to our croft lands through the Scottish Land Court.
WE HAVE HISTORY, JUSTICE AND THE LAW ON OUR SIDE. WITH HELP FROM OUR FRIENDS WE WILL SUCCEED.
"We the crofters have resolved to band together to buy the estate, not for reason
motivated by political or romantic sentiment but because we believe that to give our
crofting communities the best chance of surviving and prospering in the future,
control of our resources - especially the land - will be our best chance.'
Assynt Estate “land for the
people” fund is launched
WEST HIGHLAND FREE PRESS - FRIDAY, 31 JULY 1992
THE glossy colour brochure prepared by the selling agents for the North Lochinver estate waxes almost poetic about the 21,132 acres "set in an area of quite astonishing beauty and wild fascination.
"There is an atmosphere of unreality, almost fantasy which permeates even the character of the people who live there," it continues. And then, listing some of the impressive mountains in the Assynt area, it concludes: these peaks "all serve to emphasise that man himself is perhaps the alien element in this landscape".
That latter comment struck an ironic chord with the members of the Assynt Crofters Trust, the body set up to attempt to bring the unforgiving land of the Stoer Peninsula, almost 100 miles north-west of Inverness, under the control of the families who live and work there. Over the years of private ownership they have indeed felt an alien element whose usefulness to their landlord, they suggest, was calculated solely in their ability to maximise his profits. They claim he thwarted any local initiative which might challenge the monopoly status enjoyed by his local commercial outlets.
The massive pier development being completed in Lochinver amply illustrates the years of frustration which have fuelled the local passion for this bid. Like the village, many of its shops, and the rest of the estate, the Lochinver hotel and its pierside grounds were owned by the Vestey family. Every attempt to enlarge the pier activity was blocked by the landlord. Then the Vesteys sold the old Culag Hotel at the pierside to the regional council, apparently expecting the latter to demolish it. Instead the council sold the hotel to a local consortium, and negotiated for EC development money to help modernise the quay. A new packing station and the presence of nine deep-sea French trawlers provide eloquent testimony to the success of the expansion.
In the next few years the Vesteys decided to off-load other portions of their Highland holdings. John Clegg and Company, the firm handling the present sale, was also the agent when Scandinavian Property Services purchased the North Lochinver Estate from the Vesteys three years ago for a remarkable £1,080,000.
and other environmental bodies, the crofters found money sent from sources as diverse as Runrig and expatriates in Canada and the Antipodes. They acknowledge that paying the full asking price of £473,000 would now be within their grasp. But they determined that the offer would be precisely that determined by their independent valuation. Partly, they say, on a point of principle, partly because they have become acutely aware that their progress is being watched with intense interest by the tenants on other estates. They know Assynt has become an important, perhaps historic, test case for crofters' rights, and they want to set no precedents_
Twice now their bid of £230,000 has' been rejected despite there having been no other offer for the estate as a whole at the time. It remains on the table, while the crofters' lawyer continues to make representations on their behalf to the liquidator, the Swedish bank having declined to deal with them directly. The ideal conclusion for the crofters would be an outright sale. Under current law they have the alternative of purchasing individual crofts for 15 times the annual rental which would involve around £40,000 over all.
But they have suggested to the liquidator that they may wish to follow the Kinlochewe precedent transferring titles one by one to the Assynt Trust. And, although they know full well the local geography, they have asked the liquidator for precise details as to the dividing lines between each individual's "in-bye land" and common grazing for the whole area. The prospect of that research, plus at least 20 separate court cases the legal costs of which would have to be borne by the liquidator at £400-£500 a time, might, think the wilier crofters, concentrate the minds of the vendor wonderfully on their original offer.
As yet the outcome remains unpredictable. There has been interest in some of the seven lots as individual purchases, in particular the 10,000 acres of Lot 1 at Torbreck which includes a country house and is available for £200,000. There has been the suggestion too that the liquidators, at their client's behest, may be prepared to sit tight for as long as five years in the hope that the climate will improve sufficiently to attract an offer nearer the asking price. The selling agents, John Clegg and Co, refuse to say anything at all about whether it has other interested parties.
So it remains to be seen whether the next generation of Assynt crofters will own the land from which they wrest a modest living. But whether they do or not, the Assynt Crofters Trust has put down a powerful marker which seems certain to change the nature of the land ownership debate all over the Highlands.
DAVID ROSS Highland Correspondent
THE Assynt crofters are poised to make their first move to acquire the title to the croftlands on the 21,000-acre North Lochinver Estate following the rejection of their second offer.
Leaders of the Assynt Crofters Trust will not be drawn on immediate plans, but a fresh strategy has been prepared. It is understood that this would involve purchasing strategic areas, rather than
every croft, to achieve maximum impact. Crofters have the right to do this under the 1976 Crofting Act.
One target would be the land around Torbreck House and the Manse Loch River system. These are at the heart of lot one, the jewel in the estate's crown, which has been identified by selling agent John Clegg, of Edinburgh, as having great potential as a sporting estate.
The trust declines to confirm this as a target, but meetings have been held by crofters in theAchmelvich-Torbreck town-
have access to fish for non-migratory species. They would also be able to supply permits for others to fish rivers and lochs. Any salmon caught would, however, have to be returned to the water.
Another option for the crofters would be to apply for a planned apportionment of the grazings around the wider area of the Manse Loch System and out on to the deer ground.
The crofters have recently flown in by helicopter more than six tonnes of fencing
materials and have nearly completed 3km of fencing around the best grazing in the area.
If they were to improve the grass on this grazing the crofters could argue, under law, that any deer on the ground were marauding and therefore could be culled. There is little doubt that such a strategy would drive down further the estate's value.
It was put up for said following the financial demise of its previous owner, Scandanavian Property
Services Ltd. originally in seven lots with a total asking price of the nearly £500,000. Apart from 50 acres all is under crofting and consequently of limited development potential.
The crofters are understood to be the sole bidder interested in acquiring the whole estate. They have twice tabled offers in the region of £250,000.
If these latest moves go ahead it should force the liquidators of the previous owner, and its Swedish bank creditors, to reconsider the crofters' offer.
Our thanks are extended to the publications and photographers whose articles and pictures we have used in this display
IF Bill Ritchie was the early strategic brains behind the Assynt Crofters Trust, and John Mackenzie the voice of its conscience, Allan MacRae has supplied the unembarrassed passion. His voice is passionate as he sits in a caravan home on his crofting land talking of the years over which his friends and neighbours "became conditioned" to subservience. "Because of the hold the landowner traditionally had over the population, people were afraid to speak out against the wholesale injustice. Yet all these years the Vesteys gave not one square inch
of land for council housing despite their thousands of acres. Not one inch of private land was allowed to be used for the kind of development which might have made the community more prosperous. Even my own father, employed by the estate as a gamekeeper, used to tell me I'd better not rock the boat. This land may be poor but it's precious. And the battle to regain it is being fought at last by the people who live on it. That's the important thing. We've realised that the only way to beat the parade of speculators is to take them on at their
own game. We've made our position very clear. If we're forced to resort to the land court we will. You wonder if our bid had come from another landowner other than the crofters that it would have been accepted. Because this transaction isn't just about Assynt, it’s about crofters' rights, there's no question about that. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose. They say they might be prepared to wait five years for the right offer. Well, we can live with that if we have to. We'll wait for as long as it takes."
INFURIATED at the land they rent being put on the open market for the second time in three years, crofters in a remote part of north-west Scotland have banded together in an attempt to buy the estate themselves.
And in trying to reverse the traditional Highland pattern of land ownership, they have one card up their sleeves - a court ruling upholding their purchase rights.
Word that the 21,000 acre North Lochinver Estate at Assynt, Sutherland, was on the market for £473,000 after the Swedish owner went bust spread quickly last month around the isolated crofts.
But as the first chartered helicopters brought potential buyers to look over the sprawling estate, the crofters were making their own plans.
What particularly angered crofters was the selling agents' attempt to stimulate a sluggish property market by offering the estate as a whole or in seven lots ranging from £38,000 to £200,000.
This, say the crofters, could result in "administrative chaos" through their having to deal with several new landlords. So the crofters decided at public meetings to try to buy the estate for themselves.
This week they registered their own company, Assynt Crofters Ltd, with the aim of raising enough money to make a realistic bid.
It is, says crofter Mrs Ishbel MacAuley, a former police inspector who retired to her family croft at Stoer eight
years ago, the most radical and exciting thing to have happened to crofting this century and, if successful, could signal a revolution in Highland land ownership.
But if their bid fails, the crofters are determined to invoke the 1976 Crofting Reform Act, which gives them the right to buy their land for 15 times annual rent.
Together, the 110 crofts pay an annual rent of just £2,608 to the landlord, which puts an intrinsic value on the huge estate of £39,120 - less than 10 per cent of the current asking price.
Mr John MacKenzie, 55, who works the eight-acre family croft at Culkein Drumbeg, feels that many would-be Highland landlords have been badly advised over the years. "Who in their right mind would spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on land when we could buy it for under £40,000?"
Until 1989, when it was bought by Scandinavian Property Services, of Sweden, reputedly for more than £1 million, North Lochinver formed part of the Vestey family's huge Assynt estate. The estate is
being sold on the orders of SPS's liquidators.
Mr MacKenzie grins as he flicks through the glossy sale brochure with its lyrical descriptions of the land he has known all his life.
"This estate could prove irresistible to some people, but if they acquainted themselves with the crofting Acts, they would see that's there is very little in it for them. The law is on our side."
He was referring to a Court of Session judgment last month which crofters see as a radical interpretation of the 1976 Crofting Reform Act and which could give their cause enormous support.
Three judges upheld a ruling of the Scottish land court that crofters could buy their land for 15 times the annual rent and then transfer that land to a third party without the landlord taking half the development value as had previously been the practice.
Mr Simon Laird, of the Edinburgh selling agents John Clegg, reports fairly strong interest in the sale. So far, almost 25 interested buyers from Britain and overseas have viewed the estate.
Mr Laird said he was aware of the crofters' interest in the land. "In some ways, maybe they would be the best people to own the estate."
A closing date for offers is due to be announced soon.