A joint proposal from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Galson Estate Trust could give the local community more say on what happens in their area.

The proposal is one of four projects which will see applicants take responsibility for more decisions relating to seabed, coastline and other land.

Crown Estate Scotland launched the Local Pilots Management Scheme in 2018 to create opportunities for communities to get more involved in managing parts of the Scottish Crown Estate. 

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has partnered with Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn (UOG), owner of Galson Estate (North Lewis), to enhance decision making in the marine environment and empower island communities. 

Through the Pilot, UOG will determine leases for Marine Renewable Energy developments in its own sea area while the Comhairle will determine leases for non-Renewable Energy developments in the Galson sea area and all developments scoped in to the pilots scheme across the remaining Hebrides Marine Region.

In both cases, determinations will be made by individuals accountable to the community, advised by a new Outer Hebrides Marine Development Partnership (OHMDP).

Crown Estate Scotland and Scottish Ministers have awarded the Comhairle / Galson Trust bid ‘Preferred Project Status’ meaning that, subject to the conclusion of negotiation around some detailed points, the Outer Hebrides proposal can move towards implementation in the near future.

Under the proposal, an Outer Hebrides Marine Development Partnership, comprising representatives of all agencies and regulators with an interest in the Hebridean seas, will assess applications for foreshore or seabed leases before making a recommendation to local decision makers – Galson Trust for Renewable Energy developments in the Galson Trust sea area (out to 12nm) and a Committee of Elected Comhairle Members for all other developments across the Hebrides Marine Region (out to 12nm).

Commenting on this development, Comhairle Convener, Norman A Macdonald, said, “The Comhairle and its partners have lobbied vigorously over many years for a greater say in the administration of our islands’ foreshore and seabed. Historically, these areas have been managed by The Crown Estate with little local involvement in decision making.

"This Pilot project allows local people and local experts to decide what is best for the local sea area and, for the first time, there will be a particular focus on securing socioeconomic benefit for the local community from any commercial activity that takes place in the sea around our islands. Although this Pilot is restricted to managing foreshore and seabed assets, we continue to press the Scottish Ministers on the return of revenues from these leases to the communities hosting the developments and we are making good progress on this.

"Through partnership with Galson Trust, the Comhairle is reversing a long history of external control and is empowering our own communities."

The OHMDP will comprise representatives of all agencies active in the Hebrides Marine Region and will provide expert advice on areas such as environment, socioeconomics, fisheries and shipping. Over time, other Community Landowners will be encouraged to acquire asset management powers.

The community credentials of the Pilot are further enhanced by a Community Impact Assessment to allow affected communities to make their views on a proposed development known to decision makers and to highlight negative and positive impacts.