Public meetings are to be held next week, as the potential community buyout of the Bays of Harris Estate takes an important step forward.
Funding has been awarded from the Scottish Land Fund to update a 2016 feasibility study, giving the Bays of Harris Steering Group (BOHSG) the funds to appoint Duncan MacPherson and Faye MacLeod to conduct the new study.
Duncan is a community development consultant based in Harris and Faye a chartered accountant, partner at Campbell Stewart MacLennan & Co in Skye. They’ll be looking into the viability of the community taking over ownership of the estate and benefits such as affordable housing, community enterprise and crofting assistance which could result.
The Bays of Harris Estate covers the whole east side of the Isle of Harris, as well as Northton and the Isle of Berneray. It currently generates a healthy income with an annual surplus running to tens of thousands of pounds.
To see whether community ownership of that asset is feasible, the steering group will hold three public meetings – in the Bays, Leverburgh and Berneray – before the end of January.
The majority of the Outer Hebrides is already owned and run by community landlords, and about 94% of all community landownership in Scotland is in the islands.
John Maher, chair of BOHSG, said: “Community ownership of the Bays of Harris estate offers a potentially vital opportunity to safeguard the future of our community. The updated feasibility report will provide a rigorous assessment of the viability of the estate under community ownership and enable the community to make an informed decision about the merits of a buyout.
“It’s really important that as many residents as possible come along to the public meetings, so that their views can help inform how a buyout of the estate could help deliver the types of developments that will benefit the entire community.”
The meetings will be held at the Bays Centre on Monday January 20th, at Leverburgh Community Hall on Tuesday January 21st and at Berneray Community Hall on Tuesday January 28th. All meetings start at 7.30pm.
There will be a brief presentation from the steering group highlighting key events in the buyout process to date and outlining how discussions with the current landlord have progressed. Duncan MacPherson will explain his role in updating the 2016 feasibility study and give more detail on the estate’s current income generation and how that income could be used to benefit the resident community.
Attendees at each meeting will have an opportunity to make comments and suggestions and to ask questions about the community buyout process and related issues. Representatives from other community landowners will also be at the meetings to share their experiences of community ownership elsewhere.
The discussion will help inform the final report of the Feasibility Study update, the findings of which will be presented at another series of public meetings in March or April 2020, ahead of a community ballot on whether to proceed with a community buyout of the estate.