Another step has been taken in the dramatic Western Isles journey to complete community control of our lands.
In the Bays of Harris Community Ballot result – announced last night (Wednesday September 21) – there was a 63% vote in favour of community ownership.
On a 70% turnout – far in excess of that in most wider elections – there were 63% in favour and 37% against.
The Bays of Harris Steering Group said on Twitter: “A big thank you to everyone involved.”
The Bays of Harris Ballot count had been postponed until yesterday (Wednesday) because of the mourning period for Queen Elizabeth II.
The deadline for ballot submissions by post or in person was noon on Wednesday September 14.
The Bays of Harris Steering Group was formed in 2013 by residents of the BoH Estate – which includes several areas of the Bays district, south Harris and Berneray, and some other islands - to investigate the feasibility of community ownership.
They felt the moment had come for the scattered community to have their say on whether their estate, owned by one family for almost a century, should join the growing ranks of community-owned estates in the islands.
There had been robust support for the community buyout from existing community estates, with Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn (Galson Estate Trust) publishing an open letter on Tuesday 30 August offering their support.
UOG chair Agnes Rennie wrote: “15 years of community ownership by Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn (Galson Estate Trust) has created opportunities and delivered change for the better.
“Change comes slowly, but community ownership is a forever project that will benefit the generations that come after us as well as those of us living in these communities today.
“Projects have included energy efficiency, activities with young people, health and wellbeing projects, tourism infrastructure and renewable energy. Importantly the legal rights of individual crofters and townships is not affected in any way.
“There is space for people to disagree and question, because community land trusts are democratic structures where everyone's voice matters.
“It has brought about transformational change in the community I know best, and I have seen the benefits that community ownership has delivered in other communities across Scotland.”
Ailsa Raeburn, chair of Community Land Scotland, said: “As the examples of North and West Harris, and of Galson, Pairc, Carloway and elsewhere in the islands show, owning the land where they live, has helped these communities unlock significant development opportunities and take a leading role in shaping their own futures.”
Community Land Outer Hebrides, the over-arching community land grouping in the Western Isles, reacted last night saying: “Great news, congratulations to all involved in the journey to this milestone.”
The feasibility study completed ahead of the ballot can be accessed here https://www.docdroid.net/aaOI8Gj/bohfeasibility-studyfinal-report13072022-pdf and the business plan prepared for the Bays of Harris steering group here https://www.docdroid.net/dNUIhw3/bohbusiness-planfinal-260722-pdf