Bute Community buy-out proceeds despite funding squeeze

Date: 28/07/2010

Despite an unprecedentedly harsh funding environment, the people of Bute have managed to secure a community buyout of a section of Rhubodach Forest, a 700 hectares area of land at the north of the Island, which was being sold by film director, Lord Richard Attenborough.

Initially the intention had been for the Islanders (who voted 93% in favour of the buy-out in a ballot held in February) to buy the whole 700 hectare forest and continue to run the commercial aspect of it themselves, while developing the remaining part as an eco-tourism attraction.

However under the Land Reform Act, they only had 12 weeks from the date the buyout was given the go ahead by the Scottish Government to meet the statutory purchase date and despite early confidence that the public funding would be available, the freeze on available funds had begun to take effect.

As a result, the community has acquired 161 hectares, including the valuable ancient oak forest.

They were able to do this by purchasing the whole Forest for £1.475 million and selling on part to the Mount Stuart Estate for £1.25 million. However, the community has negotiated rights to also use the land sold on for walks and cycle paths and for use in a hydro-scheme. 

The purchase was enabled by a £356,520 grant from Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE) which included contributions towards the acquisition, legal fees, staff and office costs. The Bute Community Land Company (BCLC) raised further funds from the community and private funders to enable the purchase and subsequent proposed development of the land to proceed. 

The community plans to develop walking and mountain bike trails, woodland play areas, eco lodges and a unique forest hub with the view to attracting the green tourist market to Bute.

Over the first ten year period, the BCLC, which was formed by local people to acquire the Forest for community use, hopes the initiative will create around 45 jobs and generate approximately £8.4 million in income to the Island.

BCLC is not restricting its efforts to the purchase and development of the Forest into a tourism attraction. BCLC has recently opened a shop to showcase local Bute produce and arts and crafts through which it hopes to replicate the success of its close neighbour, Arran, in branding and marketing its wares.

John McGhee, Chairman of the Bute Community Land Company (BCLC) commented: “The purchase of the Forest has been a huge challenge for us, particularly given the lack of public funds but what is fantastic is the way the community has pulled together and demonstrated its ingenuity and determination to have a say in the future prosperity of the Island.  

“HIE has granted us 50% of the funding required to employ a full-time project manager to drive the project and we have applied to LEADER for the remaining funding for the post.

“We have also identified a variety of sustainable, income generating, initiatives that will provide the necessary investment to achieve what we want including a hydro scheme which we believe can generate £37k a year.”

Douglas Cowan, HIE's  Area Manager in Argyll and the Islands, said: " HIE has been a strong supporter of this project, with both our Community Land Unit and the Argyll Area Office at HIE providing advice and funding towards the land purchase, legal, staff and office costs, alongside ongoing support. The value in terms of community confidence which this project has achieved should not be underestimated. The buyout of Rhubodach Forest has the potential to bring significant and long term benefits to the residents of Bute through strengthening the economy, increasing visitor numbers and creating business, training and employment opportunities for the whole community."

The community buy-out has received support from local MSP, Enterprise Minister, Jim Mather and Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham.

Commenting on the successful buyout Jim Mather said: “I am so proud of the Bute Community Land Company and the local people who have made this all happen. They have show enormous perseverance, imagination, energy and resilience to get this result and they will not stop now. They have started a process and unleashed new levels of confidence that are now unstoppable and will deliver real benefits for Bute and its people.”

Roseanna Cunningham said: "This has been an extraordinary achievement and I congratulate all those involved for their creativity in reaching a solution to the funding issue despite the current challenging financial circumstances.  With that level of commitment by the local community I am certain that the venture will be a huge success for the people of the island and look forward to future developments with great interest."

Ends

Issued on behalf of the Bute Community Land Company by Ilya Scott of Real PR Ltd. For more information call 07799 416476.

Notes to Editors:

  • The Forestwas put up for sale in August 2009
  • In September 2009 the Bute Community Land Company was formed to apply for permission under the Land Reform Act of Scotland to buy Rhubodach Forest. 
  • A petition of 1,700 signatures of Buteresident in favour of the buyout was gathered in one week and permission was granted.
  • Following the registration of the application, under the rules of the Land reform Act, a community ballot had to be held within 3 months and over 50% of the registered electoral on Butehad to vote for the ballot to be legitimate 
  • In February 2010 52% of the register vote with 93% voting in favour
  • On 30/3/10the Scottish Government approved the plans and the Islanders had 9 weeks to raise the necessary funds.
  • LEADER is part of the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP), aimed at promoting economic and community development within rural areas. LEADERis a bottom-up method of delivering support for rural development through implementing a local rural development strategy. Support is aimed primarily at small-scale, community driven projects that are pilot and innovative in nature.
  • The buy-out was completed on 23rdJuly 2010.

About HIE

HIE's role is to develop sustainable economic growth across the region. To achieve this it creates infrastructure for future investment, assists large and small businesses with growth aspirations and has a unique role strengthening communities, particularly in fragile areas.  As part of this, HIE supports communities to acquire land and other income generating assets.

HIE supports the growth ambitions of business and social enterprise clients by creating close working relationships in order to accelerate growth in turnover, profitability, wage levels, exports and therefore Gross Value Added (GVA) in the HIE area.

HIE also invests in transformational projects across the region to make the Highlands and Islands a more competitive and attractive place to live, work, study and grow.

The region covered by HIE takes in more than half of Scotland, and is home to around 440,000 people.  See www.hie.co.uk for more information.

Company Profile

Real PR has been helping the Bute Community Land Company (BCLC) with the media strategy around the community buyout of a piece of land on the Isle of Bute.

The BCLC has been actively pursuing  a purchase of Rhubodach Forest as a community owned asset for Bute. The community has the statutory right to buy-out the privately owned forest under government legislation.

For more information on BCLC visit their website www.buteforest.com or call Ilya Scott on 0141 533 6975.