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Land fund will help make community dreams reality

West Highland Free Press, 1st March 2001

The Scottish Land Fund which will back up community buy-out initiatives with 10.8 million of National Lottery money was launched on Monday at Auchtertyre in Lochalsh, where the fund is to be based.

Originally conceived of as a means of supporting projects backed by the Community Land Unit at Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Land Fund (SLF) will now be Scotland-wide. However, the committee which will determine applications is heavily weighted towards the Highlands and Islands, reflecting the likely source of most applications.

Four jobs will be created at Auchtertyre and the HIE/Scottish Enterprise Community Land Unit has won the contract to administer the Land Fund. The HIE chairman, Jim Hunter, told Monday's gathering - which was depleted due to weather conditions - the choice of location should make other public bodies think.

He said: "There could be no better location for a venture of this kind than right in the rural heartland. I firmly believe that Lochalsh today is setting an example by showing how easy it is, if the will is there, to devolve public-sector jobs away from the urban centres."

The money allocated to the Scottish Land Fund is only a fraction of the 170 million which the New Opportunities Fund will be spending in Scotland over the next three years. It was through a unique decision by the former Scottish Office and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport that the step was taken of creating a subsidiary fund with its own source of ring-fenced funding.

Mr David Campbell, who chairs both the Land Fund Committee and the New Opportunities Fund (N OF) Scottish Committee, told the Free Press that a majority within the former body would normally be enough to decide on any given application. The board of NOF would "technically" be able to reverse an SLF decision if the land in question was being purchased for more than 2 million.

Negotiations are already going on for the life-span of the Land Fund to be extended to 2007 though any decision on additional funding beyond the current three-year allocation would be at the discretion of Ministers. However, Mr Campbell said he was "fully confident that there will be extra resources made available" beyond the three years.

The Land Fund Committee has already met twice although only to discuss matters of protocol for determining applications. It is next due to meet on 26th April and the Fund Manager, Neil Ross, said he was "optimistic" that communities with projects in the pipeline would be able to move quickly enough to get their applications before the committee by then.

Brian Wilson MP, who as a Minister at the Scottish Office after the 1997 election set up the Community Land Unit at HIE, told the Free Press this week that the "pieces of the land reform jigsaw are finally falling into place". He said it was "absolutely crucial" that community buy-outs under the new legislation would have somewhere to go for funding as of right, instead of having to rely entirely on ad hoc fundraising.

Mr Wilson said that the new Land Fund was the first to be created by government since the National Land Fund established by Hugh Dalton, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the post-war Labour government. He was certain there would be further funding in future if the demand for community buy-outs accelerated in the way that he anticipated.

The Deputy First Minister in the Scottish Executive, Jim Wallace, was snow-bound in Orkney for Monday's launch but sent a message by speaker-phone saying the new fund would give practical help to communities which had long nurtured the dream of owning their own land in the Highlands and Islands and elsewhere.
Pictured at the launch of the Scottish Land Fund are (left to right) David Campbell, John Watt, Pauline Cameron, Jim Hunter and Stephen Dunmore

West Highland Free Press www.whfp.com

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