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Case Study Six:

RURAL DEVELOPMENT THROUGH PARTNERSHIP: BALMACARA SQUARE RESTORATION AND TOWNSHIP REORGANISATION PROJECT:

Iain Turnbull

bulletIntroduction
bulletBalmacara Estate
bulletHistory
bulletProject planning and management in the NTS
bulletProject objectives
bulletCommunity involvement
bulletProject elements
bulletFunding
bulletOn-going management structure
bulletConclusions

Introduction

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) is a charity established in 1931 by Act of Parliament with the purpose of preserving the heritage of Scotland for the nation and providing for public enjoyment thereof. The NTS owns in excess of 100 properties around the country including mountainous countryside, coastline, crofting estates, islands, gardens, large and small houses and castles. The entire NTS holding amounts to around 175,000 acres. The NTS has the unique ability (in Scotland) to declare land in its ownership "inalienable". This means that the land cannot be sold and indeed cannot be acquired by force, i.e. compulsory purchase, by another party without approval by Parliament. The majority of the holdings are held inalienably.

Balmacara Estate

The Balmacara Estate is situated at the western end of the parish of Lochalsh (see Appendix 1, Map 1) and includes the communities of Kyle of Lochalsh (partly), Plockton, Balmacara, Badicaul, Erbusaig, Drumbuie, Duirinish, Port an Eorna, Port na Cloich and Kirkton. The population on, or within the immediate vicinity of, the estate is approximately 1,000. The estate extends to about 6,300 acres although it was considerably larger when first acquired - in two principal stages - some 50 years ago. In 1946 the bulk of it was bequeathed to the NTS by the late Lady Margaret Hamilton, in accordance with the wishes of her late husband, Sir Daniel Hamilton. The estate then extended to some 8,800 acres. In 1953 on the death of Miss Katherine Lillingston, the NTS acquired, through the procedures of the National Land Fund, 13 acres at Glaick consisting of Lochalsh House and policies. Today there are over 400 feus, mainly house sites, and a large feu in favour of the Forestry Commission that accounts for the large decrease in size of the estate. The NTS retains an interest in the management of the forestry land under the terms of the feu disposition.

The Balmacara Square settlement is the centre of this project and is located 3 miles east of Kyle of Lochalsh just off the A87 trunk road (see Appendix 1, Map 1). This settlement is a combination of a crofting township, old non-crofting residences and newer local authority or housing association houses and private residences. There is also an impressive range of derelict steadings, an old mill (currently a village hall owned by the community) and an ice house. These buildings form the focal point of this project (see Appendix 1, Map 2). The settlement is surrounded by agricultural land that is a mixture of crofts and farmland. The village rests in a large bowl overlooked by the slopes of Sgurr Mor and Auchtertyre Hill and the lower hills of Coille Mhor with its important remnant oak wood. The slopes of Sgurr Mor and Auchtertyre Hill are heavily forested with a spruce/larch mix that is currently reaching thinning age. There is considerable evidence throughout the forest of the remains of the earlier native woodland that was underplanted.

History

The estate has undergone a succession of ownership changes over the years. Earliest records have the estate being owned by the MacKenzies of Seaforth until 1807 when it was acquired by Sir Hugh Innes. In 1853 it was sold to Alexander Matheson MP of Ardross and he subsequently sold to Sir Daniel Hamilton in 1919. Sir Daniel died in 1939, leaving the estate to his widow Lady Margaret Hamilton on the understanding that she bequeath it to the NTS on her death. Lady Hamilton died in 1946.

Balmacara Square was traditionally the centre of the Balmacara Estate. The estate offices and Home Farm were located there on some of the best land in the area. The settlement would have played an important role in the past, being located on the route of the cattle drovers to the markets in the east and south. Also the farm itself would have produced very fine stock.

The settlement gradually developed from a very minimal range of houses and a small steading to one of around 40 households. The steading, which dates originally from the 1770s, developed in stages according to the wishes and requirements of the owner at the time. It was originally built as a stables and cart shed and consisted of a single range. The development appears to reflect significant changes in agriculture at various stages in history, most notably the introduction of cattle rearing, the change from cattle to sheep, and finally the change of tenure to include crofting for the first time.

In the early 1920s the then owner, Sir Daniel Hamilton, created ten crofts out of the Home Farm with each crofter sharing in an extensive area of hill grazings. By the early 1950s one of these crofts had become a separate farm (Achnahenich) and only four of the remaining nine were actively managed. As a result the NTS decided to return the five under-used crofts with most of the Mains Farm into a single farm which was leased along with Balmacara House to the county council as a farming school. The four remaining crofts shared the grazings with the farm. The school ran until the early 1970s when it was closed and a large area of the grazings was feued to the Forestry Commission. The remainder of the farm with no grazings (owing to the FC feu) was leased jointly to two of the crofters who managed it until 1992. By this time the farm was in very poor condition as were the croft steadings. The steadings were resumed and the NTS sought tenants for the farm without much success. This situation led to the development of the existing project.

Project Planning and Management in the NTS

The NTS has a formal system for planning and managing larger projects. This system follows a series of stages from initial concept through to completion of the work. The system is set in motion by the establishment of a Project Team. The Project Team for this project included the Regional Factor (chairman), the Property Administrator, the Regional Accountant, the Director of Buildings and Gardens and a member of the Highland Regional Committee. The Project Team’s responsibility was to establish a concept for the project and to prepare an initial feasibility of the outline proposals. These proposals were then considered by the NTS’s Executive Committee, and a project architect appointed. The next stage involved development of the proposals to a full feasibility study and business plan, based upon estimated costings. After this study had been considered and approved by the Executive Committee, the team proceeded to draw up detailed plans and costings/estimates and secure the necessary consents and funding. The funding package was then submitted to the NTS’s annual budgeting programme and the necessary NTS funds were allocated for the following financial year. Once the consents and funding have been secured the contract will be let and completed. At present this project is still at the penultimate stage although the majority of the funding has been secured.

Project Objectives

A range of objectives were identified for the project as follows:

bulletto demonstrate positive and proactive management, bringing together the management of land and buildings
bulletto consider all the buildings in the Square and in particular to aim to repair the B-listed steading and the associated barn in a sympathetic and sensitive manner, considering at all times their cultural significance
bulletto demonstrate new uses for old buildings consistent with the above
bulletto consider the future management of the Old Mill (in support of the local community) and the two croft houses lying adjacent to the steading
bulletto re-settle the land and promote co-operation and partnership land management, and provide housing and business opportunities for local people, within the existing buildings
bulletto bring together the NTS, the community and outside agencies through early consultations
bulletto provide a focus for visitor activity in the area
bulletto maximise external funding; and
bulletto maximise income and reduce the property revenue deficit, consistent with the above objectives.

Community Involvement

Great emphasis was placed upon involvement of the local community from the very beginning of planning this project. Before any proposals were drawn up the NTS began a process of community involvement by writing to every household in the Square asking for suggestions for the future use of the area concerned. In all 17 different types of proposal were suggested, many of them mutually compatible. After this initial consultation the circulation was widened to include Reraig and Glaick communities following some complaints that only residents of The Square had been consulted. This demonstrates the difficulty of defining the ‘community’ for these types of project.

Following this initial approach a public meeting was held in the Old Mill Hall to discuss the thoughts of the NTS and the above objectives, in tandem with the various suggestions from the community. With one exception all the suggestions from the community are now included in the project proposals and one or two additional features have been added. The various elements of the project are discussed below (please see "Project Elements" below).

The project architect created sketch plans, and further public meetings were held to discuss the community’s views. Members of the project team carried out research into the feasibility of the proposals and the outline costs involved. One major element was subsequently ruled out on account of its dubious viability, namely a small heritage centre/shop and tea-room facility in the barn. It was agreed however, that if an individual approached the NTS to run a shop or tea-room in any of the space provided he or she would be considered fairly as a tenant.

Early discussions were held with Skye and Lochalsh Enterprise (SALE), The Highland Council (HC), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Scottish Homes (SH) to ascertain whether funding was likely to be available. The early signs were favourable and indeed SALE encouraged the formation of a Funding Steering Group to facilitate efficient development of what was likely to be a complex funding package. This group involved representatives from all the main funding agencies. The Feasibility Study was considered and approved by the Executive Committee and a provisional sum allocated to the long-term budget of the NTS.

Detailed plans were drawn up and further public meetings held. Quantity surveyors were appointed and discussion continued with the funders. At one of the public meetings it was suggested from the floor that a dedicated group be established to represent more effectively the community for the duration of the project. This was agreed and it was suggested that such a group could facilitate community involvement in the NTS’s activities in the Square in the future as well.

A brief constitution was drawn up and nominations requested for five people to be elected to the Balmacara Square Liaison Group. There were 15 nominations and five individuals were duly elected with a chairman being selected from their number. The NTS’s Administrator agreed to act as secretary to the group and the Regional Factor agreed to attend their meetings as required.

The crofting element of the project involved more detailed discussions with the four existing crofters and the Crofters’ Commission (CC). The CC put at our disposal the services of one of their Technical Officers and provided legal advice as well. A draft scheme to enable the creation of eight new crofts with shares in the grazing was drawn up. Through consultation the scheme was significantly amended and the final draft scheme is now ready for formal agreement and submission to The Scottish Executive for approval.

The necessary Planning Consent and Building Warrants were obtained and applications were submitted to a wide range of funding agencies. Funding has been secured from The Highland Council, Scottish Homes and Scottish Natural Heritage, and further applications are being considered by Skye and Lochalsh Enterprise, and the European Objective One Programme.

Project Elements

Restoration of Buildings

The buildings form the core of the initial stages of the project. The steading and hay barn will be restored and converted to five flats, four workshops and a small interpretation base. The flats will be let at affordable rents on a long-let basis and will consist of one- and two-bedroom accommodation. The workshops will be let to local businesses for uses that are sympathetic to the surroundings and the adjacent residential units. It is anticipated that craft industries and small retail operations may find these units quite attractive. The interpretation base will be situated within the steading between the housing element and the workshops. This will interpret the history of the Square area as a whole; the conservation work carried out on the buildings and surrounding landscape; and the land use issues affecting the whole estate and crofting in particular. It will also provide details of various walks in the area. There will also be a new full-colour property guidebook providing more detailed information for those seeking it.

Landscaping

The landscape works will involve the restoration of the old millpond and landscaping of the immediate environs of the buildings. There will be parking for residents, for those using the workshops and for the visiting public. A native species policy has been adopted for all planting within the landscaped area and several of the ‘habitats’ created will be interpreted as an educational tool. The pupils in the local school were involved in an exercise with the architect to build a model of the whole project.

Community Hall

The Old Mill Hall, which is owned by the community, is in very poor condition. The committee submitted an application to the 21st Century Halls Programme for assistance with the improvements that are required. At the request of the community the NTS has assisted with the planning of this work by providing advice; free architectural services and input from other specialists; and circulation of information within the wider project consultations. Unfortunately, however, the application proved unsuccessful and the hall is now closed until further notice.

Archaeology

Archaeology has featured significantly throughout the planning of the project and will feed strongly into the interpretation and subsequent management of the area. Kirkdale Archaeology were commissioned to carry out a full detailed survey of all the buildings and to provide a report of the development of the area with information about the significance of the various features. This information was used to create a Statement of Cultural Significance for the buildings and landscape features. Later an archaeologist was commissioned to carry out various small trial excavations to estimate the likely impact of archaeological features on the construction work and to check some of the theories put forward by Kirkdale. The archaeologist will be retained under a watching brief for the duration of the construction work and a clear policy will be provided for the contractors to follow in order to avoid any damage to the resource.

Creating New Crofts

The Home Farm represents the other major part of this project. The intention is to turn over the farmland, about 90 acres, to crofting. Eight new crofts will be created through a Statutory Township Reorganisation. Each of the new crofters will have a share in the existing grazings along with the existing crofters. The grazings currently extend to about 1,500 acres with the majority being controlled by two of the crofters. These crofters have agreed to relinquish part of their share in return for additional croft land. In effect three crofters will share in one part of the grazings and the remainder (with one exception) will share in another larger area. The individual excluded from these two areas will retain existing rights to a separate small area of hill. Thus there will be three areas of grazings with a complex arrangement of shareholders (see Appendix 1, Maps 3 and 4).

The new croft land is currently in hand with the NTS and is held inalienably. It is a concern that the land could be acquired through the crofting acts and thus lost to the township as a whole. In general the NTS is opposed to this right to buy (but not to the purchase of the house site) as it is thought to be detrimental to the wider community interest. Therefore, the NTS will be asking the new crofters to agree to relinquish the right to buy their croft. They will still have the right to buy their croft house site, and an area of land has been allocated for all new croft housing. The allocation of housing land should avoid sporadic development of housing throughout the township on the better agricultural land and will facilitate servicing. The NTS has agreed that it will not seek to resume land from crofting in the township unless there is clear community support for it to do so.

Access and Recreation

Access and recreation are seen as important elements of the project that will be developed through time in partnership with the community and neighbouring landowners if required. Provision for parking and interpretation is clearly included within the scheme and through an associated Millennium Forest Project improvements will be made to public access to the native woodlands around the area. Consideration will be given in time to improving access to the crofts in order to allow visitors to see active crofting being practised. Thus there will be opportunities for croft tourism.

Woodland Management

The Forestry Commission (FC) has a feu of land immediately adjacent to the Square and has played an important role in the area in the past, prior to the local office being closed. As a result of this project the community approached FC requesting a partnership arrangement and the NTS have expressed a desire to be included in this too. Under the terms of the feu from the NTS the FC are bound to consult the NTS on management issues affecting amenity, access and conservation. Thus FC set up a ‘Forests For Real’ exercise with the community which indicated that proposals for some community involvement had considerable support. FC is currently evaluating the data from this exercise and is expected to return to the community with proposals later this year. The key issues were access, amenity and the likely impact of thinning and felling operations on the village. The Forest Design Plan is expected to deal with these issues and is due to be developed soon.

Funding

The funding of this project has proved to be exceedingly complicated. Initially it was anticipated that there could be as many as fifteen partners, but as some of these have dropped away it looks as if the final number may be only eight. The total cost of the building and landscaping work (not including the Old Mill Hall) is expected to be about 1.3 million, towards which the NTS has committed 550,000 from its own funds. The hall project, now shelved (see above), was estimated at a further 220,000, of which community will need to raise about 30,000 themselves, although the NTS in-kind contribution will reduce this figure. There are no costs associated with the crofting re-organisation scheme at present, other than legal costs, 50 per cent of which have been funded by Highland and Islands Enterprise’s (HIE’s) Community Land Unit. There will be costs associated with this element of the project in the longer term but it is expected that a full development programme will be worked up once the new crofters are in place.

The various funding partners are expected to be NTS, the Highland Land Fund, HIE’s Community Land Unit, The Highland Council (Housing Department and Community Projects Grant), Scottish Homes, Scottish Natural Heritage, Skye and Lochalsh Enterprise and the European Objective One Programme (HIPP). The complexity of the development and the different rules that the various agencies apply has made the determination of the optimum funding package very difficult. From the early stages there has been very strong support in principle for the project from most of these agencies. However, converting that enthusiasm into offers of grant has taken a huge effort from NTS staff and a consultant. Varying feedback and apparent changes in policy from some of the agencies throughout the time-scale of the project development have made this even more difficult. There are still three main applications outstanding and negotiations are continuing. Each of these applications is essential if the project is to proceed. The timing of the work has been seriously affected by delays arising out of the application processes for some of these grants. Thus the tender prices upon which the costs are based may well have to be revisited. Such a complicated process would be hugely daunting to a community group and even with such a determined effort the NTS is still going to be the largest single contributor. A private individual or community group would find it very difficult to raise the necessary capital for a project of this nature.

On-going Management Structure

Once the major capital works have been carried out and the new crofting township is established, it is intended that the community will continue to have an active role in the management of the area. The Project Liaison Group will evolve into a slightly larger group which will include representation from the crofting interest. The new group will have seven community members, with at least three non-crofters and two crofters, and up to two NTS members. The two additional community places will come from either sector according to the number of votes.

This group will form a Management Committee responsible for strategic developments and representing the community in decisions relating to the letting of crofts, flats, workshops, etc. A Management Agreement will be drawn up regarding the strategic management of the whole township, including the non-crofting elements, and this will be signed by the NTS, the members of the Management Committee and the crofting shareholders. This tripartite agreement aims to ensure co-operative action and full community accountability. A Five Year Management Plan will be prepared outlining community projects and priorities in terms of infrastructural developments, access, the environment, forestry and woodland management, etc. There will also be a Township Grazings Committee that will be responsible for day-to-day running of the grazings. It is expected that members of the grazings committees will be present on the wider Management Committee.

At present the NTS operates a system whereby any income generated from sale of land is added to the existing property endowment fund. Given the position regarding the right to buy stated above, it is intended that the NTS will seek to ‘ring-fence’ the Balmacara Township in this regard. Therefore, if land is resumed and sold with the support of the community, or if there is any income from croft house site sales this money will be added to a dedicated Balmacara Township Fund as an endowment for the area. The capital of this fund will not be used for developments, only the annual income. Any leasing income from resumed land will be put into a dedicated reserve fund for revenue or capital funding of projects within the township.

Conclusions

This project is clearly very complex but represents a huge financial investment in the area. There is very strong community support for the proposals and there appears to be a new sense of anticipation in the township. The project will create solutions, at least partial ones, to the problems of affordable housing for young locals, lack of access to land, and economic development. The revitalised crofting township will have opportunities to take advantage of the tourism trade and will result in clear environmental and landscape benefits. However, the true benefit of the project will only be measured over a period of years if the initial enthusiasm is translated into real and active community involvement.

There is a definite need for flexibility in determining solutions to the land-related problems of the area. Despite the clear support in principle for this integrated project too few of the grant systems are tailored to assist. Support systems need to be flexible and an easier way of bringing together the wide array of agencies is required if small community interests are to be able to bring forward projects of this type. Flexibility is of equal importance to the individuals involved on the ground. Entrenched positions and individual gain are often obstacles to progress and a degree of altruism needs to be engendered for true community benefit to be achieved. It is important that management structures are able to evolve as the project develops, as it is unlikely that the optimum or perfect structures will be created at the first attempt. Thus every opportunity must be taken to involve all aspects of the community and partnership bodies without prejudice. Hopefully within the next year or so the buildings will be fully restored and the new crofts will be occupied. Then the real work begins - putting together a proper programme of integrated sustainable community development through community discussion and consensus.

 

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