Two members of the Bays of Harris Steering Group (Katie Ann Mackinnon and John Maher) recently met with Rob Hitchcock, who was representing the four members of the Hitchcock family who currently own the Bays of Harris Estate.
The meeting was hosted by Sarah-Jane Laing of Scottish Land and Estates at their offices in Edinburgh. Ingrid Galbraith and Ailsa Raeburn from HIE were also in attendance. This was the first meeting between the Steering Group and estate landlord. During the meeting Mr Hitchcock outlined his family connections to the Bays of Harris Estate and his day to day role in its management and development. We then talked about the current support for a buyout and how we had got to where we are. We explained the public meetings we have held and the current status of the Renewables and Development Feasibility reports.
Mr Hitchcock indicated that while the owners have no particular desire to sell the estate, they do appreciate the move toward community ownership throughout Scotland and in particular the Western Isles. He also appreciates the Land Reform Act does allow crofters to request a sale even from an unwilling seller. He is interested in better understanding what the community want to do with the estate and whether there is support for a buyout across the whole estate.
Mr Hitchcock would like to consider whether there might be any opportunities for partnering with the community on some of the developments identified – this would mean retaining an interest in some of the estate or leasing back certain parts. He might also want to discuss retaining some areas of the estate outright. We are awaiting proposals from him which we are expecting by early June. These will be reviewed in the light of the current feasibility study findings, with options then presented to the three communities (Bays, Northton and Berneray) for discussion. We have no further information at this stage as to what these proposals might be, as this meeting in Edinburgh was the first time we had heard he might want to look at partnership or joint ventures.
The Feasibility study is still to be completed as we are awaiting some estate information from Rob Hitchcock, which has delayed the study’s findings. As soon as this is completed we will issue a summary of the report to every household and then hold further public meetings to discuss the Feasibility study findings, along with any proposals put forward by Mr Hitchcock.