After much anxious waiting the directors of the Bute Community Land Company heard on Friday that the Scottish Government had formally approved their application to register a community interest in 1700 acres of land at Rhubodach Forest paving the way for the community buy out to proceed. The vendors, Lord and Lady Attenborough, had formally opposed the application. However, their solicitor explained that this was simply because they felt an obligation to the successful bidder when the property went to a closing date. He added : “That duty is now out of the way and my clients are quite happy to sell to the community”.
BCLC had submitted a written case to the Scottish Government arguing that the acquisition of the forest by the community would create local employment opportunities, develop opportunities for significant new leisure and recreation facilities, improve the area’s biodiversity and wildlife and enable sustainable energy generation for fuel. It added that acquiring the forest would “greatly enhance the social cohesiveness and sense of belonging of the community and transform the social, economic and environmental prospects of the island”. In approving the buy out the Scottish Government agreeing saying that “BCLC’s proposals should contribute positively to the sustainable development of the land and the local community through the provision of community facilities for both locals and tourists and promote the general well-being of the community”.
The chairman of BCLC, John McGhee QC, said he was delighted and relieved. This was he said “an historic moment for the people of Bute. It provides them with a never-to-be-repeated opportunity to own a significant part of the island themselves and to use it to help regenerate the island’s fortunes”.
The directors of BCLC have not been idle in the long wait for a decision. Masterplanners have been interviewed and are being engaged to carry out a full feasibility study. They will also lead the community consultation process which will start in earnest in January leading to a ballot of all the voters in the island in early February. Various interest groups including cyclists, walkers, bird watchers and those interested in commercial forestry have already been involved and presentations have been made to pupils at Rothesay Academy . The directors are now considering how best to carry the consultation process forward. They are keen to hear the views of all the residents of the island and for as many as possible to get involved in the project.
John McGhee emphasized that “this is not just a purchase of land for the community but the purchase of land by the community”. He added “It will be the residents of Bute who decide how the land should be managed and how it will be used for the benefit of both residents and tourists.”
On the question of funding, BCLC remains confident that it will achieve 100% funding for the purchase. John McGhee added: “this is definitely not a case of asking residents to put their hands in their own pockets”.