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Controversy over £11m estate sale

THE sale of a large Highland estate for more than £11 million has caused controversy because of the large taxpayer-funded subsidies available to the new buyer.

Selling agents Knight Frank & Miller Harris have confirmed the 28,300-acre Auch and Invermearan Estate near Bridge of Orchy, went for over its £11m guide price.

The estate has the potential for 15 hydro-electric schemes. One has already been commissioned, generating a gross income of £245,000 in its first year of operation. There is also deer stalking, and there is also extensive salmon and sea trout fishing on the River Orchy and River Lyon.

However, Auch and Invermearan was highlighted in a report commissioned by Westminster's Scottish Affairs Committee (SAC) last year. It was the work of historian Professor Jim Hunter, former MSP Peter Peacock, land rights researcher Andy Wightman and Michael Foxley, a former leader of Highland Council.

The report pointed to the £600,000-a year in taxpayer-funded subsidies available to the purchaser of the Auch and Invermearan Estate. These were underlined in the estate agent's sales brochure.

The report said: "Perhaps it is perfectly proper someone who can afford to pay £11.4m for a Scottish estate should be getting from the taxpayer a weekly payment more than 200 times greater than that made available to a jobless youngster."

Responding to the sale of the estate, Mr Peacock said: "No wonder the beneficiaries of the current and exclusive private land gravy train oppose change in Scotland's land laws. This sale shows just what the attraction is of Scotland's land to the super-rich. It is simply a means to further grow their already considerable wealth.

"It also demonstrates just how hard it is for communities to compete for control of their local land assets, with prices soaring and an apparently ample supply of the super-rich prepared to fuel those rises because of the lavish public subsidies and tax perks."

The SAC published an interim report in March suggesting government policy on inheritance tax, business property relief, agricultural property subsidies, and non-domestic rates helped preserve inherited wealth in landed estates. These should be reformed unless they are shown to be in the public interest.

Douglas McAdam, chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates, said at the time: "Public interest is exactly why these incentives have been put in place by successive governments."

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