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Crown Estates reforms row

THE Treasury was last night accused of acting like Marie Antoinette before the French Revolution by throwing Scots the right to fish for oysters and mus-sels, while keeping control of the earning potential of the seabed.

The Whitehall department yesterday ruled out devolving the Crown Estate in Scotland and will leave it instead to continue to be administered by the unelected Crown Estate Commission (CEC).

However, it was announced the CEC will transfer land at West Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh and the rights to fish wild oysters and mussels to Scottish organisations.

It will also make its property management more locally based north of the Border; and formalise the role of the Scottish commissioner, who will chair a newly established Scottish Management Board and take a lead role across all activities in Scotland.

However, the concessions were last night described as "utterly trifling" and the Treasury's equivalent of Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat mussels instead of cake".

The Treasury was responding to the hard-hitting report from the Scottish Affairs Committee on the Crown Estate in March which accused the CEC of behaving like "an absentee landlord or tax collector" and of not re-investing in the communities from which it derives income.

The committee's report concluded the CEC's responsibilities for administering the marine portfolio, including seabed leases, and other ancient rights of the Crown in Scotland should be terminated and devolved and further decentralised.

However, the Treasury said yesterday: "The Government recognises the committee's con-cerns, but is not persuaded the proposals for devolution would offer the best solution to these problems. After careful consideration, the Government has con-cluded there are strengths in the existing arrangements which should be retained as a matter of public interest. For instance, the Crown Estate's unified management framework provides an incentive to investment in offshore renewable energy."

However, Dr Michael Foxley, former LibDem leader of the High- land Council who has campaigned for reform of the CEC for more than 25 years, said the concessions were "utterly trifling". "It is the Treasury's equivalent of Marie Antoinette, but 'Let them eat mussels instead of cake'. It is quite appalling for the Treasury to come with up with this."

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: "This is a missed opportunity by the UK Government for much-needed accountability of the Crown Estate. These developments do not go far enough and greater transparency is needed over all Crown Estate functions in Scotland."

Ian Davidson, the Glasgow Labour MP who chairs the Scottish Affairs Committee, said "The fact that the Treasury have sneaked this report out on a very busy day in parliament is an indication they want it noticed as little as possible. The committee will be discussing probably tomorrow how we will respond."

David Cameron, chairman of Community Land Scotland, said "We are not interested in token arrangements, we want our communities to have a real stake in the future ownership and management of their marine resources and to use those assets to grow their local economy – we are looking for access to assets that have real economic value to local communities."

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Local government

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