Management of coastal waters in Scotland could be handed to local authorities under plans for Scottish devolution

Mooring rights, marina development and fish farms in Scotland could all be managed by 19 separate local councils rather than the Crown Estate after the Scotland Bill is passed.

There is widespread concern that this may have a detrimental impact on leisure sailors. ‘We do not have anything against local authorities but we are concerned about whether they would have the experience and the capacity, in terms of manpower and resources available, to properly fulfill this function,’ said James Allan, chief executive of RYA Scotland.

The Scotland Bill, first published at the end of May, stated that ‘The Treasury may make a scheme transferring the existing Scottish functions of the Crown Estate Commissioners to the Scottish Ministers or a person nominated by the Scottish,’ and this could include ‘local authority areas which seek such responsibility,’ according to the Smith Commission report.

Many in Scotland support devolution, but worry about the consequences for sailors and marine businesses if this happens. David Vass, secretary for the West Highland Anchorage and Moorings Association (WHAM), said: ‘If management of the seabed passes from a central authority to local authorities, it could be handled inconsistently between regions, with potentially calamitous outcomes.

‘In the Sound of Mull, with Argyll and Bute on one side and the Highlands on the other, if one council charged a different amount to the other, it could have a disastrous impact on marine businesses there,’ said Mr Vass.

“Yachtsmen north and south of the border are being encouraged to get in touch with their MPs”

The potential for fragmenting marine planning policy in Scotland is of most concern. ‘It would become much harder for the RYA to represent the interests of boaters if 19 local authorities had 19 different approaches to marine planning,’ explained James Allan. ‘This could affect anything from the availability and cost of moorings, to the development of marinas and the placement of fish farms.’

For many in the marine leisure industry, maintaining as much of the status quo as possible is the ideal. Martin Latimer, Chairman of BMF Scotland, said:
‘The Crown Estate has reinvented itself and become very good at what it does. It is a single point of contact for everything on the management of coastal areas and invests £5m a year in coastal regions through the Coastal Communities Fund. We would be very concerned if coastal management was devolved entirely to local authorities.’

The Crown Estate is also a vital component of the new Marine Tourism Strategy for Scotland, a unified plan to grow the sector by 25 per cent from £360m to £450m a year by 2020. ‘It represents genuine joined-up thinking across all regions and all marine tourism sectors,’ said Latimer. Following the general election, there are a significant number of new MPs, particularly in Scotland, and yachtsmen north and south of the border are encouraged to get in touch with their MPs or MSPs.

Gus Lewis, RYA Cruising, Legal & Government Affairs Manager, said: ‘The messages to get across are the importance of recreational boating in Scotland, socially and as an economic driver, and the value that a joined-up approach to managing development in the marine environment has to businesses, clubs and boaters.’

Sailors shouldn’t be too alarmed at this stage, however, as the process will take time. ‘It is important to see this all in balance. There is a lot of work being done to get a good outcome by all parties,’ said Latimer.


Read the full story in our Summer 2015 issue