Tag Archives: North Ballachulish

Crofting Commission make a U-turn on Decrofting Appeal to the benefit of many owner-occupiers

Crofting Commission make a U-turn on decrofting appealThe Crofting Commission today confirmed that it has withdrawn its appeal to the Court of Session in connection with the Scottish Land Court’s decision of 18 December 2014 in the case of MacGillivray v Crofting Commission. That case concerned the Crofting Commission’s policy on decrofting where a croft unit is held in multiple ownership.

On 14 December 2012 Crofting Commissioners agreed to adopt a policy that all decrofting and letting applications in respect of crofts with multiple owners, must be submitted by all the owners, in their capacity collectively as the ‘landlord’ of the croft, even in those cases where the application related to a part of the croft held in title by only one of their number. This decision was based on legal advice obtained by the Crofting Commission but never published by them.

This is a sensible decision by the Crofting Commission and puts the position back to what it was before they decided on 14 December 2012 to interpret crofting law in a way that I do not believe was ever intended by the Scottish Government. The Land Court decision was a clear, sensible and fair one and it makes much sense for the Crofting Commission to abide by it.

There will be a huge sense of relief amongst owner-occupiers of croft land who are not classified in law as owner-occupier crofters. They can now apply to decroft land that they own without requiring the consent of neighbours who happen to be owners of part of the original croft unit. The lack of such consent in certain instances was causing huge problems for many who have been in a state of limbo for over two years now.

The Crofting Commission in their official press release have stated:-

Due to the fixed deadline for submitting an appeal, the Crofting Commission submitted a skeleton appeal to provide it with sufficient time to convene the full Commission and allow it to discuss the implications of the decision.

The Commission met last week to review the case and it was decided to withdraw the appeal and accept the ruling of the Land Court which establishes that a single owner, as the landlord of their part of the croft, are entitled to submit a regulatory decrofting application to the Commission.

The Crofting Commission had originally found Mr & Mrs MacGillivray’s application to decroft land at 37 North Ballachulish for house building to have been incompetent, therefore, the Commission could not take a decision on it.  The recent Scottish Land Court ruling found the application to be competent.  No decision has been made yet on the merits of the application which the Commission will now have to reconsider.

The case challenged the Commission’s policy which was adopted at its Board meeting on 14 December 2012.  The policy found that all decrofting and letting applications in respect of crofts with multiple owners, must be submitted by all of the owners, in their capacity collectively as the ‘landlord’ of the croft.

The Land Court has ruled that in a multiple ownership situation one of the owners can apply independently from the other owners where the application solely relates to the land that they own.

Crofting Commission Convener, Susan Walker said “The ruling has implications on part croft owners in relation to the requirement to register the croft prior to submitting certain regulatory applications.  The Commission is working to align our policy to the ruling and will begin to process applications relating to part crofts from single owners.”

Brian Inkster

Lochaber Decrofting Application Rejected

Rejected Decrofting ApplicationThe Scottish Crofting Federation issued this press release today:-

The Scottish Crofting Federation has welcomed the Crofting Commission’s decision to reject as incompetent a controversial decrofting application in Lochaber that would have allowed ten houses to be built on a croft there. The SCF believes the decision is indicative of a strong new line against speculative development on croft land.

The application by Donald and Elizabeth MacGillivray to decroft part of their croft at Oldtown in North Ballachulish followed the couple’s successful planning application for the right to turn the majority of the croft there into a housing development. Their planning application was eventually passed on appeal by a single Scottish Government reporter based in the Lowlands, despite having first been rejected by Highland Council’s planning committee. It had been opposed by local crofters.

The MacGillivrays, who are long-term absentees from the croft, lodged their decrofting application before the new 2010 Crofting Act came into force. The 2010 Act granted new powers to the Commission to oppose speculative development on croft land. Because the MacGillivrays application was to be decided in terms of the pre-2010 legislation fears were raised that the Commission might therefore be forced to approve it.

However, after a hearing in Ballachulish earlier this summer, the Commission have now rejected the MacGillivrays’ decrofting application as incompetent and have returned it to the applicants after concluding from the evidence presented by the applicants’ legal agents that “the occupied extent of the croft and the owned extent do not coincide”.

Iain MacKinnon, who researched the Oldtown case on behalf of SCF, said: “Our understanding is that if the MacGillivrays now resubmit a decrofting proposal for their land at Oldtown they will have to do so under the terms of the 2010 Act, which has much stronger provisions against speculation. The SCF warmly welcomes the Crofting Commission’s decision at Oldtown and the broader policy shift we believe it represents. Although the Commission were not able to use their new powers against speculative development in this case, it seems clear to us that their decision here is indicative of a strong new line against speculation that, in future, will be supported by further powers.

“What is of even greater significance now is that this unwelcome proposal at Oldtown has shown that there is a desire to revitalise crofting in North Ballachulish. With such enthusiasm in the locality the different bodies with responsibility for crofting regulation and development now have the chance to turn a threat for crofting into an opportunity for crofting.”

It is interesting that the application has, in effect, been rejected on a technicality rather than following an exploration of the substantive issues involved. Readers of this blog will know that the Crofting Commission appear to like using technicalities when they can to put off the day that they will actually have to make a real decision on an application to decroft.

It is understood that the rejection of the MacGillivrays’ application as incompetent was in response to an apparently critical issue raised at the application hearing by a lawyer acting on behalf of the local grazings committee. He raised the question “as to whether the whole of the croft owned and/or tenanted is occupied by the applicants”.

In response the Crofting Commission concluded:

In the absence of any evidence that the applicants own the full extent of the land occupied by them as part of their croft (such as another disposition by the landlord) or any adequate explanation by the applicants, the Commission have assumed that part of the croft remains tenanted.

The Commission have returned the application to the applicant’s agent as incompetent on the basis that it is not clear from the plans provided whether part of the occupied croft extent (as shown by the Crofting Commission plan approved by the applicants) still remains in tenancy and how much of the croft is owned.

It is possible then that the MacGillvrays’ could now fall into the ‘alien’ category previously highlighted on this blog and, if so, their status would be presently unknown, in the eyes of the Crofting Commission, for the purposes of decrofting. Thus a fresh application to decroft would not be considered by Crofting Commission until such time as they resolve what that status actually is. More about what the Crofting Commission are doing (or perhaps not doing) with regard to ‘alien’ status will be discussed in my next blog post.

Brian Inkster