A community bid to buy a small island populated by just five people and valued at over £4million has taken a massive leap forward.
Campaigners in north-west Mull had been battling to purchase the Isle of Ulva so they could attract people to the 4500-acre island and stimulate economic activity.
They have now been handed a £4.4m award that paves the way for negotiations to begin with its owner. They have just 10 weeks to push forward the sale.
The award, from the Scottish Government-funded Scottish Land Fund, comes just weeks after Roseanna Cunningham, Scotland’s Land Reform Secretary, gave the go-ahead for the North West Mull Community Woodland Company (NWMCWC) to purchase Ulva and the Ulva Ferry port on Mull.
The Fund, which helps communities take ownership of land and buildings, confirmed it is to hand over up to £4,415,200 to help move the potential purchase closer.
The NWMCWC, which already owns a large area of Mull as a community asset, has until June 9 to agree terms with the landowner, Jamie Howard, to raise any extra funding they need and to complete the sale.
It was the first group to register interest in an island under the Scottish Government’s Community Right to Buy legislation.
Colin Morrison, chair of NWMCWC, expressed delight at the funding news.
He said: “This award from the Scottish Land Fund is hugely significant, not only for Ulva but also more broadly for north-west Mull.
“Our top priority is to renovate the existing buildings and provide secure leases for present and new residents and businesses. We aim to have 20 or more people living on Ulva within two or three years, rising to as many as 50 or more in time as new houses are built.
“Social and economic development of Ulva will bring benefits to the neighbouring communities on Mull. Schools, shops, local services and industry will all receive a boost from the increased population and also from the increased number of visitors we are confident we shall see once accommodation and facilities are provided for them on the island.”
The island was put on the market last year for offers over £4.25m. Agents highlighted its links to the authors Beatrix Potter and Sir Walter Scott, who used Ulva as inspiration for his poem Lord of the Isles.
The package includes cottages, a Grade II listed church and Neolithic standing stones.
However, its sale on the open market was halted by the Scottish Government after the community expressed its hopes to use land reform laws to buy it.
The estate owner later criticised the buyout plans and raised concerns over whether the community group would have sufficient funds to run the island properly. He has claimed the buyout would leave him homeless and criticised the Scottish Government’s handling of the matter.
Ms Cunningham said: “Today’s award should provide the NW Mull Community Woodland Company with the means to make a fair and serious offer for the island.
“This is further demonstration of the Scottish Government’s commitment to empowering communities via land reform – enabling them to determine their own futures.
“If the purchase is successful, then I’m sure that the people of Ulva, and its surrounding area, will reap the benefits of community ownership for years to come.”
John Watt, chair of the Scottish Land Fund, which is delivered in partnership with the Big Lottery Fund and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, added: “Local people are now one step closer to extending the area the community currently owns and, in doing so, putting the future of the island of Ulva firmly in local hands. It is a momentous day for all those involved.”
An independent ballot of 401 voters in north-west Mull in December showed almost 64 per cent of people were in favour of the community buyout.
However, Mull Community Council claimed it had refused to support the buyout bid as residents had been excluded from taking part in the poll.
Sandra Holmes, of Highlands and Island Enterprise, which has given financial backing to NWMCWC and advised the group on the Scottish Land Fund application, said: “NWMCWC are to be congratulated in securing a significant funding award.
“This was only possible following a sustained and intensive voluntary effort and now gives the group the go-ahead to raise the additional funding to complete the purchase.”
References: Herald Scotland. 2018. Retrieved from http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/homenews/16095914.__4m_boost_for_community_bid_to_buy_Scottish_island/