The Scottish Government has issued “A Consultation on the Long Term Management of the Crown Estate in Scotland". In April 2017 Scottish Crown estates assets will be transferred to a new interim body. So what will this mean for our ports and harbours?

Politically there has been demand for the transfer of the management of Scottish Crown Estate assets for the last decade or so, culminating in a Smith Commission recommendation in 2014 to devolve the responsibility for management of these assets, and relative revenue, to the Scottish Parliament. The Scotland Act 2016 and subordinate legislation will transfer these assets to the Scottish Parliament from April this year. An interim body (Crown Estate Scotland Interim Management) will manage them, pending a Scottish Bill on the Crown Estate which has been pencilled into a legislative programme in the Scottish Parliament for 2019.

The Scottish Crown Estate assets currently managed by the Crown Estate Commissioners (said in 2015/16 to have had a net revenue of £6 million) include, Coastal e.g. foreshore/off shore; Agriculture e.g. various farms including Glenlivet estate; Aquaculture e.g. fish farming and cable/pipelines/renewables.

By their nature and location, many Crown Estate assets are monopoly assets i.e. only the land in question - and no other - can meet the needs of a port or harbour or its developer. Therein lies the challenge for those requiring to acquire Crown estate rights and deal with whoever is managing such estate. A port development often involves the acquisition of an area of sea bed for the construction of quay walls, the lease of parts of the sea bed for mooring pontoons, and an agreement regarding capital dredging to create appropriate navigation channels.

Each of these involves a commercial discussion and relative legal agreements. This is unlikely to change, albeit there is a proposal in the Consultation document to take account of wider socioeconomic or environmental benefits in relation to the commercial agreement, possibly on the lines the Best Value statutory regime binding on Scottish Local Government. However, any capital receipts will need to be reinvested into the estate which is essentially still to be maintained in perpetuity on behalf of the Crown.

The consultation considers arrangements for further devolution from the Scottish Parliament, against the backdrop of a number of restrictions on the management of the Estate and the need to recognise the potential liabilities of assets.

It is apparent to anyone with knowledge of the ports and harbours sector, that it should be appropriate to provide a level playing field among the mixed economy of harbour bodies namely, local authorities e.g. Orkney harbours; Trusts e.g. Aberdeen Harbour; private sector e.g. Babcock International Rosyth and Scottish Government/CMAL.

It is also important that any changed arrangements achieve certain economies of scale regarding management and decision making. Politics aside, there appears little logic, in dealing with Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles differently from ports on the west, north or north east coasts? But a pilot devolution is to be run for these islands. Further, the net revenue total prize of circa £6 million per annum, which is not new money for Scotland (as the Block grant will be adjusted to take account of such assumed cash), if split between 32 local authorities is only circa £200,000 per annum and the marine revenue element of this is maybe only half that.

The lowest cost will be management at a national level but that will also be the most centralising of power to Scottish Ministers. Management by local authorities and communities is far from straight forward and could lead to a patchwork quilt approach, not likely to be favoured by developers. The third option is a case by case assessment based on a geographic or functional approach. Perhaps under this option each Statutory Harbour Authority might be given management of the estate within its own port limits and discounted purchase of the sea bed, reflecting the wider socioeconomic benefit that port development brings to local areas and the national economy.

What will be the impact on research and strategic planning? The Crown Estate already has a good track record of undertaking research and strategic planning which has benefited offshore wind, tidal and aquaculture, with the aim of enhancing the future value of the estate. It makes sense for this work to continue from an economic viewpoint, but surely this has to be on a national basis?

To deliver real benefit to Scotland and its economic growth the solution arrived at following consultation, which runs until 29 March 2017, and any pilots, has to tick many boxes. It should not be over engineered or oversold to communities in the knowledge that the revenue sums involved are not massive!

The Scottish Government has issued “A Consultation on the Long Term Management of the Crown Estate in Scotland". In April 2017 Scottish Crown estates assets will be transferred to a new interim body. So what will this mean for our ports and harbours?

Politically there has been demand for the transfer of the management of Scottish Crown Estate assets for the last decade or so, culminating in a Smith Commission recommendation in 2014 to devolve the responsibility for management of these assets, and relative revenue, to the Scottish Parliament. The Scotland Act 2016 and subordinate legislation will transfer these assets to the Scottish Parliament from April this year. An interim body (Crown Estate Scotland Interim Management) will manage them, pending a Scottish Bill on the Crown Estate which has been pencilled into a legislative programme in the Scottish Parliament for 2019.

The Scottish Crown Estate assets currently managed by the Crown Estate Commissioners (said in 2015/16 to have had a net revenue of £6 million) include, Coastal e.g. foreshore/off shore; Agriculture e.g. various farms including Glenlivet estate; Aquaculture e.g. fish farming and cable/pipelines/renewables.

By their nature and location, many Crown Estate assets are monopoly assets i.e. only the land in question - and no other - can meet the needs of a port or harbour or its developer. Therein lies the challenge for those requiring to acquire Crown estate rights and deal with whoever is managing such estate. A port development often involves the acquisition of an area of sea bed for the construction of quay walls, the lease of parts of the sea bed for mooring pontoons, and an agreement regarding capital dredging to create appropriate navigation channels.

Each of these involves a commercial discussion and relative legal agreements. This is unlikely to change, albeit there is a proposal in the Consultation document to take account of wider socioeconomic or environmental benefits in relation to the commercial agreement, possibly on the lines the Best Value statutory regime binding on Scottish Local Government. However, any capital receipts will need to be reinvested into the estate which is essentially still to be maintained in perpetuity on behalf of the Crown.

The consultation considers arrangements for further devolution from the Scottish Parliament, against the backdrop of a number of restrictions on the management of the Estate and the need to recognise the potential liabilities of assets.

It is apparent to anyone with knowledge of the ports and harbours sector, that it should be appropriate to provide a level playing field among the mixed economy of harbour bodies namely, local authorities e.g. Orkney harbours; Trusts e.g. Aberdeen Harbour; private sector e.g. Babcock International Rosyth and Scottish Government/CMAL.

It is also important that any changed arrangements achieve certain economies of scale regarding management and decision making. Politics aside, there appears little logic, in dealing with Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles differently from ports on the west, north or north east coasts? But a pilot devolution is to be run for these islands. Further, the net revenue total prize of circa £6 million per annum, which is not new money for Scotland (as the Block grant will be adjusted to take account of such assumed cash), if split between 32 local authorities is only circa £200,000 per annum and the marine revenue element of this is maybe only half that.

The lowest cost will be management at a national level but that will also be the most centralising of power to Scottish Ministers. Management by local authorities and communities is far from straight forward and could lead to a patchwork quilt approach, not likely to be favoured by developers. The third option is a case by case assessment based on a geographic or functional approach. Perhaps under this option each Statutory Harbour Authority might be given management of the estate within its own port limits and discounted purchase of the sea bed, reflecting the wider socioeconomic benefit that port development brings to local areas and the national economy.

What will be the impact on research and strategic planning? The Crown Estate already has a good track record of undertaking research and strategic planning which has benefited offshore wind, tidal and aquaculture, with the aim of enhancing the future value of the estate. It makes sense for this work to continue from an economic viewpoint, but surely this has to be on a national basis?

To deliver real benefit to Scotland and its economic growth the solution arrived at following consultation, which runs until 29 March 2017, and any pilots, has to tick many boxes. It should not be over engineered or oversold to communities in the knowledge that the revenue sums involved are not massive!