Coigach Community Development Company

HISTORIC LANDSLIDE COMMUNITY VOTE IN FAVOUR OF COMMUNITY LAND OWNERSHIP IN COIGACH

Part of Badentarbet Estate with the hills of Coigach and Assynt on the horizon.

On the evening of 27th of June 2024, the people of Coigach took part in a historic vote of intent to take ownership of the land on which they live and work. 

More than 100 people attended a meeting in the community hall, chaired by Topher Dawson from Ullapool who took on a neutral role to ensure a balance of views were heard before the vote took place.

The meeting was called due to an unprecedented offer having been made by a private philanthropist to assist the community with purchasing the Badentarbet Estate, which is currently on the open market. The offer was presented to Coigach Community Development Company, to assist with a purchase of the Estate’s crofted land, approximately 90% of the total land area.

The Estate was placed on the market less than two weeks ago and so it was a testament to the community’s will and passion that the meeting was organised at such short notice and so well attended. 

Coigach Community Development Company and Adam Blaker, representing Mr Ian Wace who had made the offer, answered questions about the philosophy and practical details of the offer. 

There was some discussion around whether the Development Company or the Crofting Communities should take ownership. Development Company representatives publicly committed to working with crofting communities if they would like to explore options for taking ownership of their land.  As a landowner, Coigach Community Development Company will be a cooperative custodian of the land that is behind the idea of crofter ownership.

Sandra Holmes, a representative of Highlands and Islands Enterprise travelled to Coigach for the meeting and was able to give her perspective from 20 years of involvement in Community Land transfers.  The meeting heard that the situation the Coigach Communities have found themselves in is unprecedented and historic.  The opportunity given by Mr Wace could save decades of work. Last year, Coigach Community Development Company took possession of a 3 acre site in the village of Achiltibuie for affordable housing development.  This acquisition took volunteers and staff 12 years of hard work to complete. 

At the end of the debate, which included questions from the 29 attendees online, the meeting was asked to vote with their feet.  Six individuals voted against the proposal to accept the offer from Mr Wace, whilst 76 individuals went out of one door and were counted back in through another.  This result together with pre- and post- submissions checked against the electoral register demonstrate that the community voted 91% in favour of taking the Badentarbet Estate into community ownership through the acceptance of Mr Wace’s offer.

Coigach residents taking part in the historic vote - initially with a show of hands and then with their feet by walking out of one door an in another!

CCDC Chairman Richard Willams said: “Coigach Community Development Company (CCDC) are delighted by the positive outcome of last night’s public meeting held in the Coigach Community Hall. We had a great turnout with around 50% of the village in attendance, both in person and via zoom. The event was ably chaired by Topher Dawson, from Ullapool, who presided over a respectful and informed discussion about the opportunity, risks and potential benefits. Representatives from Highlands & Islands Enterprises and Community Land Scotland were present too, and able to share the benefit of their experiences which contributed greatly to everyone’s understanding around the potential benefits and unprecedented nature of the opportunity being presented. The event concluded with a vote as to whether CCDC should proceed with the opportunity, which met with a resounding 90% of those eligible to vote in favour of the proposal. 

CCDC Directors are hugely grateful to Ian Wace for enabling this incredible opportunity for the community and we look forward to working with Ian and his team over the coming months to make this a reality. CCDC Directors have committed to working with all the Estate’s crofting townships to explore a transfer of the crofting title into their ownership, should they wish to do so. We look forward to working in partnership with the crofting tenants, with Summer Isles Enterprises and the wider community to realise the multitude of benefits now possible from this fabulous opportunity over the months and years ahead.”

Chief Executive Laura Hamlet said: This was a truly historic and special moment to be part of. There was a hush across the room when the school roll of just 8 pupils was mentioned.  Building more housing in Coigach is our only chance of keeping our community alive and without a willing landowner, this is impossible.  Now we have a generational chance to create places to live and work for families. I’m thrilled to be taking on this challenge with the excellent CCDC staff team. Offers of support have been flooding in from Community Land Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, even a Member of the Scottish Parliament. Most importantly, communities elsewhere in Scotland who have taken on the challenge of owning their own land have offered to help us.  It’s really touching to be part of this network of communities making history and feel their support.

Meeting Chairperson Topher Dawson said: “It would be true to say that all big decisions come with risk and opportunity, so it is exciting to see that people recognise Ian Wace’s offer as much more of an opportunity than a risk. There were some great speeches in favour of the long term view and making opportunities for young people.

Well done to Ian Wace as well, for investing in the community in this way. It is an act of faith in CCDC on his part, and I salute him for it.”

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