Below is a list of some of the main questions we have been asked. The answers have been put together by the directors of MCW.
- Shouldn’t the money be used for more important issues going on right now?
- Can you summarise MCW’s plans for the estate? What is the vision?
- How will community ownership of the estate address challenges in the local community?
- No ballot has taken place, so how do we know the community want this to happen?
- How will ownership of Killundine encourage economic, environmental and social community development?
- How will this help our community have a stronger role and control over our own development?
- How will the land management on the estate fit with traditional local land management, how will the right decisions be made – and how will it be secure financially?
- How will you track progress to see if goals are being achieved?
- How did you work out how much it cost?
- What are the timescales?
- How will Killundine Estate be managed?
- How has the community buyout of Killundine Estate been promoted?
- Is the purchase of Killundine Estate financially viable?
- Is there a risk this will become a debt burden on the community?
- Will the large scale export of timber be too expensive at the West Pier? Will this put extra stress on our roads?
- Would a privately funded venture achieve the goals more successfully and free up SLF money for another cause?
- Is the cost of Killundine Estate worth the benefits to the community?
- Does MCW have the skills to run an estate?
- What other opportunities will community ownership bring?
- How much is the estate being sold for?
- How much public money is being sought?
- What other funding have MCW secured?
- Who will manage the estate?
- How could community ownership of Killundine mitigate an event like COVID-19?
Shouldn’t the money be used for more important issues going on right now?
There are clearly many demands on public finances with the current COVID-19 pandemic. However, the funding towards purchase of the estate will be an investment for the long-term which will increase local and national resilience against future crises. It must also be emphasised that the money in the Scottish Land Fund is ring-fenced to be spent on the acquisition of assets for long-term community development, so it cannot be used for any other purpose than for communities purchasing land or buildings. The Scottish Land Fund comes to an end this summer and the money in it will all be spent by the end of the financial year, whether we submit an application to it or not. This application will bring funding to the West Highlands where community land ownership has proven to be a reliable way to ensure sustainable community development and reverse depopulation in the long-term, ensuring a viable community in the future.
Can you summarise MCW’s plans for the estate? What is the vision?
MCW have a vision for Killundine Estate as “a living, working 21st century estate promoting the repopulation and regeneration of Morvern and the conservation of its natural environment”. In essence, the timber value contained in the forestry on the estate will be released and the capital used to develop a financially sustainable management model prioritising: affordable housing; land for new crofts; environmentally friendly management benefiting biodiversity and maximising carbon sequestration to combat climate change.
How will community ownership of the estate address challenges in the local community?
We believe that Killundine can be the vibrant 21st century estate that Morvern needs for its repopulation and regeneration. The local community is exceptionally diverse and has a wide range of skills but it is aging and the school roll is continuing to fall – although the primary school is the only one in Highland to be rated as ‘exceptional’. It is very hard for young people who want to stay in Morvern to find a place to live, although jobs are available here. Killundine’s 2,400 hectares (6,000 acres) include substantial forestry, excellent grazing, accessible hill ground and a variety of existing buildings and spaces suitable for crofts, small businesses and housing. Killundine therefore has the resources that future generations on Morvern will need to face existing and new challenges. The vision we have developed for Killundine Estate as “a living, working 21st century estate promoting the repopulation and regeneration of Morvern and the conservation of its natural environment” will achieve this because it will allow various problems to be overcome. A shortage of housing is a key barrier to development across Morvern so the first priority will be the development of housing using both existing properties and new construction. No-one has lived on Killundine for almost ten years but there is the potential to increase the population to over 20 residents by 2030 and to 40 by 2040. A portion of the existing forestry is ready for harvesting now and will provide over a million pounds of investment within the first five years. The remaining forestry will be expanded and restructured into diverse, resilient and accessible woodlands, which will provide local employment. There will be a focus on increasing the carbon sequestration potential of the peat bogs, pastures and woodland. The diversity of habitats and wildlife across Killundine, including the Scottish wildcat, offer opportunities to improve access and connections to the natural environment for visitors and residents alike. Community ownership will allow the sale of timber assets and the reinvestment of revenue to support new businesses opportunities with commercial premises, crofting, woodlots, camping facilities and a tree nursery planned within the first five years. Careful management of these assets will ensure the estate is financially viable both now and in the future. A business plan illustrating the viability of this model has been prepared. The depopulation and economic decline on Morvern affects all our lives. Community ownership will allow us to use Killundine’s resources – buildings, forestry, agricultural land, woodlands – to meet these challenges.
No ballot has taken place, so how do we know the community want this to happen?
The proposals laid out in the application to SLF have been in development for a lengthy time period, have had a great deal of input from local people as well as the MCW directors and have undergone a number of reviews and changes in response to detailed input and information. A wide range of community engagement and consultation activities have taken place since 2017 when the MCW members first asked MCW directors to look into potential community ownership of Killundine. These have included meetings to gather local views in 2018, 2019 and 2020, phone and online consultation activities organised by an independent consultant in 2019 and 2020 and regular communications by MCW via Facebook, email, the MCW website, posters and local publications throughout this period. In 2018, MCW registered an interest in Killundine estate under Community Right to Buy legislation and, in support of this, 63 local people signed a petition within two weeks. MCW membership, from an electorate of around 300, has since increased to 122. Community ownership of Killundine is supported by the local development company MCDC and by Morvern Community Council. Consultants have carried out a comprehensive consultation with the local community which is presented in the accompanying feasibility report. Concerns expressed about the project include: that MCW lacks the experience and expertise to carry it through (this is accepted by the MCW directors and MCW is in the course of recruiting appropriate skills from within and from outside the community); that it may not benefit all (MCW believe this to be untrue); that it needs to be managed with due diligence and accountability (agree); that estates should be owned by wealthy philanthropic individuals (disagree). All comments have been fairly responded to at meetings and by personal communications. A ballot of the population of Morvern had been arranged to be held in April 2020 following publication of the feasibility study. However, due to the lockdown the electoral services team at Highland Council were unable to take the ballot forward. We will revisit this when restrictions in lockdown make it possible for a ballot to be conducted. It can be safely said that the project as proposed now is very different from the initial ideas that were suggested in 2017; the focus on affordable housing and mixed land management is a response to input from the wider community, and this will continue to develop over time, while the core environmental basis of the project, restoring the woodlands and other habitats, will remain.
How will ownership of Killundine encourage economic, social and environmental community development?
Community ownership of Killundine will place land and buildings under the control of residents, linking the economic value of these assets to local development. It will support local businesses and residents by providing access to land, accommodation and business premises that are appropriate to people’s needs and resources. With Killundine owned and managed by the community, barriers such as the lack of accommodation and business opportunities that are currently forcing people to leave Morvern, can be overcome. Community ownership will provide new-build and refurbished accommodation with a range of tenures, responding to the demand from local residents as it develops. It will open up the estate to local business in the form of new crofts, maintaining traditional management skills and providing opportunities in woodland industries, managed tourism, food and agriculture with flexible business premises and access to land. New crofts on good agricultural land will contribute to a sustainable, low carbon local food supply. Our long term aim is for a stable resident community of around 40 people living and working on Killundine. Killundine contains outstanding biodiversity within its 2,400ha (6,000 acres) and the protection, restoration and redevelopment of this landscape lies behind all our plans for community ownership. There is a strong desire across the community to see woodland which fits better into our landscape than the existing plantations; community ownership would allow us to develop productive woodland and forestry that can be managed locally over a timespan that covers hundreds rather than tens of years. Taking control of a large area of the poorer hill ground will enable stalking management to be balanced with habitat restoration. Community ownership will also allow us to balance the development of carbon sequestration across the estate with the revenue opportunities of tourism and the access needs of local residents. Community-led development can secure a sustainable and resilient economy in Morvern and beyond.
How will this help our community have a stronger role and control over our own development?
Owning Killundine will allow the people of Morvern to control what happens on it. Between us, the people of Morvern have a huge range of skills and experience. Providing the opportunity for those skills to be used to benefit the community itself and to contribute to its future resilience and sustainability is our key objective. The community, and the structures within it, will be strengthened by community ownership of Killundine and new partnerships will be developed. Developing renewable energy schemes and other projects in partnership with Morvern Community Development Company (MCDC) has already been discussed. Both MCDC and Morvern Community Council are supportive of MCW taking forward the Killundine project. Proposals to reform the structure of MCW, which will be explored in the first year of community ownership, include formalising links between different community groups, particularly Morvern Community Council and MCDC by providing places on the MCW board of directors for representatives from these bodies. This will strengthen community ties, foster collaboration and allow better sharing of knowledge and experience. As the project develops, a group controlled by the new residents of Killundine will be set up to provide further input. At the same time, the development of a new community plan for Morvern, which is due to happen in 2020, will allow feedback from the wider community to contribute to the redevelopment of Killundine Estate and this will be an ongoing process. Community ownership of Killundine ties into the existing community plan for Morvern produced in 2010, where community land is identified as a key factor in the future viability of the peninsula. In this regard, and taking into account feedback received during the community consultation process, community ownership takes forward actions that the community have already expressed a desire to see happen and strengthens the community’s control over its future.
How will the land management on the estate fit with traditional local land management, how will the right decisions be made – and how will it be secure financially?
The Morvern community has a long history and connection with the land. Over time, land management on the peninsula has changed, with a focus on forestry developing in the 1960s and market and subsidy-driven changes in livestock management more recently. Change will continue, but community ownership will allow decisions to be based on a wide range of objectives and, given the scale of the landholding, there is scope for a range of management. Within our community we have skills and experience at all levels of land management including estate management, stalking, forestry, crofting, farming, tourism development, mining, renewables, marine transport and construction. The current board of MCW has extensive experience in business management, forestry, construction and tourism development. These skills will be supplemented to ensure that the board has the management and financial skills to operate a large, vibrant and integrated estate along with the skills and understanding of rural housing, farming, crofting and estate management. Killundine Estate contains the resources required to be resilient and financially sustainable but this will require all elements of the estate to work together. It will also require substantial investment within the first five years to restore the infrastructure. Community ownership will ensure that both surplus revenue and investment released from the sale of assets of the estate, mainly the forestry, are retained to maintain and develop the land and buildings while grants are used judiciously; loans will be suitable balanced. Community ownership will also ensure that assets on the estate are developed to provide stable long-term returns while ensuring rents are affordable for local residents and businesses. Financial sustainability is key to the effective and productive management of community assets and suitably experienced board members and advisors along with robust structures and mechanisms will be in place to ensure this, always bearing in mind that control will be in the hands of the community.
How will you track progress to see if goals are being achieved?
We will use both quantative and qualitative measures to track progress towards our objectives. In the short term (year 1), we will recruit three new staff members to take the project forward: a development manager, a project manager and a forester. These staff will form a link between the project and its various components, the MCW board, special advisors and the wider community and will ensure that there is a constant two-way relationship between planning and what happens on the ground. Records of the time they spend on each project will be kept. We will put in place a financial governance model and financial strategy and take forward a range of planning and scoping projects to ensure future developments are balanced and complementary. These will be made available through our website and will be open for comment from members of the public. We will hold regular board meetings open to the public and we will organise events on Killundine to involve local people and involve them in the project. We will produce a short play, as we did in 2016 in Achnaha Woods, to celebrate the acquisition. In the medium term (years 2-5) we will welcome the first new residents to Killundine and the first new businesses will be in place. The forestry roads will be in place and harvesting underway. The tree nursery will be in place and new woodland areas will be being created and former conifer areas replanted. All this will be recorded and at around year 5 we will produce a short film showing progress. In the long term (years 6-10 and beyond) the success of the project will become evident more widely. The population of Morvern will be increasing and the school roll will have noticeably stabilised. The crofts will be populated and new houses built with additional new businesses up and running. Killundine will have become a well known and popular destination for ecotourism and the natural environment and biodiversity will be flourishing. Killundine’s success will be publicised through many different forms of media and it will be recognised as a key community venture in the local area and beyond.
How did you work out how much it cost?
The purchase price of the estate has been negotiated and is a fixed cost based on an independent valuation of the estate. Other costs have been calculated as part of the business plan prepared for Killundine by Duncan MacPherson and Faye MacLeod of Campbell Stewart MacLennan. Essentially, MCW is applying for funds for purchase that will pay for the estate’s acquisition (just under £2.6 million), plus a small amount that will contribute to immediate essential work, including repairs to fences for road safety, for example, and the employment of three staff for the first year of management (around £100k). This will ensure that all the projects needed for the estate to be viable in the long-term can be initiated and that all the projects fit together. After year one, the estate will be largely self-financing.
What are the timescales?
We are confident that work on the sale and transfer of the estate will allow completion from October 2020 onwards. Acquisition needs to be completed by the 31st March 2021 at the very latest. The development funding will cover the first year of work and this will allow time for plans to be put in place and finalised and work to be underway on future projects from year two. The business plan covers the first five years of management, by which time the estate will be running on a sound financial footing with a range of projects underway.
How will Killundine Estate be managed?
Killundine Estate will be owned by Morvern Community Woodlands, which is a company limited by guarantee fully controlled by local residents of Morvern. The exact structures of ownership are still open to revision. MCW are aware that it may be advantageous, for example, for the community owner to have charitable status, and for day-to-day management to be undertaken by a subsidiary trading company. This is being addressed to ensure the best structure for management is in place. Morvern Community Woodlands was established as a company in 2004 to develop woodland assets and skills for the people of Morvern. Over time, its remit has broadened to include land ownership and managment. The current board is made up of eight directors with experience in: business management, financial management, woodland management, tourism development, construction and renewable energy. MCW employs a book-keeper to audit its finances and provide information for Companies House. The board is currently seeking to strengthen the board’s skills in land management, housing development and financial control. It will also establish an advisory group with the specific remit of advising on the operation of Killundine Estate and this is now set up to be established once purchase is secured. Morvern Community Woodlands have been operating Achnaha Wood since 2004, acquiring the woodland from Forestry Commission Scotland in 2014. We have provided forestry services such as small-scale construction, timber products, wood-fuel, woodland events, forest schools, landscape information and advice across the west coast of Scotland since 2004. Morvern Community Woodlands currently works closely with Morvern Community Council, Community Land Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland, Morvern Community Development Company, Morvern Deer Management Group, Scottish Wildcat Action, Community Woodlands Association and Woodland Trust Scotland. As part of this project MCW will also be working closely with Highland Small Communities Housing Trust, Highlands & Islands Enterprise and Community Land Scotland.
How has the community buyout of Killundine Estate been promoted?
Long before we reached the present point, which has been the result of much discussion within our small community, MCW sought the opinions of those who live in Morvern. We have always recognised that the success of the Killundine project required the community’s support. Not only was this a prerequisite for pursuing it (bound to involve much work from volunteers operating on behalf of the community), but a necessity to ultimately succeed. Thus, MCW has sought to involve the whole community by way of frequent meetings and communication to establish that there was indeed a high level of support. Naturally, some opposed the idea (for example, on general grounds that ‘taxpayer’s money should not be spent on community purchases’) but we have been encouraged by sustained community support. We are at pains to be inclusive, recognising that some who see no benefit from the purchase have an equal right to be informed and listened to when considering possible plans. We use a variety of media to communicate: social media, website, email, public meetings, posters, art, film and music, always stressing that Killundine under community ownership means just that: the community determine management and how it should evolve. We talk to people both individually and in groups, both formally and informally, recognising that people in our small community come from a wide range of different backgrounds. We did not come up with a plan for the estate straight away but investigated it’s potential first. Our purpose is to communicate this potential and, through consultation and collaboration, to develop a plan that allows it to be reached. With the postponement of the ballot on community support due to the COVID19 situation we are exploring alternative and innovative ways to publicise it. A celebration of Killundine’s Gaelic heritage through music and archive film had been planned for the early summer but is not now likely to happen. We will continue to investigate other ways of promoting this exciting project and will develop a more interactive online presence.
Is the purchase of Killundine Estate financially viable?
The purchase will need to show its financial viability or it will not receive funding from the Scottish Government. A business plan which demonstrates the strong financial viability of community ownership has been prepared. The bulk of the money for the purchase will come from the Scottish Land Fund which is a fund which can only be used for the purchase of land for community ownership. If this fund is not spent in Morvern it will be spent elsewhere. Future grant funding will be tight but the financial plan is dependent on the estate becoming more or less financially self-sufficient and in a strong financial position by year 6.
Is there a risk this will become a debt burden on the community?
The business plan demonstrates strong financial viability without resource to long-term borrowing or substantial future grant funding.
Will the large scale export of timber be too expensive at the West Pier? Will this put extra stress on our roads?
Around one third of the value of the timber on Killundine will be lost due to levies on transport out of Morvern – and it is worth noting that little if any of this money will come to Morvern itself. MCW is exploring options which would lead to a more favourable situation for the export of timber from Morvern via the pier rather than the additional costs and impacts of using the A897 and this is something MCW are hopeful Morvern Community Council will also facilitate. It is likely the pier owners may look more favourably on a community owner than a private owner and new legislation is coming in to force that, on similar lines, would allow a community owner to use the pier at a standard reasonable market cost rather than at an inflated rate.
Would a privately funded venture achieve the goals more successfully and free up SLF money for another cause?
The proposals in the business plan developed by the consultants would be very unlikely to be put forward by any private owner. They essentially spread the ownership of the asset in the community, prevent extraction of benefits from the estate into other funds and stop any profits from development on the estate being used for other means outside Morvern. They also prevent future sale of the estate at a profit. None of this would be achieved by private ownership. In addition, the funding that makes up the Scottish Land Fund has already been allocated and if this money is not spent in Morvern it will be allocated elsewhere which, MCW believe, would not be in the interests of Morvern or the local community.
Is the cost of Killundine Estate worth the benefit to the community?
The cost of the purchase is large. However, the directors of MCW consider this to be a very good deal and a significant opportunity which will not arise again. The price negotiated with the owners includes a substantial discount which the owners have offered because they believe community ownership is the best option for positive future management of Killundine. In future, the money invested in the estate will be recouped for the government through the taxes paid on the ongoing business and housing ventures that will be developed on the estate; in the long term this will result in a net gain for the taxpayer as well as for the local community.
Does MCW have the skills to run the Estate?
The estate will be run by suitable qualified staff supervised by a board of directors with appropriate skills, most of which already exist within the community. The directors recognise that they currently lack the skills and experience to manage the estate in the long term and that further support from experienced professionals both in Morvern and more widely will be required. However, offers of professional assistance have already been forthcoming and the financing will allow the employment of suitably qualified and experienced staff to undertake the day-to-day running of the estate. The development programme accompanying community ownership will also allow partnerships for training and learning with institutions like University of the Highlands and Islands and the Scottish School of Forestry and approaches have already been made to these bodies to develop this. This has the potential to lead to local apprenticeships and other benefits for the local community.
What other opportunities will community ownership bring?
There are a whole range of different opportunities yet to be explored whose viability will only become viable with more detailed input and proposals – if you have ideas, please let us know!
How much is the estate being sold for?
MCW and the current owners have negotiated a sale price for estate of £2.45 million, which is substantially below the valuation.
How much public money is being sort?
MCW have applied to the Scottish Land Fund for £2.7 million to cover the costs of the sale, the transfer and conveyancing costs and a contribution to development funding for the first year of ownership. The development funding will allow comprehensive plans for future management of the estate to be put together. After year one of ownership the estate will be largely self-financing.
What other funding has MCW secured?
MCW have secured a substantial discount on the sale price of the estate from the current owners. We can’t disclose the exact amount, but it is substantial, in excess of 5% of the total value of the property, and for this reason we are able to apply for 100% of the cost of the estate from the Scottish Land Fund. MCW will launch a crowdfunding campaign for additional funds when the SLF funding is confirmed.
Who will manage the estate?
In the first year of ownership, the estate will be managed by two staff, a development manager and a forester, both employed by the local development company Morvern Community Development Company and supported by a part-time administrator. MCDC is set up to allow this to happen very quickly, even before transfer of ownership is completed. Following the establishment of new structures for estate management, the development manager role will become one of estate manager, and they will be employed by the community landowner in this new structure. The forester’s role will continue on a permanent basis and may diversify to cover other land management. The staff will be supervised by the directors of Morvern Community Woodlands, who will also contribute to a management plan for the estate in the first year of management.
How could community ownership of Killundine mitigate an event like COVID-19?
In the ongoing emergency, the Morvern community has shown itself to be proactive and responsive. Vulnerable people in the community have been well supported and thanks to the efforts of both the wider community and individuals there has been a general feeling of people looking out for one another and pulling together. Places like Morvern, where there is a strong community spirit and established ways of dealing with crises show that bottom-up support is of great benefit and there is a desire for people to live and work in them. Morvern’s remoteness is often considered a constraint, but in circumstances like this it can also be an asset. We are certain that in future many more people will want to live in Morvern where, should something along similar lines ever happen again, there are opportunities both to live somewhere where access to the countryside is easy and to have the support networks of a strong local community. However, a core issue with the demographics of Morvern is that there is an aging population; without the support of younger people, which requires opportunities for them to live and work here, it will be increasingly hard to deal with difficult circumstances.
One specific issue which community ownership of Killundine will help address is the provision of accommodation for health-care workers. It is clear that when the present doctor in Lochaline retires a house for a new doctor will be required, if services are to continue as at present. No council- or state-owned doctor’s house currently exists. Even if housing on Killundine itself is not thought appropriate, the availability of land for housing will help alleviate this problem.
In terms of the financial viability of Killundine and its resilience to the potential economic crisis that may be developing, the proposals MCW have set out balance various sectors against one another, in the long term. Viability does not rest on a single sector, like tourism for example, but is balanced between different sectors: forestry, farming, tourism and, potentially, renewables. In current circumstances the farming sector is the least viable, but this provides opportunities to develop new, more locally-focussed activities, for example smallholdings supplying the local market. This all ties into the diversified land-management model that is at the core of the proposal.