Dear Dr de la Torre,
I refer to Knocknagael Ltd’s application for review under section 87 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 (the “Act”) relating to the asset transfer request in respect of the Smiddy Field, Knocknagael, Inverness from Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Division (RPID), made under Part 5 of the Act. In line with Scottish Government guidance, Scottish Ministers appointed an independent panel of three persons (the Panel) to consider the case and report to them.
The Panel took account of an asset transfer request from Knocknagael Ltd dated 4 October 2021 and RPID’s decision to refuse the request on 20 June 2022. The Panel considered key documents associated with all aspects of this process, and assessed the request against criteria set out in section 82(3) of the Act; Scottish Government National Outcomes; best value themes; and matters relating to assessment of outcomes.
I would like to thank Knocknagael Ltd for working with the Panel during this process, and providing them with necessary information including a site visit and an in person hearing in connection with the review. This work has now concluded and I have been provided with the Panel’s final report of the Smiddy Field site, outlining their findings and conclusion.
Scottish Ministers accept the findings and recommendations of the Panel, and for the reasons set out in their report, accept the review and allow the asset transfer request subject to Knocknagael Ltd meeting the terms and conditions set out in the Appendix below.
The range of conditions identified by the review panel in their report serve different purposes that could bring the risk assessment into a manageable and acceptable framework and they will need to be developed and agreed between RPID and Knocknagael Ltd. The precise detail of such conditions is for consideration and are designed to assist the transfer process.
I note from the panel’s report that Knocknagael Ltd do not wish to see the Scheme and the Stud Farm close, a view that is supported by the review panel. This is welcomed and I would encourage Knocknagael Ltd and RPID to work together for the benefit of the crofting community as well as the wider community. I would be grateful if you could provide me with an update on developments within six months of the date of this letter.
In accordance with the Act, the Scottish Ministers have issued a direction notice to RPID directing them to issue a further decision notice to Knocknagael Ltd. The decision notice must specify the terms and conditions on which RPID would be prepared to sell the asset, which should be in line with the terms and conditions set out in the review decision, and state that, should Knocknagael Ltd wish to proceed, it must submit to RPID an offer to purchase the asset, within the timescale set out in the notice (which must be at least six months beginning with the date on which the decision notice is given).
Attached to this letter is a copy of the direction notice issued to RPID. Thereafter, the process continues in line with section 83 of the Act and parties should make arrangements to conclude a contract for the lease of the asset in the usual way. If the contract is not concluded within the required period, an appeal can be made to Ministers under section 90 of the Act.
We will publish the attached report provided to Scottish Ministers by the Panel, and this will be made publicly available on the Scottish Government’s Community Empowerment website within one week of the date of this letter.
Individuals unhappy with the decision made by Scottish Ministers may be able apply to the Court of Session, Parliament House, Parliament Square, Edinburgh, EH1 1RQ for a judicial review. An application for judicial review must be sought within 3 months of the appeal decision. The Scottish Ministers decision can only be challenged on a point of law and you might want to take legal advice before considering this option. For more information on challenging decisions made by Ministers please see here.
Copied to: Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands Iain Carmichael, Head of Agricultural Development, Rural Payments and Inspections Division; Niall McPherson, Principal Agricultural Officer, Rural Payments and Inspections Division
Interested Parties: David Brookfield, Grahame Cooper, John Hollingdale, Tamara Laing, Alastair MacMillan, Ronald MacVicar, Paddy McGarrigle, Craig Riddle, Keith Masson
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