Legal battle looks at who owns airport site
Crofters have a right to graze animals on Stornoway Airport land, despite the ground being taken over nearly 80 years ago, a court was told yesterday.
Highlands and Islands Airport (HIAL) is urging the Scottish Land Court to issue an order declaring the ground is not governed by crofting law – allowing a parcel of it to be sold to site 90 social housing homes.
Lord Minginish and agricultural expert Tom Campbell presided over a hearing of the Scottish Land Court in Stornoway.
The row stems back to the outbreak of the Second World War when the government acquired the communal grazings surrounding the then-tiny airstrip.
U-boats were torpedoing allied ships in the Atlantic and the aerodrome at Melbost and Branahuie, three miles outside Stornoway, was in a strategic position to base warplanes.
The Air Ministry obtained the crofters’ grazings from the landlord, Stornoway Trust, to expand the airfield and establish an RAF base, the court heard.
HIAL’s legal representative, Robert Sutherland, conceded the government-owned airfield operator has “no record of formal resumption by the crown”.
The advocate said no documents exist to show the legislation used.
While the Emergency Powers Act 1939 was a possibility, “hand-on-heart” he could not confirm if that law was applied.
HIAL “cannot establish anywhere in the record” the statutory powers invoked.
And in any case, all crofting rights were extinguished, he stated.
Crofters had their rents reduced as compensation for giving up their grazing rights, Mr Sutherland added.
The advocate said the land court that at the time set the amount of compensation, knew “what powers” were used and “clearly understood” it was compulsory purchase.
Lewis Kermack, for Melbost and Branahuie crofters, insisted the land is still under crofting tenure and there is “no record” of the Air Ministry officially taking it over.
He queried whether the Air Ministry had any legal authority to remove land from crofting tenure.
The court head that legal title was never granted until long after the war ended.
Mr Kermack stated it was not a compulsory purchase but a voluntary sale agreement, stressing: “Occupation without title means nothing at all.”
He added: “Crofting tenure was not extinguished by the sale,” and the court should “hold that grazing rights still exist.”
Compensation agreed in 1947 was only for “past losses” for the time the RAF took over the airfield “rather than going forward.”
Lord Minginish said the land court will issue its judgment at a later date. a