Le­gal bat­tle looks at who owns air­port site

The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands) - - NEWS -

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

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