A CAMPAIGN to persuade the UK Government to transfer control of coastal assets to local communities is set to continue in the Highlands — despite a major setback.
Interest in a proposed shake-up of the Crown Estate has been voiced across the the region — including communities like Invergordon where it has become an issue after controversial development of a coastal strip for port expansion.
The current and former leader of Highland Council this week vowed to press on with the campaign after reforms proposed by the Government fell far short of expectations in the region.
The government snubbed the calls from Highland Council and other organisations for Highland communities to be allowed a say in the control of the marine environment.
The Crown Estate owns the rights to the sites of fish farms, ports, marinas and renewable energy developments and its huge revenues are paid to the Treasury.
The UK Parliament’s Scottish affairs committee endorsed the Highland-led campaign and said assets including the seabed should be devolved to the council because the Crown Estate lacked transparency and public consultation.
However, the proposals have fallen far short of expectations and the government said it was not persuaded local devolution was the way forward.
Instead its suggestions include encouraging management agreements with local groups and the right to fish wild oysters and mussels.
Local authority leader Councillor Drew Hendry (SNP) said its efforts to convince the government to decentralise would continue while long-term campaigner Dr Foxley, who left the council in May, said it had the potential to create jobs in the region and could be worth "hundreds of millions of pounds".
In a chink of light, committee chairman Ian Davidson MP announced it will host a public meeting in Inverness in September because of the "enormous" interest in the issue in the Highlands.
Mr Davidson said the government’s response after its "less than total acceptance" of the committee’s findings would be on the agenda.
"It is intended that the Crown Estate would also be invited to clarify how they intend to operate in future," he said.
Dr Foxley, who has spearheaded the campaign for 30 years, said it still had a "solid base" because of the committee’s continued interest but blasted the government’s proposals.
"Picking mussels has been done for tens of thousands of years but this is just tokenism," he said. "It is utterly pathetic. The important thing was the strategic management of assets like the seabed."
Dr Foxley, the former Liberal Democrat leader on the council, also aimed criticism at his party colleagues in the government, including Highland MP Danny Alexander, who is the chief executive to the Treasury for failing to influence the outcome.
With the independence referendum in 2014 Dr Foxley said the government decision was a "gift" to the SNP.
"I don’t think the Lib Dems have fought hard enough on this," he said. "I thought Danny understood the issue and its importance."
Current council leader Drew Hendry said it was vital the Highlands and Islands got the chance to exercise control over its assets.
"We have made a clear commitment in our programme and that is a unanimous view across the chamber," he said.
Interested groups and organisations will be invited the Inverness meeting which will be arranged for the end of September.