9 November 2001

Residents safeguard the future of national sites

By Andrew Shirley

PEOPLE power came to the fore when two groups of residents took control of land they feared could be exploited by developers or outsiders.

On the Scottish Isle of Gigha, near the Mull of Kintyre, the 110 inhabitants were celebrating a last-minute victory that saw them collectively purchase the 3400-acre island, which includes over 3200 acres of commercial farmland and forestry.

Selling agent FPDSavills said the price agreed was higher than the guide value of £3.85m. It also confirmed that owner Derek Holt, selling because of ill health, turned down two higher offers in favour of the islanders.

However, Edinburgh-based Neil Kay said the rejected offers were not as high as the £5-7m mooted by the Press.

The Scottish Land Fund, set up to help rural communities, contributed £3.5m, while a further £250,000 was donated by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise fund. It is thought that under the terms of the agreement £1m will have to be repaid to the donors within the next two years.

Meanwhile, public pressure has led to a peppercorn rent being agreed on 30 acres of picturesque London grazing meadows with a potential development value of £100m.

The land, which borders the Thames at Richmond, Surrey, is reputed to be one of the best urban views in Britain and was a favourite subject of the landscape artist William Turner.

Gifted to the citizens of the Borough of Richmond by the Earl of Dysart in 1902, the meadows were home to an Express Dairies herd in the 1980s but have since been occupied by a hobby farmer.

With the declining returns from agriculture this became an increasingly uneconomic venture and it residents feared the cows would disappear for ever with the land falling prey to developers.

Led by ex-Olympic runner and founder of the London Marathon Chris Brasher, the Petersham Trust was set up to safeguard the fields and last week a 125-year lease was signed with the council.

The trust needs to find £500,000 to endow the land and improve the cattle sheds. "We have bought 26 cows from the previous occupier and are looking for a new grazier to look after them," said Mr Brasher. &#42