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A company limited by guarantee has been formed to progress the next steps in the Bays of Harris Estate community buyout.

The new company, with representation from the three main areas of the estate - the Bays, Berneray and Northton, will complete the buyout purchase process. There will then be an estate-wide election to create a “democratic and accountable board.”

The company’s formation follows last September’s decisive vote favouring a community buyout. The purchase got the nod from 63% of the community, following a 70% voting turnout.

The company is working with the Scottish Land Fund, the Scottish Government’s Community Land Unit, HIE and a firm of lawyers to complete work on the Articles of Association before filing with Companies House. It also intends to conduct a new valuation and to continue dialogue with the current landlord.

Scottish Land Fund has pledged to provide 95% of the purchase price, up to a maximum of £1m, for the deal.

Once the purchase has been concluded, the community can take advantage of the opportunities identified in the feasibility studies. These include an annual income of around £100,000, which can be directed towards the community’s priorities rather than being reserved for private gain.

“I am delighted at the progress which we have been able to make recently,” says Euan Galloway, Chair of the Bays of Harris Community Estate. “The work we are carrying out just now opens the door for an exciting new phase of community development, enterprise and renewal, which will be made possible once land ownership is in the hands of the community. I really believe that day is not too far away now!”

However, it is acknowledged that there will be challenges to ensuring full representation across the estate, which comprises two non-contiguous areas of Harris and the Isle of Berneray.

“In order to bring people along with us on this exciting journey and to maximise our engagement with the community, we have a number of initiatives in the pipeline for the near future,” says Euan Galloway. “These will include giving residents of the Estate area the opportunity to join the company as members. We are also planning a series of public engagement sessions which will be held throughout the Estate in the coming weeks, as well as local newsletters and social media.”

Arriving at this stage in the buyout process has involved a decade of work by the buyout steering group, a feasibility study, two valuations, and numerous meetings with the current estate owners.

Community Land Outer Hebrides hailed the announcement as a “major milestone” in the community buyout process. The charity was now looking forward to seeing what the future holds for the Bays of Harris community estate.