Mount Stuart Trust responds to Bute land campaign launch

The chief executive of the Mount Stuart Trust has responded to the launch of a campaign aimed at increasing the level of community involvement in the ownership and management of land on Bute.

Connie Lovel’s statement was issued after the Land Action Scotland campaign group delivered nearly a hundred applications from members of the public wishing to join the Trust to the organisation’s registered office in Edinburgh on Wednesday - though only a small number of those applications came from people resident on Bute

The man behind the campaign, author and land rights campaigner Andy Wightman, said Land Action Scotland’s aim was to open up membership of the Trust and that “if and when people on Bute wish to take control, then control will be handed to them”.

Mrs Lovel said: “The board of The Mount Stuart Trust has noted the announcement by the campaign group, Land Action Scotland, encouraging people to make applications to become members of the Trust.

“The Trust will be carefully considering the applications for membership and how this may serve the best interests of the Trust in fulfilling its charitable objectives.

“It is, however, important to make clear what the objectives of the Mount Stuart Trust are as well as what has been, and is being, achieved.

“It is deeply regrettable in our view that the achievements of the Trust and what is provided for the public good is not recognised in any way by the campaigners.

“The fact that over one hundred people are employed by the Mount Stuart Trust on Bute over the course of a year is ignored. The fact that Mount Stuart is a significant tourist destination delivering benefit to the island year in, year out, is not acknowledged.

“As the chief executive of the Trust based on Bute, I would urge anyone to read the articles of association of the Trust which have, as their core objective, the provision of public benefit. Key decisions are taken on Bute for the benefit of Bute and the wider public.

“The Mount Stuart Trust is a charity whose primary focus is the advancement of the arts, heritage and culture and the Board’s over-riding objective is the preservation of Mount Stuart, its house and gardens, for the public benefit.

“This the Board has successfully done for over 20 years with more than 500,000 visitors thus far having appreciated this important part of the nation’s heritage.

“Maintaining a property such as Mount Stuart for the public costs around £500,000 a year. Bute Estate and the other assets of the Trust are essential in providing the necessary financial support to enable the public to continue to enjoy Mount Stuart and for the Board to carry out other charitable purposes such as an internationally-acclaimed Visual Arts Programme.

“The Board is mindful of its responsibilities as a charitable organisation, acting for the public benefit and with sound governance.

“Given what the Board has achieved at Mount Stuart, the notion that the Trust is a private organisation not operating on a charitable basis is fundamentally misconceived.

“The Board has a long term programme to invest in Bute Estate to improve its housing stock and the Trust continues to commit resources in this way.

“Since 2005 the Trust has spent in excess of £1.6m on repairing and maintaining the residential houses on Bute. In 2010 the Trust approved a fund of £675,000 that has been successfully used to return a dozen Estate properties to habitable use. This process is ongoing.

“In 2011 the Estate completed the first phase of its redevelopment masterplan for Bute – at a cost of £1.7m – approved by Argyll and Bute Council – and will continue this programme of building and developing properties on Bute over the long term for the benefit of the people on Bute.

“The Trust has a policy of re-letting land to support the agriculture industry on Bute and to encourage commercially successful farmers. The management team of the Trust engages with farmers on the island and with local NFUS representatives.

“The Board remains confident that its medium to long term policy in relation to ownership and management of Bute Estate is in the wider charitable interests of the Trust.

“The Trust is fully aware of the sensitivities over land ownership and estate management in Scotland. The Board will continue to engage in that debate in a constructive way whilst acting in the best interests of the charity in fulfilling its primary purpose, the preservation of Mount Stuart for the public.”