Daily Mail - which leads with the fact that £500k for a 970 acre (400ha) island seems quite reasonable considering that, in London, the same amount would only get you a very average house with tiny garden - the seller is a Mrs Sarah Chettle who lives in Dorset. She and her late husband saw a small advert for Wiay in 1980 and bought it "on a bit of a romantic whim" for "about £20,000" without - "so far as she can recall" - even visiting the island first. £20k is about £70k in today's money so 600% capital growth to £500k is a pretty impressive return on investment for a dimly remembered whim!
Is Wiay worth £500k? Let's cast a critical eye over Bell Ingram's sale brochure (you can download a copy from here - sorry, I don't know how to link directly to a pdf).
As usual, the estate agents major on the fact it's a "private" island and feature its sheltered anchorage, spectacular scenery and extensive wildlife. But as I said in the context of Taransay, there's no such thing as a "private island" a la Mustique or Branson's Necker Island etc. in Scotland. Under Scottish law, anyone has the right to paddle their kayak into that sheltered anchorage, go ashore and enjoy the scenery and wildlife: you don't have to part with half a big one for the privilege.
|Looking south from Wiay to the hills of South Uist - photo credit Dr Julian Paren|
|Photo credit - Dr Julian Paren|
|For a house on an island like Wiay, I'd want a porch to hang up wet water-proofs and wellies in!|
|Landing on Wiay - photo credit Graham Hewitt|
|OS 1959 1 inch map, Sheet 23 "South Uist"|
The sale brochure tells us there was a farming tenant until 2003 but there is now vacant possession. That being so, it's curious the application to renew the planning permission for the cottage confirms that it has been intimated to no fewer than three agricultural tenants, one a gentleman living in neighbouring Benbecula, another a director of Bell Ingram and the third a lady living in London. If I were doing due diligence on behalf of a purchaser of Wiay, I'd want to know what was going on there. And, in particular, that none of these three (particularly the Benbecula chap, obviously) could be a crofter. That's because a crofting tenant would have a statutory right to buy his freehold at 15 times the fair agricultural rent fixed by the Land Court. Such a rent is likely to be substantially less than £35 per acre. (£35 x 970 acres x 15 = £500k). In fact the fair crofting rent of Wiay would be nearer 35 pence per acre than 35 pounds!
|The abandoned house on Wiay as seen on Bing maps|
The fact that Wiay might be a croft matters because the owner of a croft - even one abandoned by its last tenant as long ago as the 1940s - has statutory duties enforceable by the Crofting Commission (CC). These duties are to live within 32km (20 miles) of the croft, cultivate it or put it to an alternative "purposeful use" approved by the CC and not to neglect it. Living in the south of England and dropping in from time to time for a bit of life-style conservation doesn't count.
If the CC considers the statutory duties of a croft are not being complied with by the owner, it has the power to compel it to be re-let - in perpetuity and at a rent nowhere near an economic rate of return on £500k - to someone who will comply with them. That's not as far fetched as it sounds: families have recently taken on crofts on virgin sites with no houses on the island of Rum, for example (read the story of one of them here).
If nobody wanted to take on the croft of Wiay (which unlike Rum doesn't have a car ferry to the mainland!) and manage it in compliance with the statutory duties, the Crofting Commission might consider granting a "decrofting direction" to remove it from the crofting law regime altogether. But the CC - who are more hawkish about their remit nowadays than they were 30 years ago - are very sparing with decrofting directions: they don't like to see land lost to crofting without a very compelling reason. (It's possible Wiay has already been decrofted but, if so, I would have expected that to be mentioned in the sale brochure.)
|Aerial image from Bing Maps|