The proposed community buyout of Ulva has taken a major step forward after nearly two thirds of residents who voted on the future of the island backed the proposals.
The result comes after independent assessors set the value of the land and properties for sale at Ulva at £4.2m, slightly below the asking price being sought on the open market.
Just six people, including the landowner, live on Ulva but the ballot included residents of Mull who fall under the membership area of the North West Mull Community Woodland Company (NWMCWC) who are leading the buyout plan.
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In total, 401 people were eligible to vote in the postal ballot with 255 votes (63.6 per cent) received by the deadline of noon on January 8.
Of those who voted, 163 residents backed the buyout - or 63.9 percent.
Of the total number of residents entitled to vote, 40.6 per cent supported the proposals.
Meanwhile, 91 residents, or 35 per cent of residents who used their vote, opposed the plan.
One spoiled vote was included.
John Addy, a director of NWMCWC, said: “We are very pleased with the outcome which is close to 2 to 1 in favour and therefore shows strong community support for the proposed buyout.
“This is a very important step forward and whilst there is a lot of hard work ahead, we are now closer to achieving the aim of repopulating and reinvigorating Ulva - securing its future for the present and future generations.
Cabinet Secretary for Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, will now decide whether to “trigger” the Right to Buy in light of the result and a business plan that has been put together by NWMCWC.
This would give the community company the green light to put together a funding package with hopes to complete the purchase by June.
Mr Addy said the buyout would give residents the power to upgrade housing, improve security of tenure for businesses and attract more people to live on Ulva.
Mr Addy said: “It is self-evident to anyone just walking on Ulva that the existing housing stock and other buildings including the historic Telford church are in a poor state of repair and maintenance.
“Also the present tenants have no security of tenure as their leases expired in November last year and the lease on the Boathouse restaurant expires in June 2018.
“A new owner would be free to make his or her own decisions on what happens to the island, who and how many people can live there, and whether or not to encourage visitors or even whether to continue to allow operation of the ferry and access to the pier by fishermen.
“Community ownership however, will bring certainty that repopulation of the island and its social and economic development for the common good will always be the top priorities.
“This goes to the heart of the land reform process which is about who makes the decisions and has control over the destiny of communities - landlords or the communities themselves? We strongly believe it should be the latter.“
Ulva has been under the ownership of the Howard family for around 70 years.
Current owner, Jamie Howard, inherited Ulva following the death of his mother in 2014.
He recently said the family had made “strenous efforts” to try and stem the decline of Ulva’s population with multiple schemes put in place to increase the number of residents and to open the island to visitors.
Mr Howard said projects “undoubtedly increased” visitor numbers but failed to halt the decline in the resident population.
NWMCWC said the organisation said did not underestimated the scale of the task to reinvigorate Ulva
He claimed a lack of investment over the past couple of decades would take a while to reverse.
Rennovation of the existing housing stock will be the priority for the community company if the buyout is successful.
Excluding the Ulva House and Ardalum, there are six houses on Ulva which all require major renovation.
Once these have been brought up to modern standards and are re-let to existing and new residents, it is hoped the population will treble to around 15 or 20.
NWMCWC will raise the £4.2m required for the purchase over the next five months.
The Scottish Land Fund (SLF), which is funded by the Scottish Government and delivered in partnership by the Big Lottery Fund and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, is expected to be a major financier of any purchase.
SLF funding is normally capped at £1M and 95% of the total, though the Scottish Government has power to exceed this.
A crowdfunding appeal is underway to help raise the money required with several potential donors lined up in Australia, which has historic links to Ulva,.
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