Petitions, protests and attempts to change legislation have brought the issue of the Crown Estate in Wales into the public’s attention. What is the current system, and what do activists hope to change?

The Crown Estate is a 262-year old body that oversees the management and financial exploitation of land that is owned by the British monarch. 

Since ownership of the land belongs to the establishment of the monarchy and not the person who is the monarch, the Crown Estate exists independently of the government and the monarch in order to maintain the income generated from the land ownership that was historically held by kings and queens of England.

Profits generated by the Crown Estate, which is one of the UK’s largest property holders, are returned to the UK Treasury who then pay for the monarch’s official duties via the Sovereign Grant. Currently, the Sovereign Grant gives the monarch 25% of all profit generated from the Crown Estate’s holdings.

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In Wales, the Crown Estate owns 65% of shoreline and riverbeds, more than 50,000 acres of land, and the first twelve nautical miles of seabed from the shore. Between 2020 and 2021, the Crown Estate saw the value of its holdings in Wales increase from £96.8m to £603m.

The reason for this increase in valuation is due to the viability of offshore energy generation schemes which had previously only been speculated.

Nearly 99% of the Crown Estate’s income in Wales is generated by marine activity which includes dredging the seabed for aggregates (the Crown Estate estimates that 80% of sand and gravel used in South Wales comes from them), and managing communications cables and pipelines, although the majority of this income comes via renewable energy.

The National Wales: The East Rhyl Coastal Defence Scheme saw £30m of upgraded flood defences in Denbighshire because the Crown Estate gave the council permission to build the defences. Photo: Denbighshire County CouncilThe East Rhyl Coastal Defence Scheme saw £30m of upgraded flood defences in Denbighshire because the Crown Estate gave the council permission to build the defences. Photo: Denbighshire County Council

The Crown Estate leases land to private and public enterprises who bid for renewable energy projects including wind farms and tidal energy schemes.

In Wales, the Crown Estate owns the land that’s used for the offshore wind farms visible from the north Wales coast - North Hoyle, Rhyl Flats and Gwynt y Môr - as well as that used for the failed energy project at Ramsey Sound off the coast of Pembrokeshire, and has land earmarked for use in tidal energy for two separate projects off the coast of Holyhead and another between Ynys Enlli and Pen Llŷn.

The Crown Estate’s business model relies on leasing of land to private and public enterprises who take on the financial risk of exploiting the land. The recently completed East Rhyl Coastal Defence Scheme to protect 1,650 properties from flooding took place after the Crown Estate granted landowner’s rights to Denbighshire County Council to construct the new flood defences with support from Welsh Government funding.

Since 2017 revenues from the Crown Estate in Scotland go straight towards funding the Scottish Government directly, with no money going to Westminster and no subsidy to the reigning monarch.

A petition launched at the start of the year calling to transfer control of the Crown Estate to the Welsh Government, as in Scotland, has gathered more than 11,000 signatures.

Earlier this year the Scottish Government raised around £700m by auctioning the rights to renewable energy projects on land held by the Scottish Crown Estates. 

Speaking in the House of Commons, Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams said: “In the heat of the cost-of-living crisis, Scottish renewable natural resources generate revenue for the benefit of the Scottish people, providing a better welfare service than that in Wales.

“Is it not clear that devolving the Crown Estate to Scotland has improved government’s ability to respond to the cost-of-living crisis, and so it would in Wales?”

The National Wales: The Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart MP, said 'There is “no public appetite at all” to devolve powers over the Crown Estate to Wales'. Image: Aaron Chown/PA WireThe Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart MP, said 'There is “no public appetite at all” to devolve powers over the Crown Estate to Wales'. Image: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

The Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart MP dismissed the suggestion: “Shock horror that that petition was going to be raised. It represents a tiny, tiny proportion of the people of Wales.”

READ MORE: UK Energy Minister dismisses question of devolving Crown Estate to Wales

A bill to devolve the Crown Estate in Wales was put forward in Westminster by Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville Roberts, although the end of the Parliamentary session saw it killed off before its second reading.

Plaid Cymru intends to re-introduce the bill, and Saville Roberts urged Labour MPs to back the bill’s progress, saying: “With Westminster focused on glossy energy strategies rather than effective delivery, bringing control over our resources closer to the communities that are affected is not only what Wales wants, but is the right thing to do to secure a just and green net-zero transition.”

The Welsh Conservatives are opposed to devolving the Crown Estate to Wales. Their Environment spokeswoman in the Senedd, Janet Finch-Saunders MS, who has campaigned against the development of offshore windfarms on Crown Estate land, said that the Crown Estate “served us well over the years”.

A report published in February by the Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, on which Finch-Saunders sits, recommended devolving administration of the Crown Estate to the Welsh Government and spending the revenue to fight climate change.

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