A favourite charge made by UK
and Scots political opponents is that they 'sell off the family
silver'. Research in Scotland is just beginning to uncover the extent
to which public land assets have and are being 'sold off' with little
cash or other benefit to the population.
In Edinburgh's Old Town, City Centre and financial districts the Labour
controlled council appears ready to continue this practice much to the
approval of the Duke of Westminster and others eager to take part in
the land grab.
Has David Murray being given
common good land
for the sum of one penny a year?
The loss to the people is thought to be in the region of £18
million. The PDF file enclosed spells out the logic of common land. You can download it here (401KB)
The article below taken from Scotland on Sunday provides the
As available further details will be made available.
into city's 'mishandling' of £25m common good assets
Sunday, 7th May 2006 by
An investigation has been launched into claims that a record of
millions of pounds' worth of land and assets belonging to the people of
Edinburgh is being neglected by city leaders.
The council has been accused of mismanaging around £25 million of
Edinburgh's common good assets, which include property and land such as
Councillors agreed to the investigation after independent research
highlighted "serious shortcomings" in the council's stewardship of the
fund, with many assets in the fund now considered council property. The
report, produced by land reform expert Andy Wightman, concludes that
proper management along with the recovery of lost assets could result
in the fund reaching £50m by 2015.
Research shows that the former
Waverley Market on the south side of
Princes Street was deliberately transferred out of the common good fund
by councillors in 1982 before it made way for what is now Princes Mall
The centre has since been sold on but it is estimated that if it had
remained in the common good fund it would have earned around £23m
and be worth around £20m as a capital asset.
Another failing was the sale of a council office at 7 Merchiston Park
for nearly £1m last year. The building was on common good land
but never appeared in the fund until the oversight was pointed out by
Mr Wightman. It was also revealed that council officials intend to put
£1.8m of the money raised from the sale of the former bus depot
on East Market Street, towards the cost of the new council
headquarters. The depot is common good land.
Mr Wightman today said these discoveries could just be the tip of the
iceberg because no accurate record exists. He said:
"The council has to remember it is only the trustee of this fund and at
the very least there should be a committee to ensure proper control of
"The fund has been treated as a hindrance and an anachronism, and
assets have been systematically raided to shore up budget deficits
elsewhere in the council."
The diminishing fund meant a programme of disability grants, which went
towards making public buildings more accessible, had to be terminated
earlier this year and the money had to be found from the council's
Councillors agreed to launch the independent investigation at a meeting
of the resource management and audit scrutiny panel.
Common good assets were donated to the people of Edinburgh by
philanthropists or were formerly assets of the royal burgh. The assets,
which range from park land to the city's archives, are owned by all
Capital residents but city officials are the trustees of the fund.
The last thorough survey of the assets was carried out in 1905 and this
showed common good land in all of the Old Town, the majority of the New
Town, Leith Links, The Meadows, Bruntsfield Links and The Shore as well
as large areas of the Grange and the Southside.
This page highlights key news in
the campaign to recover common good land for the citizen.
Wednesday 3 May
Thanks to Eileen Thomas from Kinross Community Council (who are engaged
in their own campaign over common good property) for news of plans by
Perth and Kinross Council to sell off property across the region. Some
of this must be common good. See Main Report and Appendix One and Two.
Thursday 27 April
Today I celebrate a small victory. Giving evidence at the Resource
Management and Audit Scrutiny Panel of the City of Edinburgh Council on
the topic of their Common Good Fund, it was agreed unanimously by the
Committee that they would accept my recommendation of setting up an
independent review into the administration and management of the Fund.
I presented a dossier of evidence (click here for a copy - 404Kb pdf
file) which persuaded the Committee that there are some serious
problems to sort out.
Thanks are due to my local Councillor, Michael Dixon, for taking an
active interest and securing the topic on the agenda. Thanks are due
also to Councillors Jackson, Scobbie, Maginnis, Milligan, Munro,
Wheeler and Aldridge for their constructive and intelligent debate on
the topic. Now that they have the evidence and the opportunity to do
something I will sit back for a while and monitor progress.
I will be giving more talks in the coming weeks - see my Land Reform
website for further details.
Friday 24 March
I will be giving some talks in the coming weeks. These will be on the
topic of Common Good land and the Community Right to Buy.
Lockerbie 9 May 2006
Organised by Mairi Telford-Jammeh, Community Planning at Dumfries &
Meanwhile, I am continuing to research the fate of common good land in
Edinburgh. Much seems to have been "lost" through actions of the
Council in failing to properly record it, transferring it to other
accounts or simply conveniently forgetting about it. I am preparing a
dossier of evidence which will be presented to the Council including
how common good land now worth over £40 million was leased for 1p
per year - not a good deal!
Tuesday 7 February
The Herald reports growing concerns about the future of green spaces in
Glasgow including plans to convet part of Victoria Park in the west end
into a car park. Regardless of the merits or otherwise of such plans,
much of this land is probably common good land. I wrote a letter to the
Herald as follows: -
I share the concern of many Glaswegians over developments in Victoria
Park and elsewhere. What is important to realise, however, is that many
of these parks belong to the citizens of Glasgow and not to the
Council. This is because they form part of the Common Good of the City
and the Council, whilst they hold title, hold it on behalf of the
citizens and have legal duties to administer it in their interests. I
am concerned that Common Good assets may be disappearing in Glasgow
since in a recent survey I undertook, the Council failed to include any
park (even Glasgow Green) among the assets they held under the Common
Good Account. Perhaps, as is being advocated in England, it is time to
allow local people to take back ownership of such assets?
Sunday 29 January
Interesting news from Dumbarton in the Herald on Saturday. A small boat
club is facing eviction on the orders of a company called Beriston
Ltd., based in the British Virgin Islands. However, the land forms part
of the lands granted to the Burgh of Dumbarton in the 17th century,
i.e. it is common good land and belongs to the people of Dumbarton. In
recent years it appears that a number of titles have been granted to
landowners in ignorance of the fact that it is common good land. As a
result, the boat club is contesting the case in the Court of Session.
On Friday, the Scotsman carried a letter from four academics at
Edinburgh university lamenting the state of the City of Edinburgh's
archives. It is a little appreciated fact but the records of former
Burghs are part of the Common Good - the moveable assets of the former
Burgh - and thus belong to the citizens. In response I wrote a letter
to the Scotsman as follows: -
I congratulate Dr Pat Dennison, Professor Devine, Professor Lynch and
Dr Murdoch for having raised the issue of the state of the Edinburgh
City Archives in such a forceful manner. What should be more widely
known is that the City's archives are an asset of the City of
Edinburgh's Common Good and thus belong to the citizens of Edinburgh.
The Council therefore have a legal duty to preserve and administer
these records. It they are failing, then Section 231 of the Local
Government (Scotland) Act 1973 gives any seven local government
electors within the City of Edinburgh the power to apply to a sheriff
to make directions to ensure that the Council's legal responsibilities
are properly discharged on behalf of the citizens to whom these records
belong. Is anyone interested?
Wednesday 25 January
Contacts across Scotland are beginning to report stirrings in Local
Authorities. Chartularies are being opened up and deed boxes are being
rummaged through. One recent story involves Maybole Golf Course in Ayr.
Rumours that South Ayrshire Council were planning to sell it prompted a
lengthy piece in the Herald on 18 January. South Ayrshire Council (SAC)
deny any plans to do so but also report that there is no record of the
land being common good. Actually, SAC report no common good land in
Maybole at all which is simply not credible - in fact it is untrue.
Maybole, like other burghs in Scotland, held an extensive portfolio of
assets in the name of the Town Council. What happened to thse after
1975? Well most of them are still there and others have been sold.
Where has the money gone? Good question - it should have gone into the
Maybole Common Good Fund but it hasn't. The Maybole Common Good Fund
stands at a paltry £1200 or thereabouts. This is all causing a
stushie partly because there is a by-election in Maybole and the result
may decide whether the Conservative's recent takeover of the Council is
secure. The new leader of the Council is Gibson MacDonald who has a
track record of taking an active interest in the Common Good. So maybe
Maybole will get their Common Good assets back!
Miss Mary Mackenzie's Petition to the Scotish Parliament's
Petitions Committee is going to be considered on 19 April. Contact your
MSP to stress how important this topic is.
I've been digging around my own patch in Edinburgh (see Evening News
story ) where the Council is selling off land to developers for £
millions. We are discovering that much of it is common good but when
the Council took the decision to sell it off, the officials did not
inform Councillors and the money does not appear to be going into the
Common Good Fund. We will keep digging.
Corrections & Updates
Aberdeen City Council report that they have an accurate record of their
common good assets. This is contrary to what was reported to me by
their Property Department in the course of my research but this may be
due to a misunderstanding of the nature of the research (I suspect they
thought we were interested only in ancient common land). So apologies
to Aberdeen City council for any confusion and I look forward to
recieving further details in due course.
Stirling Council apologies for not having responded to request for
information in early 2005 and has not provided details of 5 sites in
Strling but nothing more and nothing in Dunblane, Doune, Callander etc.
More digging required!
Friday 9 December
Scottish Parliamentary Written Answer
Common Good Fund
S2W-21172 - Christine Grahame (South of Scotland) (SNP) (Date Lodged 28
To ask the Scottish Executive, further to the answer to question
S1W-25757 by Peter Peacock of 23 May 2002, the report prepared for
Audit Scotland in November 2004, which investigated complaints
surrounding Scottish Borders Council's stewardship of its Common Good
Fund by Scottish Borders Council, and Petition PE875 by Miss Mary
Mackenzie in respect of common good assets, whether it now considers
that there should be a Scotland-wide register and record of all
moveable and heritable common good assets, including details of the
local authorities that have the stewardship of the assets and providing
easy public accessibility to the register.
Answered by Mr Tom McCabe (7 December 2005):
We have no plans to commission a national register of common good
assets held by local authorities. It is the responsibility of local
authorities as trustees to manage assets held for the common good
according to sound asset management principles.
All moveable and heritable common good assets which are the property of
the local authority are accounted for within the audited accounts of
each authority. Local authority accounts are subject to annual audits
by Audit Scotland, and these are accessible by law to any member of the
public. Any member of the public can access local authority accounts
and performance outcome information under section 101 of the Local
Government (Scotland) Act 1973, section 13 of the Local Government in
Scotland 2003 and also under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act
All local authorities are also required, by the Local Government
(Scotland) Act 2003, to adhere to proper accounting practice, including
having in place asset management plans. These plans are intended to
ensure sound financial stewardship of all assets including common good
assets and I would support any moves by local authorities which provide
greater transparency in their financial governance.
Thursday 8 December
I wrote a letter to the Oban Times in response to the piece that
appeared on 1 Dec (see below). It was not published but I did send it
to Oban Community Council. Here is the letter.
I note that Argyll & Bute Council are continuing to block any
meaningful discussion of the future management of the Oban Common Good
Fund. The citizens of Oban should be aware that this fund does not
represent an asset of the Council (see page 32 of 2004/05 Argyll &
Bute Accounts) but is the property of the citizens of Oban. They should
also be aware that there are many areas of land and buildings in Oban
that are also the property of the citizens of Oban but that the
Council's Annual Report fails to identify or account for these.
Under the law as it stands Common Good Funds are managed by Local
Authorities and Community Councils have no legal right of
representation. However, in a recent report we published (Common Good
Land. A review and Critique), we make the case for new legislation that
would allow statutorily incorporated community bodies to take back
title to all the assets of their Common Good Fund. This, I believe, is
the route that Oban Community Council would be advised to follow.
Thursday 1 December
The following story appeared on the front page of the Oban Times today
Oban Common Good Fund Debate
Oban Community Council wants more influence over how Oban Common Good
Fund, currently valued at £825,000 is spent.
But Argyll and Bute Council disagrees and has said it is the body which
is entrusted with the running of the Fund.
Currently £32,000 is earmarked with income of £50,000
expected. In comparison Campbeltown Common Good Fund is valued at
Councillor Duncan MacIntyre said: 'Members of the community council
have been discussing this issue for months. As far as we are concerned,
we are acting on behalf of Argyll and bute Council, which oversees the
running of the Oban Common Good Fund. If the people of the community
council wish to pursue the discussion of this issue they need to write
to the secretary of the Fund proposing a meeting.
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