Return to opening page

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 background.

As available further details will be made available.

Probe into city's 'mishandling' of £25m common good assets
Sunday, 7th May 2006 by ANDREW PICKEN

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 The Meadows.

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 shopping centre.

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 funds.

"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 budget.

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.

Below is taken from  Andy Wightman's site

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 & Galloway Council

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?
yours etc.
Andy Wightman

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: -

Dear Sir/Madam,
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?
Andy Wightman

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 November 2005)

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 2002.

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.

Dear Sir/Madam,
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.

Andy Wightman

Thursday 1 December
The following story appeared on the front page of the Oban Times today (1 Dec)

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 £770,000.

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.

See also:

Councillors face legal action over sale of park
Scotland the 'most dangerous country' - UN report
The Merchant Company