A new Bill currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice committee could see public assets in Scotland’s “common good” property worth millions of pounds lost to private owners.
Liberal Democrat Justice spokesperson Robert Brown MSP has expressed concerns over the unintended consequences of the Long Leases (Scotland) Bill. The Bill, widely regarded as a tidying up, “technical”, Bill, converts leases of property that are longer than 175 years into outright ownership.
But Mr. Brown says that the Bill could do huge damage to Scotland’s historic common good property, held in trust by Councils for local people, which could then be sold off by the new owners for millions of pounds’ profit.
Commenting Mr Brown said:
“I am concerned that the ramifications of this complex Bill could be extremely wide ranging and damaging to the public interest in Scotland.
“Land campaigners tell me that the Bill will make changes to the current legislation which would be disastrous to the public interest in common good property.
“For example, I am told that the developers of the site of Waverley Market in Edinburgh pay a penny a year in rent on a long lease of 206 years. Under the Bill, they would become full owners of land worth perhaps £50 million which currently is owned by Edinburgh’s Common Good Fund. If that is correct – and it seems to be so – that must be a ridiculous outcome.
“One peculiarity of common good land is that it cannot be alienated and sold off. I understand that may be one reason why it and similar plots were let out on long leases – to enable the land to be used productively. It was never the intention though that the ground be sold off entirely.
“It seems ludicrous that “tenants” in that position who have paid very little rent, perhaps to encourage development, could earn vast amounts of money from what is in fact public land.
“It is extremely difficult to get a handle on the extent of the problem because common good records across Scotland’s Councils are often very badly and incompletely kept. I am told it will take years to bring them up to date.
“This Bill cannot proceed unless this issue is properly identified and fully sorted out. Public land must remain in the public domain.”