This Land is Your Land

So sang Woody Guthrie in 1940.  But it resonates today.  No-one who has read Andy Wightman‘s latest indictment of land ownership and property law can fail to disagree. So I’m delighted to report that my motion calling for City of Edinburgh Council  to submit written evidence to the Scottish Government’s Justice Committee on the Long Leases Bill was agreed at a meeting of full Council today.

Simply put, Common Good Land is land which belongs to the citizens of a ‘burgh’.

Waverley Market, at the east end of Princes Street, and the most valuable asset of the City of Edinburgh Common Good Fund, has been poorly administered, to put it politely!  Since 1982, when the current lease on Waverley Market was signed, the City’s Common Good Fund has received a total of 23p for one of the most valuable pieces of land in the country!  When the lease ends in 2188 we lucky citizens can expect the Common Good Fund to have grown by £2.60, but that’s only if we ask for payment!

Waverley Market circa 1900

My motion is self explanatory and reads as follows;

That the Council;

Notes that The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee is seeking views on the general principles of the Long Leases (Scotland) Bill

Notes that the Bill is designed to convert leases of over 175 years (with at least 100 years left to run) to full ownership

Notes that the Waverley Market in Edinburgh, worth approximately £50 million forms part of the Common Good Fund of the City of Edinburgh and is currently let on a 206 year lease, at 1p per year

Notes that if the proposal to convert such leases becomes law then the current leaseholder of Waverley Market will become owner of a multi million pound asset which is part of the City of Edinburgh’s Common Good Fund

Agrees that it would be wrong that a long leaseholder should assume ownership of Edinburgh’s Common Good Land and

Agrees to submit evidence to the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament by Wednesday 12th January 2011 as called for, highlighting the case of Waverley Market, pointing out that similar cases may well exist nationwide and proposing exemption of the City’s Common Good Land from the provisions of the Bill.

As leading land reform expert Andy Wightman has pointed out in his latest book, “The Poor Had No Lawyers”, the history of the Common Good Fund in the twentieth century is a history of decline.  In 1904, the annual income of the fund in Edinburgh was around £2 million at today’s prices but, in 2009, it made a loss of £510,000.

I’m pleased to have played a small part in the campaign to recover the millions of pounds that rightly belong to the citizens of the Royal Burgh of Edinburgh and will monitor the progress of the Bill with interest.