Monday, 19 May 2008

Common Good Day Scotland Sat 24th May


Saturday 24th May

at 8 St Marys Street
Just off The Royal Mile

Common Good is the name given to the inherited property of the former burghs of Scotland. This land and assets still exist and still belong to the people and could be a significant resource for regenerating local communities.. Common Good expert Andy Wightman will be in attendance along with others involved in campaigns throughout the country. Come and get involved in reclaiming the rightful inheritance of the people of Scotland. Come and spend the day with all those involved in reclaiming our Common Good. Discussions, talks, films….information to take away so you can become a Common Good Detective
Other Week`s Events here Mon 19th - Sun 25th May as part of The Canongate Projects` 6 week programme
Andy Wightman will be giving a talk on Edinburgh`s Common Good on Thursday 22 May, 7pm Augustine United Church, George IV Bridge
This talk is organised by the Cockburn Association (The Edinburgh Civic Trust), in partnership with the Edinburgh Old Town Association.

(There is Common Good Land involved in the proposed land sale by the council to Caltongate developers Mountgrange)

A piece on The Common Good By Andy Wightman

In recent years the idea of community ownership of land and assets has been enthusiastically embraced by politicians across the UK and particularly in Scotland. In a country where over half the privately owned rural land is still held by a mere 352 landowners, land reform now allows communities a pre-emptive right to buy land when it comes onto the market.

But before having embraced this new fashionable idea, politicians might have paused to consider the fate of the common land that already existed. Had they done so they would have realised that community ownership is nothing new.

Before the Reformation, as much as half of Scotland was held in some form of common ownership. There were extensive Crown commons that had never been feudalised, commonties in every parish for the use of the common people, extensive burgh commons which provided income and sustenance to ScotlandÕs burghs and a whole array of mosses, loans, greens and other forms of communistic arrangement. As it happens, common ownership of land is a very old idea.

Tom Johnston, the historian and former Secretary of State for Scotland concluded in that," adding together the common lands of the Royal Burghs, the common lands of the Burghs which held their foundation rights from private individuals, the extensive commons of the villages and the hamlets, the common pasturages and grazings, and the commons attaching to run-rig tenancies, we shall be rather under than over estimating the common acreage in the latter part of the sixteenth century, at fully one-half of the entire area of Scotland.

He goes on, "As late as 1800 there were great common properties extant; many burghs, towns and villages owned lands and mosses; Forres engaged in municipal timber-growing; Fortrose owned claypits; Glasgow owned quarries and coalfields; Hamilton owned a coal pit; Irvine had mills, farms and a loom shop; Kirkwall owned farms and a town hall; Lanark had a mill and an inn; Lochmaben had a farm; Musselburgh had five mills, a brick and tile work, a quarry, a town hall, a steel yard and shares in a race stand; etc........."

By the time the Royal Commission on Municipal Corporations in Scotland reported in 1835, however, '"Wick had lost in the law courts its limited right of commonty over the hill of Wick, and owned no property; Abernethy owned nothing, nor did Alloa. Bathgate was the proud possessor of the site of a fountain and a right of servitude over four and a half acres of moorland. Beith had no local government of any kind; Bo`ness owned nothing; Castle-Douglas owned only a shop; Coldstream was stripped bare, not even possessing rights in its street dung"

Visit any town in Scotland and you will come across names such as Market Muir, Market Street, Muirton, Links, and Green. These all denote forms of common land such as all burghs in Scotland owned at on time. The property of the burgh was known as the common good since it was to be used for the common good of the inhabitants.

And this property still exists. It still belongs to the people and forms an important part of their cultural heritage. It is also a significant resource for regenerating local communities. But since 1975 when Town Councils were abolished, this land has been subsumed within new local authority structures and assets that should have been carefully stewarded for the benefit of the inhabitants of the former burghs have, instead, been lost, neglected, and in many cases misappropriated. Some communities took action to protect their assets. Thus, for example, St Andrews transferred their town common (which happens to have the famous golf course on it) to a Trust through a private Act of Parliament.

Look at the accounts of most local authorities in Scotland and you will find a page or two devoted to the Common Good funds. These are funds inherited from the former Town Councils of the burghs of Scotland in 1975. Some funds are quite sizeable. Aberdeen has £31 million, Inverness has £6.9 million and Musselburgh £7.5 million. Most are far more modest ranging from a few thousand to one or two hundred thousand pounds.

The real tragedy, however, is that the true extent of the common good of our towns is staggering and yet too many local authorities simply donÕt know what it is, where it is, how much it's worth, or who it really belongs to. The total reported value in the accounts of local authorities stands at just over £181 million. That's £400 of assets for every man, woman and child in Scotland! But given the missing assets, inaccurate accounting and lost receipts the total is probably in the region of £2 billion.

In Hamilton alone, £50 million has disappeared from the Common Good Fund. In Edinburgh, millions of pounds have gone missing and, incredibly, the former Waverley Market in Princes Street, a common good asset worth over £40 million is leased on a 206 year lease for 1p per year!

How has this sorry state of affairs come to pass? Why has such wealth not been managed in such a way that its value grew and would provide land for much needed community use such as housing? The answer is a complicated tale of incompetence, forgotten history, ignorance of officals and clear misappropriation of funds. Citizens are beginning to wake up to this hidden wealth. At the same time, communities are being empowered to take ownership and control of land and property and to fashion a more prosperous and sustainable future for themselves. However, much of this has been achieved through the allocation of money from the Lottery.
For many communities its not necessary to seek opportunities on the open market or to seek financial support from the Lottery in order to build up their asset base since common good assets already exist and could form the basis for building a multi-million property portfolio that could deliver housing, leisure and much needed community facilities.

A new Act of the Scottish Parliament should ensure a proper asset register, proper accounting and, most importantly, a statutory power for community bodies to take back title to their common good assets. If this were done, the consequences could be massive in terms of economic regeneration, civic pride, community cohesion and the development of a new commonweal.
And they could go further by endowing communities who have no Common Good Fund with one, by supporting a bold vision of community led urban regeneration. In my view the whole of the Clydeside regeneration project should be community owned and managed. They are doing these sorts of things in London (Greenwich Leisure and Coin Street Community Builders are just two examples) and other parts of England. Common Good assets are the place to start.

There are literally hundreds of millions of pounds floating about in the form of previously unaccounted for sets, undervalued assets and underused assets. This wealth belongs to the local community and not to the Council and can be used to begin a process of civic renewal and physical regeneration, to deliver wealth and prosperity, and to give back to towns across Scotland some self respect, belief and power to better the welfare of their community.

This article appeared on Andy`s blog on The YouScotland Website
Andy Wightman is an independent writer and researcher. His report, "Common Good Land in Scotland". A review and critique is available at Scottish Commons