Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Agricultural tenant for Sandown Lands again?

We heard on the grapevine recently that the Highland Council in their responsibility as trustees of the Common Good Fund may be looking for an agricultural tenant for all or part of the Sandown Lands. Gurnites will need no reminding of the previous history of this area, the failed planning application for 500 plus houses and the public inquiry that followed. The previous agricultural tenancy received  inglorious mentions in dispatches many times during this period. 

We asked Liz and Colin for comment and they were quickly forthcoming. Colin said:

"I'll be happy to wait for our Provost to guide any comment. We are exploring options on how best to manage all of the Common Good assets, including Sandown in ways that do not tie our hands or restrict opportunities. Given some of the prior history, as Trustees we are being cautious and seeking best advice."

Provost Liz said: " We are taking a very cautious look at letting the land again, and it is in very early stages." 

From Liz's comment it is obviously an option that the Council are considering as trustees, they have a responsibility to use the assets of the Common Good Fund wisely and they could earn a regular income with a tenant, and provided it didn't have the advantageous terms and condition's the previous controversial tenancy had then the community would benefit. It would be ironic however, if after all the stushies of recent years we go back to the way things used to be with the land being farmed. 

Do Gurnites have any other suggestions on how this land (remember some parts are now zoned for future housing) could be used to earn cash for the hard pressed Common Good fund? Worth remembering too that the land has now become a de facto amenity area with many local people using the area for dog walking and other leisure activities. 


Anonymous said...

Expand the Sandown allotments up to the A96 or further. Each plot brings in rent for use of the land and local folk benefit hugely

Spurtle said...

For heavens sake, if they do decide to give someone an agricultural tenancy of the Sandown land, I hope the contract doesn't have as many holes in it as the previous one did.

I never did find out exactly how much it cost the public purse to buy out that tenancy but it must have been into the tens of thousands of pounds, and possibly more.

When it comes to negotiating commercial agreements, you can't help but be left with the impression that there are parts of the Highland Council where the left hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing.

By all means give a lease on the ground but on a very short term

Common Man said...

Spurtle is dead right as usual: "...if they do decide to give someone an agricultural tenancy of the Sandown land, I hope the contract doesn't have as many holes in it as the previous one did."

The history is very tangled - much but not all the information surfaced around the time of the Sandown planning inquiry. The problem was apparently not so much loopholes in the tenancy-contract text. Rather it was that the then local authority failed to monitor, review or renew the contract in the correct way. As a result of this oversight or inaction, the tenant acquired additional rights - of security of tenure if not ownership.

Thus when the Council decided to offer the Sandown Land for sale, they had first to negotiate to "buy out" the tenant.

Not tens of thousands. Published Council records reveal that the amount eventually paid was £390,000 - and this was regarded as a success: it could have been a lot more. Not a bad little windfall earner for the tenant! On top of that the Council had to pay around £340,000 on legal and other fees and costs - some of which was to "purify" title tand re-establish he right to sell the land; and some then to market the site.

So the direct cost of the Council's oversight or incompetence in administering the tenant's lease was in the region of half a million pounds. On a local scale, that's almost as careless or negligent as the City bankers!

Now, with the land unsold, and unlikely to attract bidders in the present climate, it's reasonable and realistic for the Council as Common Good trustees to look at the possibility of raising income from leasing the land to benefit the Nairn CG fund.

But let us hope they have learned from past experience. This time they need to keep a closer eye not only on the contract-wording but also on the continuing administration of the lease.

Greg said...

Sandown Community Wind Farm