Monday, February 23, 2015

Nairn Common Good issues in the light of the forthcoming Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill

Last week we had a look at how local planning issues might be affected by the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill (CERB) going through the Scottish Parliament and specifically the detail in the MSPs report on the contents of the Bill so far at Committee Stage. Now we turn to another contentious area covered by the coming legislation - The Common Good

As Gurnites will appreciate Common Good affairs have been notoriously complicated due to historical reasons and neglect in the past. This as not only been the case in Nairn but elsewhere in Scotland. A look at the report by one of our regular readers suggests the following: lots of heavyweight analysis in the report itself, and some cogent comments from the public in the attached summary. It looks at the transfer of CG assets, alienability, the need to have proper asset registers. There is a very good point from Selkirk, quoted in para 382 of the Report, about the distinction between "title" and "beneficial ownership" which echoes directly arguments in Nairn. The report goes on to Paras 381-4 where it address the issue of community groups using, managing or leasing a CG asset or land.

The managing or leasing of Common Good Lands or assets (this observer remembers one of our councillors stressing that Sandown is a Common Good asset rather than land) will be very important for the Community Councils should Suburban and West proceed with their plans for a wetlands project on Sandown and also for NICE should they ever proceed with some of the projects that were mooted beyond the former social work buildings initiative. A good moment to point to para 382 of the report and something that usual suspects have also stressed in recent times in Nairn:

"382. Dr Lindsay Neil of the Selkirk Regeneration Company pointed to the issue of community benefit of common good assets. He contrasted this against the role of local authorities holding the title to assets and the importance this has for common good—

“A fine distinction avoided by many people is that the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 did not confer to local authorities the entire ownership of common good funds. It transferred the title, not the beneficial ownership. The beneficial ownership remains with the citizens as a form of power and, in the present day and age, they have very little say indeed in what happens to their common good fund.”259"

Para 384 states: "384. Responding to the transfer of common good assets to community groups under Part 5 of the Bill, the Minister stated— “there would be no restriction on a community body using, managing or leasing such an asset—transfer of ownership or disposal is the issue—as long as that fits with the use for which the property was acquired.”261" "

One could be forgiven for seriously wondering about the details in the para above with regard to Sandown. What was the original purpose of Sandown when it was acquired (if that is the same as an asset being given to the fund)?

So will the CERB make any difference to the current situation in Nairn when it becomes law? Readers might wish to delve into the MSPs report themselves to aid them make that decision - it's very complicated stuff but surely the Scottish Parliament will translate public concern into a mechanism that will change the situation in localities across Scotland? The CERB (Common Good section) Committee report is here.  It will be worth keeping an eye on this legislation as it passes through the parliament.

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