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March 21, 2012

Stirling buys land it already owns

There’s more to the Crown Estate in Scotland than just coastal assets.  For instance, there’s an ancient royal park in Stirling that has been in public ownership since the 12th century. The Crown Estate Commission has decided to sell this public asset to the Council who are to finance the deal by raiding Stirling’s Common Good Fund to the tune of £567,000. This money, which belongs to the people of Stirling, is being used to purchase land they already own.  You couldn’t make it up.


Taxpayers are stumping up half-a-million pounds to buy an ancient Scottish royal park even though it has been in public ownership for centuries.

The 453 acres of King’s Park below Stirling Castle – the last significant ancient property of the Scottish Crown not controlled by Scottish Ministers – is being sold off by the Crown Estate Commissioners for £1 million.

The people of Stirling will pay for more than half the sale price to secure the site for the town’s golf club, despite the public having effectively owned the land since the 12th century. 

Now leading land reform campaigner Andy Wightman is calling for answers from ministers and the local council.

The move comes when there are growing calls for the Crown Estate Commission’s (CEC) functions to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament with the CEC, which sends its income to the UK Treasury, ceasing to operate north of the Border.

According to Mr Wightman, an authority on common land and common good funds, the deal betrays the CEC as an organisation “… out for a quick profit at the expense of Scotland’s heritage”.

He said: “Over the past 50 years the CEC has managed the park as just another part of their commercial rural estate. Which is why, in 2006, it began secret negotiations to sell Stirling Golf Club lands they already leased.

“When news of this private deal broke there was an outcry and Stirling Council stepped in and agreed to acquire the parkland and land at the back of the castle for £600,000, funded with £150,000 from Stirling common good fund and £450,000 from the golf club, which would then be granted a 175-year lease.”

He said local people wanted to know why the fund, a reserve established for the benefit of the community, was being raided to pay for this. 

The community had come up with an imaginative alternative proposal that would restore this historic landscape as part of the wider restoration of Stirling Castle, but both the Secretary of Scotland (Jim Murphy) and the Scottish Government had refused to get drawn into the argument. Progress on the deal stopped with the credit crunch, but now it is back on the table. 

However, this time more land, another 92 acres, is included and the price is over £1m, “… with,” Mr Wightman said, “the common good fund forking out a whopping £567,000. This represents over 60% of its reserves, and for what? This land is crown land. It is Scottish public land. It should be administered by Scottish ministers, as nearly all other historic castles, palaces and royal parks are. 

“No public money should be needed to acquire control of this land, least of all the bulk of Stirling’s common good fund”.

He said it is particularly in-appropriate given the 2014 year of Homecoming and the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.

“Why, when Scotland is in the midst of such historic times, is the Scottish Government sitting idly by while a common good fund is raided to pay for public land that already belongs to us, to be given away to a private golf club for 175 years? It is time to stop this madness.”

King’s Park Community Council wrote to the council: “In our opinion this is a serious mistake given that the recommendations about to be published in the Scotland Bill give every indication that Crown Estate management in Scotland will be returned to Scottish ministers.”

Alan Laidlaw, CEC’s head of new business development for the rural estate, said: “We have worked in partnership with Stirling Council and Stirling Golf Club to ensure local people benefit from the use of the land.” 

A spokesman for Stirling Council said: “The acquisition of the lands at King’s Park, using common good fund monies, will secure for all time coming the use of these lands by the public for recreational purposes.” 

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “If any party or individual believes public money is not being used properly and effectively, then a complaint can be made to Audit Scotland.”

The Herald sought a comment from Stirling Golf Club, but no-one was available.