May 8, 2013
National Trust for Scotland at loggerheads with locals
This briefing has occasionally reported on increasingly scratchy relationships between one of Scotland’s largest charities, the National Trust for Scotland and some of the many communities in which it owns or manages land and buildings. NTS has had some well documented financial difficulties in the recent past and the new management regime has had to take some tough decisions in the process of restructuring its operations. But the imperative of having to restore financial health to an organisation is no justification for steamrollering local concerns.
The dispute between the Duddingston Village Conservation Society and the National Trust for Scotland centres around a parcel of land in the village known as the Community Land. Below are a series of extracts from the village newsletter – The Paddock – which sets out the community’s position and then a statement from NTS which sets out their position.
From The Paddock – The Newsletter of Duddingston Village – Spring 2011
CAN WE TRUST THE TRUST?
Many of you will know the long standing relationship which we have with the National Trust for Scotland, given its role as Trustee of the McNiven Bequest, and as owners of the Community Land. The Executive Committee has been in discussion with the NTS over the last few weeks, following their own review and reorganisation. Some early proposals which have come from the NTS over the future of the Community Land have caused us concern. We understand that the new Board of Trustees is to consider this and other property matters at its meeting on Thursday 14th April. In advance of this our Chairman has written in the following terms to Sir Kenneth Calman, the new Chair of the NTS.
“Dear Sir Kenneth
Welcome to your very important role as Chairman of the National Trust for Scotland. The Duddingston Village Conservation Society has had many dealings with the Trust over the years. I have to say the experience has not always been a positive one from our perspective.
Your recent interview in the NTS magazine highlighted the importance you placed on listening, and taking heed of what you are told, and on building better relations with communities. Writing on behalf of a community which feels very badly let down by the Trust, I hope that your new approach will improve matters significantly. Chrissie McNiven was a longstanding resident of Duddingston Village, the indefatigable Secretary of the Duddingston Village Preservation Society (as we were called then) and protector and supporter of the village and its history. She left her house in the village to the care of the National Trust for Scotland so that “by its retention, or in some other means, the NTS could associate with the village of Duddingston and its history”.
For over 30 years, the NTS has been the guardian of this bequest, and has, with a few minor wobbles, upheld its financial guardianship honourably. The house was sold and the subsequent McNiven Bequest funds have grown in its care. The funds have been applied to many village projects over the years – restoring the Caithness paving in the village, contributing to the funding of the ‘conservation-style’ village lighting, and restoration of the Manse, Dr Neil’s Garden and the Thomson Tower. We have much to be thankful to Miss McNiven for – in her lifetime and beyond.
In the year 2000, sadly following the death April Johnson-Marshall who also committed many hours to the work of the Society and the village, the opportunity arose to bring together the beneficence of these two remarkable ladies. In memory of their mother, the Johnson-Marshall family offered an off-market sale of what is now called the Community Land, so that the land might be made available for the amenity of the village (which had long since lost its village green) and to protect the land in perpetuity from development. These conditions were critical for the family to agree to sell the land. The NTS agreed to use a proportion of the McNiven Bequest for this purchase (along
with a neighbouring house), and for its future upkeep.
Since then, unfortunately, our relationship with NTS has deteriorated; agreed actions are forgotten or ignored; letters have been unanswered, and opportunities for positive joint working have been disregarded. Now the corporate memory of the NTS is fading. Its financial difficulties are foremost in Trustees’ minds. The Trust views a piece of land in its ownership, in an attractive part of Edinburgh and with little national heritage value, as fair game for increasing its General Income Fund. All this irrespective of the reasons behind the
bequest by Miss McNiven, the conditions of the Johnson Marshall family on the purchase of the land, and the NTS Trustees’ duty as guardians of the bequest.
Recent discussions with your staff have shown that the NTS is prepared to consider reneging on the trust Miss McNiven placed in it, and use her legacy to dig itself out of the financial hole it finds itself in – not just by selling the land, but also by developing it – with an initial proposal shown to us of up to 5 houses on the walled garden which has been restored with immense effort by community volunteers over the last 8 years. We have already made it clear that we would regard this as legally dubious, and morally reprehensible. It would also surely be reputationally disastrous for NTS which by its very nature is dependent on bequests. The Trust could risk cutting the very rope upon which it must rely to get it out of the financial chasm in which it finds itself. We are given to understand that this matter is to come before the next meeting of the Board of Trustees, and that it also forms part of the wider property portfolio review of the Trust. I am writing to draw the
Trustees’ attention to the damage which has already been done to the Trust by its poor management of affairs here in Duddingston Village, and to ask that you and all of the Trustees take full account of this as you consider the NTS future involvement with the Duddingston
Community Land project.
We would very much welcome the opportunity to make a brief presentation to the Board on this matter and our future relationship if this can be arranged. Our aim is to have a fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship.
Dr Malcolm Windsor
Duddingston Village Conservation Society”
From The Paddock – Autumn 2011
THE COMMUNITY LAND – AN UPDATE
We had an excellent response from members in our request for members tolobby NTS Trustees in July. They were left in no doubt about the community’s deep unhappiness at, and disapproval of, the actions they are taking. However the Board of Trustees is still determined to push ahead with proposals to remove the restrictions on the McNiven Bequest, and to sell the land to us at market value. The Executive Committee therefore decided that it was important to take professional advice, both on the question of the McNiven Funds and on the valuation of the land. We consulted solicitors and an appropriate land valuer and their reports have now been lodged with the NTS.
In respect of the value of the land – which the NTS has offered to sell to us for £75,000 – our valuer concludes that, given the burdens placed upon it when it transferred to NTS ownership, it has a “de minimus” value. Indeed it will require funds to run and to maintain it as a Community garden.
However, of much greater matter is the question of the legality of NTS requisitioning the McNiven Bequest for its own purposes. The detailed legal advice which we have received is that these funds should properly be applied in accordance with Miss McNiven’s wishes.
We believe that, in the light of this advice, a copy of which we have passed to the NTS, the decision taken by the NTS Board earlier this year to divert these funds away from Duddingston must be reconsidered.
The NTS and DVCS remain, therefore, very far apart in their expectations but the DVCS’s determination is undimmed. Our Chairman, Malcolm Windsor, has sought a meeting with the Chairman and the Chief Executive of the NTS in an effort to reach a more appropriate settlement of affairs than the NTS is currently prepared to consider
From The Paddock – Spring 2012
THE MCNIVEN BEQUEST AND THE COMMUNITY LAND
Every time we issue a Paddock newsletter, this section begins ’……..we hope to hear from the NTS soon…….‘ this time in response to our letter to them of November 2011 challenging their legal interpretation of the McNiven Bequest. It looked like this edition would be no different, however just as we were about to go to press we received a very disappointing and dismissive response from the NTS Chief Executive on which we are now seeking legal advice. We have asked for that advice to be available in time for a full report on the DVCS and the NTS position to be presented to the AGM. You are strongly encouraged to attend to give the Executive Committee guidance and support in its future discussions with the Trust. In the meantime the NTS has undertaken some work on the Land to address drainage problems – as have our own volunteers, but it is likely that some further remedial work will be necessary.
The DVCS were very pleased to offer a small grant to the Field Group to help it become established. Anyone visiting the land will see how well the two projects are developing together. We look forward to continued joint development once the uncertainties imposed by the NTS on the Community Land are removed.
From The Paddock – Autumn 2012
NTS and the McNiven Bequest
DVCS has formally submitted a complaint to the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) over the actions by the National Trust for
Scotland in relation to their handling of the McNiven Bequest. After an initial assessment of the case presented by DVCS, OSCR has
commented that the matter ‘warrants further inquiry’. That inquiry is currently being carried out and we await OSCR’s conclusions.
In response to various statements and communications from local people in Duddingston (some of which are included above), Jim Whyteside, Head of Communications at NTS issued this statement of rebuttal:
I would like to take this opportunity to assure you that there is absolutely no question of the Trust undermining its core purpose – what we are doing is following through the recommendations of the independent review conducted in 2010 by Sir George Reid and divesting ourselves of small properties and plots of lands that have no heritage significance and do not actually meet our core purpose. We do not know what Mr. Marshall is referring to when he mentions ‘several examples’ save for two particular sites – a plot of land in Duddingston and Suntrap Garden, both in Edinburgh. If I may, I would like to describe the background related to each property and explain why our Trustees have decided that they have no place in our portfolio. I also have to take issue with Mr. Marshall’s suggestion that the Trust is ‘taking over’ the funds from a bequest.
We have offered Duddingston Village Conservation Society (DVCS) the option of purchasing land outright from the Trust in order to secure its use for local amenity purposes. The offer follows on from the strategic decision taken by our Trustees to re-evaluate ownership of holdings which have little or no heritage value and concentrate the charity’s resources on properties with heritage significance.
The three quarters of an acre plot in question rises up the side of Arthur’s Seat from Duddingston Village, and comprises the former ‘paddock’, ‘tennis court’ and an allotment.
The plot was originally purchased by the Trust (along with a neighbouring property) in 1999 and is primarily used as a local amenity with limited access for the general public. The Trust’s 30-year involvement with Duddingston Village originates with a legacy from the late Miss Christina McNiven. Her house was given to the Trust, and was put up for sale so that the proceeds could be invested by us to establish a fund to support our charitable conservation objectives.
Although Ms McNiven never asked that the Trust do more than associate itself with the village and its history, the charity has devoted a significant proportion of monies generated from the seedcorn of her estate to local projects. Over the years this has resulted in gifts made to the village church for traffic calming, allocations to Dr Neil’s Garden Trust (which cares for another garden elsewhere in Duddingston), including the wages of a part-time gardener, and refurbishment of Thomson’s Tower.
Following the Trust’s decision to divest itself of property and to use remainder of the funds resulting from our investment of the original bequest (a bequest made directly to the Trust and not to the Village Conservation Society) on projects of national significance, the Conservation Society has raised the matter with OSCR, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator. We have co-operated fully with OSCR and provided evidence that the Trust’s position is correct. Our proposal is to put the site on the market with title burdens to restrict its use to a civic amenity (i.e. making it impossible to use the land for housing development) with an offer of first refusal to the Village Conservation Society.