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October 19, 2016

For the Common Good in Leith

No one seems absolutely clear about the nature of Common Good land and in particular, the issue of ownership. Do local authorities actually hold title over Common Good assets or is it more a form of stewardship on behalf of the people? As new opportunities open up for communities to request the transfer of public assets, the thorny question of Common Good will inevitably arise. What’s clear is that just because an asset is part of the Common Good, it shouldn’t be a barrier to local development. That’s what they are hoping for in Leith. 


Sally Hayden

Read more about Leith Community Crops in Pots

On a two acre patch of Common Good land in north Edinburgh’s Leith neighborhood, Evie Murray walks with pride between plots of carefully tended flowers and vegetables.

“This area used to be used by drug addicts or prostitutes,” she said. “It was full of rubbish: syringes, condom wrappers”

This is ‘Crops in Pots’, a community initiative in the Scottish capital which has seen hundreds of local residents planting marrows, potatoes, beans, chard, apples, gooseberries, and even a walnut tree.

It is one example of a quiet but significant wave of land reform that is changing the dynamic of property ownership in Scotland.

Evie Murray, 39, has spent her life in Leith. A former drug addiction worker, she was made redundant shortly after the 2008 economic crash.

She found raising children and foster children in the city difficult, she said, and finding safe outdoor play areas in a neighbourhood fraught with social problems was a challenge.

It was this that gave her the idea to create a community area for other parents and neighbours.

Murray approached the local council in 2013 and won permission to use the area at the edge of Leith Links Park – even if the lease remains a rolling, short-term one.

Now, at least 100 people tend the soil plots regularly, according to Murray, with an eclectic and intergenerational mix of people involved.

The community is now attempting to negotiate another lease for a small building on the site, to turn into a cafe using local produce.

“Land and having the access to it is hugely important for people’s health,” said Murray, gesturing towards the gardeners chatting and laughing by their plots. “It’s hard to quantify the impact it’s having but you can see it with your eyes.”