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February 26, 2024

Out of KILTR

This Friday, communities will officially start to benefit from a new arrangement between the Scottish Government and one of our oldest institutions – the King’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (KILTR). Established in 1707, KILTR has long been responsible for selling property that becomes ‘ownerless’ and passing the proceeds back to the government of the day. But henceforth, for a minimal fee, these properties can be acquired by communities. And the good folk of Muirkirk in Ayrshire are about to become one of the first communities to benefit. One derelict petrol station is about to become a community garden and picnic stop.


Severin Carrell , Guardian

Plan for picnic stop in Muirkirk and similar projects contrast with land system in rest of UK, where state or crown keep assets

The villagers of Muirkirk, a former mining community known for its religious revolutionaries and its footballers, have plans for the derelict petrol station they are about to buy for a knockdown price.

An acre square of crumbling tarmac and scrub, it will soon become a community garden and a picnic stop for tourists travelling through Ayrshire on the A70, thanks to an unusual deal with one of Scotland’s oldest state institutions: the King’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (KLTR).

Muirkirk’s old filling station is a case study for a major new initiative by the KLTR to give away, for a minimal fee, dozens of buildings, pieces of land, factories and offices across Scotland that have become ownerless and unused.

Founded as the Scottish court of exchequer in 1707, the agency would ordinarily try to sell these properties at the market rate, passing on revenues to the Scottish government’s consolidated fund under a long-established system known as bona vacantia, where ownerless properties were transferred previously to the monarch and more recently to the state.

Under the KLTR’s new ownerless property transfer scheme, due to formally start on 1 March, local communities will be offered buildings or land worth up to £500,000, potentially shifting millions of pounds worth of property into community ownership.

It has already given away a small uninhabited island near Eday in Orkney, used by seals as a haul-out, and is negotiating the community transfers of a derelict Grade A-listed art nouveau office block in Glasgow called the Lion Chambers, which is one of the first in the UK to use reinforced concrete; an old hotel in Falkirk; and vacant land beside some Glasgow tenements which has a market value of £300,000 and will be converted into a market garden.

This policy, endorsed by Scottish ministers, highlights the growing contrast over land ownership policy with the rest of the UK. England’s bona vacantia policies which, unlike in Scotland, include the assets of people who died intestate, remain rooted in their feudal past.

In most of England and Wales those revenues go direct to the Treasury, but the royal family’s duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster have the legal right to all bona vacantia assets in their areas. The Duchy of Lancaster decided to donate £100m to ethical funds last year after a Guardian investigation found it used bona vacantia revenues to finance its property empire.

David McLatchie, a director of Muirkirk Enterprise Group (MEG), a social enterprise linked to the village’s community council, said the filling station project was a helpful part of Muirkirk’s regeneration.

The closure of its coalmines and ironworks plunged Muirkirk into significant poverty, but over the last 25 years MEG has worked to reinvigorate the area by opening heritage parks, community plantations, a bird hide, a skate park, and by refurbishing buildings for small businesses.

The village, which was the first in the UK to install gas lighting, has a revolutionary history: Muirkirk was a centre of the 17th-century revolt by the Covenanters, lowland Protestants who rejected the king’s attempts to control their religion, initially aligning themselves with Oliver Cromwell’s parliamentarian army.

It was also the birthplace of a host of professional footballers, with the Liverpool manager Bill Shankly born in nearby Glenbuck, and is home to two 18th-century poets associated with Robert Burns: John Lapraik and Isabel Pagan.

McLatchie said the derelict filling station was an eyesore, and that replacing it with a garden would improve villagers’ mental wellbeing. “This is going to enhance the village in terms of the attractiveness of the village … it’s not the last piece in the jigsaw, but it’s part of it.”

The KLTR’s new strategy, which was proposed by the Scottish Land Commission, which advises ministers on expanding community buyouts, is akin to the asset transfers that local councils and Forestry and Land Scotland are overseeing under a ministerial mandate to expand community ownership.

Bobby Sandeman, the KLTR’s head of department, said transfers had to demonstrate clear public interest and community benefits, and prove they had strong local support and a comprehensive business case. Its decisions are overseen by a panel of expert advisers.

Sandeman said the goal was to support community creativity and wealth-sharing. “It’s not just about money, it’s also thinking about how to realise social and community capital; that’s the genesis of this,” he said.

 This article was amended on 23 February 2024. A caption on an embedded image said that Lion Chambers in Glasgow had already been given away when in fact negotiations over its future are taking place.