An Inverness group believes other community bodies could follow them and create a local asset from property declared ownerless.
A consultation to transfer ownerless land or buildings into community hands ended recently.
It was held by the King’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (KLTR) which looks after property which has fallen to the Crown.
These can range from shops and industrial units to undeveloped areas of land, woodlands and even opencast coal mines, harbours and landfill sites.
Assets sold for nominal sum
The main source of properties referred to KLTR are those which formerly belonged to dissolved companies.
In the last financial year, KLTR received around 190 property referrals, many of which have the potential to be suitable for community benefit.
Under a proposed Ownerless Property Transfer Scheme (OPTS) potential assets can be sold for a nominal sum for community use.
Historically, KLTR looked at the feasibility of selling the properties at full market value.
But recently it has been looking at how it can better dispose of property to key public sector partners for community use.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise is helping identify potentially suitable community groups to purchase the property.
Paul Harrington, development manager in HIE’s community assets team, welcomes the move.
“We feel that OPTS is a real revelation in the way ownerless land could be put into some form of community ownership.
“Some of these assets can help build community resilience and contribute to their sustainability.
“They can be cornerstones of community development, particularly in rural areas, whether it be a small building or a large land asset like a woodland.”
He added: “The OPTS has great potential for once privately owned assets to benefit communities and the general public.
“Hopefully, once the outcome of the OPTS is known, communities will be able to explore the benefits of acquiring an ownerless asset.”
Complex legal process to take over Culduthel Woods
In 2020, South Islay Development (SID) paid market value of £110,000, supported by the Scottish Land Fund, to take over playing fields.
The site was acquired in 1952 by the trustees of the Port Ellen Playing Fields Association (PEPFA).
But when PEPFA was dissolved in 2017, the site was declared ownerless due to an administrative error, despite an agreement that SID would take it on.
Under OPTS, similar transfers to new community buyers could be done for a nominal value.
This year, the Culduthel Woods Group (CWG) took over a 16-acre site near the centre of Inverness this year, following a complex legal process to confirm ownership.
The woods, close to Inverness Royal Academy and the site of the old Culduthel Hospital, were owned by a housing company until 2002.
When it dissolved voluntarily the title of the woods resorted to the Crown and QLTR.
In 2014 QLTR disclaimed the land and the woods were left effectively ownerless.
CWG became owners with help from groups including Highland Council and HIE.
CWG chairman Murray Ferguson said OPTS will hopefully make it easier for communities to take over potential assets in future.
He said it should also help communities to become aware of land and property becoming ownerless.
A positive step
“This will be a considerable improvement because it should make it possible for these small areas of land to get into community hands in a more straightforward way.
“It’s still got a few wrinkles which I’m sure will be ironed out. But this is definitely a positive step.
“It is certainly in line with government policy of trying to get valuable land into community ownership and management if it’s in the public interest, which is quite often is.”
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