Jul 18 2012 by Gregor White, Stirling Observer Wednesday
CONTROVERSIAL talks about the local purchase of land – including historic Kings Park – are to be reopened as Westminster at least appeared to rule out its free transfer to the people of Stirling.
In the latest stage of the long running saga over the future of the land – which includes the Back Walk, Gowan Hill and Stirling Golf Club as well as Kings Park itself (currently owned by the Crown Estate Commission), the Westminster government appears to have rejected a Scottish Affairs Select Committee recommendation to transfer the land to the Scottish Government for free.
The Scottish committee’s recommendation came in March, just weeks after Stirling councillors agreed to use money from the Common Good Fund to buy the land.
Stirling Council suspended discussions about a sale to await the Westminster response to the committee, but it appears to be the fact that a deal was already on the table that has led to the ruling that a free transfer is not possible.
Stirling Council had initially agreed to pay £150,000 from the fund, with a further £450,000 coming from the golf club in return for a 175-year lease for the course.
The council contribution later increased as the Crown Estate indicated it was prepared to include a further 92 acres of land, also in the vicinity of Kings Park, with an asking price of £417,000 plus VAT.
The government’s response to the select committee recommendations was published last week, covering a range of land and marine rights ownership issues in Scotland.
It states that scope for transferring Crown Estate ownership had been looked at “within the constraints of the governing legislation which requires it to manage these assets to generate a commercial return in the public interest”.
It added: “With that caveat, the Crown Estate is willing in principle to transfer the assets which do not have commercial values to suitable local interests.”
Under these terms part of Edinburgh’s West Prince Street Gardens could be transferred to “an appropriate authority” for nothing.
But they continued: “The Kings Park, Stirling, cannot, however, be among these.
“After lengthy negotiations, the Crown Estate recently agreed a market price for its sale to Stirling Council, so transfer at nil cost would be incompatible with the Crown Estate’s statutory responsibilities.”
Following the announcement council chief executive Bob Jack said: “We will now meet with all interested parties – the Commission, Historic Scotland, Kings Park Community Council, the Friends of Kings Park, Stirling Golf Club – to listen to their views on what we should now do about Kings Park, and a report will be prepared for council to consider in due course.”
Green councillor Mark Ruskell said he was “pleased” the council was now “going to review its approach to safeguarding the future of the Kings Park.”
In his interpretation of the government response he suggested it “indicates that if the council was to withdraw its offer to purchase the Kings Park, the land could then be transferred for free to Scottish Ministers as with other historic sites.”
He added: “This would enable the council to become responsible for the management of the park and realise its full potential benefits for the community, without having to spend a substantial proportion of Stirling's Common Good Fund to buy the land.”
Kings Park Community Council said they hoped the council would now “review and withdraw its previous proposal” to us the Common Good Fund to buy the site.
Spokesman on the issue, Harry Whitelaw, said: “The KPCC appreciates that the council was always told by the Crown Estate Commissioners that the only way to save the Kings Park was to buy it as free transfers were not possible.
“However it is clear now, as we have always argued, that the free transfer of the Kings Park is possible.
“We hope the council will recognise that and withdraw their previous offer, so that this long running issue can be speedily resolved and the right future secured for the historic Kings Park and the benefit of the people of Stirling.”