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This site is for people interested in the management and ownership of land-based assets by communities in Scotland. A Scottish Community Land Network, you might say... As you know the internet is a big 'place' with everything about anything so we brought you relevant news and events, and provide opportunities to share ideas with other people interested in this subject. There are almost 1000 members, and more than 800 articles in our archive.


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Figuring out public asset transfer………one woman’s search for the magic bullet

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This is the fifteenth case study I've written for SCLN. So, buy viagra by now, generic viagra health you'd think I'd know better than to expect to find the magic bullet when I visit a project. Or is it the smoking gun? Whatever metaphor you want to pick, I turned up at the Boyndie Trust's visitor centre near Banff fully believing I'd discover the missing ingredient that can make public asset transfer a breeze.

Will you be very surprised if I say it didn't quite work out that way?

With community groups ‘doing it for themselves’ and a squeeze on the public purse, the transfer of assets from public register to local groups has been touted as the solution to all our problems. It’s the buzzword of the moment. But when a group I’m involved with tried to do just that, here in our small village in Aberdeenshire, we ran into a solid brick wall. With an established local demand, the PUT community cooperative wanted to take over a disused piece of amenity grassland and convert it into allotments. But we’d have got a warmer reception if I’d suggested a plan to create kitten kebabs. (Don’t worry, that’s not phase two).

Over the course of two years, we had to fight tooth and nail to get Aberdeenshire Council to even answer our phone calls. First they ignored us. After nine months and an intervention from our MP, they told us they might use the land for housing. After another six months, they decided maybe they wouldn’t use it for housing and maybe they would lease it to us. So we thought we’d got it sussed. But a few months later, they set the rent so high, the only way we could cover our costs would be by growing cannabis rather than carrots.We went to the press. The Council dropped the rent to a reasonable level. Again, we thought we were sorted. Four months later, we were still waiting to see the lease document. We had another word with a journalist and suddenly, there was a ‘window of opportunity’ and the lease was prepared. Eventually on October 1st, just when the growing season was well and truly over, we got a signed lease and the allotmenteering could begin.

The Old School todayIt’s not a story that warms the cockles of your heart, is it? And so, wondering if we had suffered alone, I went to see the people at Boyndie. They’d managed more than a lease – they’d actually purchased the old school at Boyndie from Aberdeenshire Council for the princely sum of £1 in 2003. I thought they might have some of the answers. What had they done that we didn’t do? If I could figure that out, then I thought this case study could be the best yet.

The Boyndie old school is now a thriving visitor centre, complete with walled garden, plant sales, a gift shop and a café. I found a corner table, admired the mountain of froth which had been artfully arranged in my cappuccino and waited for Duncan Leece, Boyndie Trust General Manager to reveal the dark arts of asset transfer.

And then, with a meaningful hiss, my bubble burst. ‘Well’, said Duncan, ‘I think we started negotiations in 1999 and we bought it in 2003.’ Oh. This was sounding like quite a slow magic bullet. ‘But that might’ve been partly because we were taking on an asset and a service. I don’t think that made it any easier.’

Duncan went onto describe the condition of the building when they took it on. It hadn’t been used asbuilding work on the old school a school since the 1970s and, whilst not exactly derelict, even an estate agent would have struggled to describe it as desirable. The Council’s own valuation for the property came back at £25,000 – so essentially the Trust were taking on a building site and little more. But by handing it on for £1, the Council were disposing of an asset at less than market value. So the transfer had to be referred to the Scottish Executive. With the benefit of hindsight, Duncan has begun to wonder if it might have been easier to pay the £25,000.

When they finally got the building, it needed to be gutted. The total cost of creating the visitor centre was £750,000, so the ‘gift’ of a £25,000 building is actually a small part of what they had to raise. Of course, they could’ve looked at just renting the building. Judging from our experience, that wouldn’t have made the process much quicker. And it would have removed one way of generating finance, whereas now they own an asset which they can use as security if needed.

building works on the old schoolSo was there anything that could have made the asset transfer process run a little more smoothly for us or for them? Duncan and I discussed the process at length and we both seemed to have gone through a similar experience, but nearly 10 years apart. At Director level within the Council, there’s undoubtedly support for the asset transfer process. But when it comes down to individual officers left to deal with the nitty gritty of leases and legal agreements, there seems to be neither the will nor the way. The hierarchical nature of public sector organisations means that the ‘mind’ may well be saying one thing, but the body is often not willing.

There are general things of course. If the local community supports you, that should help. If you write a minute of everything that’s discussed, you can ride out changes in staff. And there may be glimmers of hope on the horizon. Aberdeenshire Council, in line with other councils, has produced an asset transfer policy. A task force has been set up to try and take the process further. And as more and more communities take on assets and make a success of managing them, it’s easier to ignore the doom-sayers.

But as to the magic bullet? That, it appears, is still missing in action.

The Boyndie Trust visitor centre is from 10am to 4pm, Wednesday to Saturday and can be found just outside Banff. The centre has a four star Visit Scotland rating and is wheelchair friendly. The Trust is planning a major re-vamp of the retail space in the near future, so a repeat visit is always worthwhile!

If you’re just about to embark on an asset transfer journey, we’ve put together some web links and contacts which may help you – you can download our very rough guide to public asset transfer:

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