Wick councillor angry over Common Good land revelation
A WICK councillor has expressed her anger over revelations showing that a major development in the town is on Common Good land left to benefit local people.
The riverside car park – which is currently being revamped – was found by Highland Council to be on Common Good land after the discovery of a historic title deed "feu disposition" from 1883, according to Wick and East Caithness councillor Nicola Sinclair.
The matter was discussed at a meeting of the Royal Burgh of Wick Community Council this week when councillors revealed that the matter may have wider implications for the town.
Councillor Sinclair said: "The people of Wick have been saying for decades that the riverside car park belonged to the town under Common Good, as well as several other areas.
"Successive councillors and community groups have asked that question of Highland Council over the years – including myself as secretary of Wick Community Council in 2015."
Councillors from the ward had previously asked Highland Council officers to investigate the claims and were told "in no uncertain terms" that Wick "has no Common Good land or buildings".
She said: "Two years later, we have now been informed by legal [the council legal team] that this is not the case.
"I am personally very angry and frustrated that it has taken so long to recognise this mistake."
Councillor Sinclair explained that the land would have been managed by the old Caithness District Council, and later by Highland Council. Under the Community Empowerment Act, Highland Council has an obligation to manage Common Good land for the benefit of the people of the burgh.
"The most obvious comparison is Inverness, which has large amounts of Common Good land, the rents for which go into their Common Good fund and deliver enormous benefit to the city," she said.
Councillor Sinclair and her ward colleagues asked the legal team to investigate several other parts of the town that are believed to be Common Good areas and to provide an urgent briefing on how the assets and land will be managed.
"Foremost in my mind is whether the town has lost out on any revenues in the past 137 years," she added.
"The most important thing now is to get our Common Good fund set up and begin to discuss a fair solution for this community.
"In this case I firmly believe the council needs to be open and honest about the fact that it has let this community down, and set about putting it right."
In a working paper published by the Caledonia Centre for Social Development in 2005, land ownership researcher Andy Wightman – now a Green MSP – stated that Common Good assets throughout Scotland have often been "lost, corruptly and illegally alienated, neglected and forgotten about.
"What remains in many cases is poorly documented with many local authorities not knowing what is common good and what is not.
"The funds (if they exist) are therefore almost invariably being deprived of proper stewardship and thus their full income generating potential," he says in the paper.
Under the terms of the Community Empowerment Act, Highland Council will now need to establish a Common Good fund for Wick, Councillor Sinclair said.
Community councillors at this week's meeting in the Assembly Rooms also talked about how the revelation could have an impact on the possible implementation of parking charges at the riverside site.
There will be a public meeting to answer questions on the matter and other areas on Wednesday, February 19, at Wick Town Hall at a time to be confirmed.