King’s Park in Stirling dates back to the 12th century and is a landscape of inestimable historic and cultural importance. If you visit Stirling castle today, you will be impressed at the investment and world class artistic endeavour that has gone into restoring the Great Hall and, most recently, the quite fabulous Renaissance Palace of James V. Head out onto the terrace overlooking the ancient Royal Park used by the Stuart Kings for hunting and sport, however, and you will find no mention of one of Scotland’s most historic landscapes.
The park is Crown land and currently administered by the Crown Estate Commissioners (CEC). The Crown Estate in Scotland is currently the focus of intense political debate and next week, the Scottish Affairs Committee of the House of Commons will publish their long-awaited report into the the subject. With such uncertainty over the future of the Crown Estate in Scotland, why has the CEC been allowed to get away with selling Scotland’s most ancient Royal Park for £1 million?
Over the past 50 years the CEC have managed the park as just another part of their commercial rural estate. Which is why, in 2006, it began secret negotiations to sell Stirling Golf Club the lands which they leased. When news of this broke there was an outcry and Stirling Council then stepped in and agreed to acquire the parkland and land at the back of the castle for £600,000 funded with £150,000 from the Stirling Common Good Fund and £450,000 from the golf club (which would then be granted a 175 year lease).
At which point King’s Park Community Council intervened and tried to stop this deal. Why on earth was land already in public ownership being alienated for 175 years to a private organisation? Why was the Stirling Common good Fund being raided to pay for this? The community came up with an imaginative alternative proposal that would restore this historic landscape as part of the wider restoration of Stirling Castle but both the Secretary of Scotland (Jim Murphy) and the Scottish Government refused to get drawn into the argument. Very soon, however, the deal went cold as the credit crunch hit.
Now, the deal is back on the table. Only this time more land (another 92 acres) is included and the price is over £1 million with the Common Good Fund forking out a whopping £567,000. This represents over 60% of its reserves and for what? This land is Crown land. It is Scottish public land. It should be administered by Scottish Ministers as nearly all other historic castles, palaces and Royal Parks are. No public money is needed to acquire control of this land, least of all the bulk of Stirling’s Common Good Fund.
This deal robs us all of an important national inheritance. It destroys the opportunity to restore this historic landscape and betrays the Crown Estate Commissioners as an organisation out for a quick profit at the expense of Scotland’s heritage.
Plans are underway for the 2014 year of Homecoming and the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. So why, when Scotland is in the midst of such historic times and opportunities, is the Scottish Government sitting idly by whilst a Common Good Fund is raided to pay for public land that already belongs to us only to be given away to a private golf club for 175 years?
It is time to stop this madness now.