The Evening News has an exclusive story today by John-Paul Holden that the National Galleries of Scotland is planning to expand into East Princes Street Gardens as part of a £15 million plan to create a “world class” home for its Scottish collections. The extent of the land involved is unclear from the article but it talks about a 5 metre-wide strip to “allow [its] boundary to be aligned with that of the Weston Link”. This implies that is it the strip of land to the east of the walkway above the railway (see image above) which would extend south from the cafe extension to the north.

East Princes Street Gardens is common good land under the ownership of the City of Edinburgh Council who will have to obtain the permission of the courts to dispose of the land. The land concerned is also subject to the provisions of Section 22 of the City of Edinburgh District Council order Confirmation Act 1991 which prohibits the construction of any buildings in the park with the exception of “lodges for gardeners or keepers, hothouses and conservatories, monuments, bandstands, public conveniences, police boxes and buildings for housing apparatus for the supply of electricity or gas.” The Galleries thus requires a private act of Parliament to remove the land concerned from this restriction (the article implies that it is the common good status that necessitates the private act whereas in fact that only necessitates an order from the courts).

This is not the first time such a move has been made. The National Galleries of Scotland Act 2003 provided authority for the extension of the gallery into the gardens at the north end. The act was the first private legislation to be passed by the Scottish Parliament. The deal included some land on the banks of the Mound being given to the Council in exchange for land in the gardens. (1)

It remains to be seen what the Council, the Courts and Parliament make of this proposal. On the face of it it appears modest but if I was an MSP, one of the questions I would be asking is

“You came here to obtain an act of parliament in 2003. Now you are back again 12 years later. Is this going to be a regular occurrence?”

NOTES

(1) Promoters Memorandum & Explanatory Memorandum of 2003 Bill. Explanatory Notes of 2003 Act (HMSO website)

This is a brief blog to note the fact that Glasgow City Council has advertised for lease 2.7 hectares of former playing fields in Victoria Park, Glasgow (top left in picture above and Rydens brochure here). The closing date for offers is 12 noon on 26 September 2014.

From the evidence I have seen, this park, which was acquired by the Town Council of Partick in 1887, appears to be inalienable common good land. A lease for a period of around 10 years or more would constitute a “disposal” for the purposes of Section 75(2) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 and thus require the approval of the Courts before it could be executed.

The Friends of Victoria Park group has raised this matter with Glasgow City Council on 8 September 2014 and awaits a response.

The law relating to common good is in serious need of modernisation. If this land in Victoria Park is indeed inalienable common good land then the City Council will be acting unlawfully if it attempts to lease it out on a lengthy lease.

The above is the audio-video commissioned from myself by Emma Rushton and Derek Tyman as part of their Flaghall installation in the Where Do I End and You Begin exhibition in the City Arts Centre, Edinburgh 1 August-19 October 2014 as part of the Edinburgh Arts Festival. (Click on ‘Vimeo’ and watch full screen for best effect).The exhibition features work by artists from across the Commonwealth exploring and interrogating the ideas, ideals and myths that underpin notions of community, common-wealth and the commons. This audio-video lecture explores these themes in the context of Scotland and the British Empire and invites the viewer to consider how we can reverse centuries of colonialism and ideas of exclusive possession and move toward a world in which our common-wealth is reconstituted and governed for the wellbeing of all.

There are three events on this Saturday 30 August discussing the UK work in the exhibition including a talk by myself at 2pm. Below is the extract from the exhibition catalogue.

CONQUEST, COLONIALISM & THE COMMONS

The Commonweal is an old Scots term meaning “wealth shared in common for the wellbeing of all”

In 1884 the Earl of Rosebery visits Australia and asks, “Does the fact of your being a nation… imply separation from the Empire? God forbid! There is no need for any new nation, however great, leaving the Empire, because the Empire is a Commonwealth of Nations“.

On the 22nd of August 1770, at Possession Island off the north coast of Australia, Captain Cook writes in his journal, “I now once more hoisted English colours and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third, took possession of the whole Eastern Coast  .. together with all the bays, harbours, rivers and islands.”

In 1949, the people of Alyth in Perthshire, Scotland march to the top of the Hill of Alyth to destroy the fences that have been built to enclose their common land.

In 1955, the UK government decides to annex Rockall – a small rock in the North Atlantic around 187 miles west of St Kilda. Captain Connell of HMS Vidal is given the following order by the Queen. “On arrival at Rockall you will effect a landing and hoist the Union flag on whatever spot appears most suitable or practicable and you will then take possession of the island on our behalf.”

In May 1982, Eddie Mabo, on behalf of the Meriam people from the Mer Island in the Torres Strait off the north coast of Australia launches a legal action challenging the claim of the Crown to ownership of his land.

On the 3 June 1992, by a majority of six to one, the High Court upholds the claim of the Meriam people and overturns the legal fiction that the land of Australia was ‘terra nullius’ before colonisation.