Image: Map of Applecross Estate

Proposal 6 in the Scottish Government’s consultation paper on land reform (see link here) is to introduce a statutory duty of community engagement on charitable bodies that own land. There are four main types of charitable bodies that own land and property.

1. Environmental charities such as the National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds;

2. Educational bodies such as universities, colleges and private schools;

3. Community bodies that own anything from a village hall to large estates such as South Uist, Assynt and Knoydart; and

4. Landed estates formerly owned by private individuals that have been transferred into charitable company and trusts. These include estates of Applecross, Isle of Bute, Drummond Estate, much of Atholl Estate and Conchra Estate.

Environmental and community bodies have reacted to the proposal with irritation, claiming that they already engage with communities. Likewise with community bodies which already have membership open to all who live in the community and are run by boards of directors elected by the community.

In a blog on the Scottish Community Woodlands Association website, Jon Hollingdale makes the case that imposing such a duty across the board is an over-reaction to a problem which is quite modest in scale.

If the issue is with the tiny cohort of private Scottish charities whose landholdings give them a local monopoly, then, rather than imposing general burdens on all, the smart answer is to take another look at the charitable status of these organisations.”

There are a number of charitable bodies that were set up by previous private owners (often for tax purposes) and which, today, own quite large landholdings. Typically, the membership is restricted to a fixed number and with special appointment rights in the hands of the former owner.

For example, the Mount Stuart Trust owns 23,800 acres of the Isle of Bute. It was set up by the 6th Marquess of Bute in 1985 as a charitable trust and incorporated as a company limited by guarantee with no share capital in May 1989.

Under Article 21.1.2 of the Articles of Association of the company, the Marquess of Bute has the power to appoint up to four Directors even though he himself is not a member, a tax-exile and non-resident in the UK.

The Applecross Estate extends to 61,600 acres in Wester Ross. It was bought by the Wills tobacco family in 1929 and is owned today by the Applecross Trust, a company limited by guarantee with no share capital. Back in 1978, the Wills family were worried about the impact of capital transfer tax and, to avoid exposure to it, decided to transfer the estate into a charitable body. As they noted in a letter to residents at the time,

It continues,

Copy of full letter here (2Mb pdf)

Today, the estate is still owned by the Trust and its membership is still associated with the Wills family, Richard Wills being the current Chair of the Board. None of the board members lives in Applecross.

In 2012, around 100 people applied as part of the Land Action Scotland campaign to become members of the two charities the, Mount Stuart Trust and Applecross Trust. All applications were refused. The Applecross Trust response is outlined here & a media report here.

Many local people in Applecross would like to become members of the Trust and play an active role in the management of the estate. The peninsular is very rural and has a fragile economy. Development to retain and create jobs is vital and yet the trust’s charitable objectives are restricted to preservation, environmental protection and amenity, public access and the advancement of education, arts, heritage, culture and science.

This makes it difficult, for example to develop housing since the charitable objectives do not include economic development and thus any sale of land has to be at open market value which is beyond the reach of most local people.

Meanwhile, the Chair, Mr Richard Wills, through a partnership of which he is a member (Deer Management Consultants), rents the deer stalking on the estate. The rent is negotiated on an independent basis with no involvement from Mr Wills. Similarly, Mr Wills rents Applecross House (pictured above) and fishings in the Applecross River for £10,200 per year from 2014-2029. When not at his country house in Applecross, Mr Wills lives in a large country house in Hampshire (pictured below)

Despite the independent arms length negotiation, it is open to question whether these rents represent the best that can be obtained on behalf of the charity in the market. Other similar country houses are available on estates in the region for between £2000 and £2800 per week. Applecross Estate rents the Applecross Manse (sleeps 7) for £1080 per week on the open holiday lets market.

The question raised by the consultation is whether these estates should continue to be owned and managed by charitable bodies that restrict membership to a few members of family and friends, provide exclusive nomination rights for tax-exiles such as the Marquess of Bute, but yet refuse to allow the beneficiaries of the charities – the local population – any right to become members or Directors of the respective company boards. The Applecross Trust even has a vacant on its Board following the resignation of Charles Peregrine Albermarle Bertie in December 2012. But it remains unfilled.

I think it is time to open up these closed shops, review their governance and allow the wider community to have the opportunity to have a stake in the future of their community.

In 2001,the 10,000 acre Cluny Estate, near Laggan in Inverness-shire was bought by Mr Alain Angelil for £3.6 million. He put it on the market on 12 August 2013 (media releasesales brochure 10.4Mb pdf).

Earlier this month, the estate was sold for £7.3 million to a company called Cluny Estates Ltd., PO Box 83, Ordnance House, 31 Pier Road, St. Helier, Jersey (memorandum of association here). This company is owned by two shareholders, OH Securities Ltd. and R&H Investments Ltd., both at the same address. As illustrated by a previous blog about Kildrummy Estate, these two companies are in turn both owned by R&H Trust Co. (Jersey) Ltd. which in turn is owned by the two companies that it owns (OH Securities Ltd. and R&H Investments Ltd.) and a third, Woodbourne Nominees Ltd. Who owns Woodbourne Nominees Ltd.? R&H Trust Co. (Jersey) Ltd. See below.

So, who is really behind Cluny Estates Ltd.?

Last week, land agents were on site at Cluny Estate. Asked who had bought it, they said they did not know and did not want to know. They are instructed by an agent in London who, in turn, is instructed by another agent.

I understand, however that the real owner is a member (or members) of the Qatar royal family – perhaps Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned (pictured above). She and other family members own significant properties in London including Harrods, 95% of the Shard, the Olympic village, half of the world’s most expensive apartment block, One Hyde Park, Canary Wharf and the US Embassy building. See recent reports here and here. Yesterday the family was denied planning consent to create a 17 bedroom palace in Cornwall Terrace, London.

If anyone has any further information, please feel free to share it in comments or directly to me via email mail@andywightman.com. Meanwhile, I have sent an email to the estate office to ask for confirmation.

 

The land illustrated above (Midmar Paddock on the eastern slopes of Blackford Hill, Edinburgh) is currently for sale via Strutt & Parker (sales brochure here – 925kb pdf).

The reason for publishing this blog is to ask “who owns this land? Does anyone know?

Strutt and Parker refuse to divulge the answer.

The land is not registered in the Land Register but deeds are probably recorded in the Register of Sasines but it will probably cost around £50 and 1-2 days work to find out the answer there. I have neither.

So I thought I might ask you. Can anyone help?

The map below shows the location.

Improving access to information on land forms part of the Scottish Government proposals for land reform. See Briefing (1.7Mb pdf).

 © OpenStreetMap contributors Data is available under the Open Database License

UPDATE 31 January 2015

I have now determined the ownership of the Midmar Paddock. The Register of Sasines Search Sheet can be found at the foot of this text for those who are interested to see how land transactions were recorded prior to the Land Register which has been in operation in Midlothian (the old county including Edinburgh) since 1 April 2001.

1923 John Gordon of Cluny sells 18.6 acres (Midmar Paddock and allotments to the north) to Alexander Grant.

In 1938 the land is transferred to the Trustees of Sir Alexander Grant, 15 Hermitage Drive, Managing Director of McVitie & Price, Biscuit Manufacturers, Edinburgh & London.

1954 Allotments area conveyed by Trustees to Graeme Ellizabeth Laing. Midmar Paddock remains with Trustees.

1958 Midmar Paddock conveyed to beneficiaries of Trust – Hector Laing, Alexander Grant Laing and Robert Douglas Grant Laing.

1973 Hector conveys his ⅓ interest to Trustees for Anthony Rupert Laing

1973 Alexander conveys his ⅓ share to Trustees of Alexander Grant Laing.

1973 Allotments area conveyed by Graeme E Laing to Trustees of Alexander Grant Laing.

1983 Trustees of Anthony convey their ⅓ share to Anthony.

1993 Robert conveys his ⅓ share to Nettling Properties Ltd.

1999 Nettling Properties conveys its ⅓ share to Flagstaff Properties Ltd (Turks and Caicos Islands).

2011 Flagstaff Properties Ltd. conveys its ⅓ share to Midmar Properties Ltd.

28 November 2014 Trustees of Alexander G Laing conveys allotments site to Blackford Hill Ltd.

This means that:-

The allotments site to the north is owned by Blackford Hill Ltd.

Midmar Paddock (the site currently for sale) is owned by :-

Anthony Rupert Laing, Coulmony House, Morayshire
Trustees of Alexander Grant Laing
Midmar Properties Ltd.

Blackford Hill Ltd. is a company registered in Scotland No. SC466028 with its registered office at Logie Estate Office, Logie, Forres, IV36 2QN (see here for details of shareholders).

Midmar Properties Ltd. is not a registered company in the UK and is probably incorporated in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Interestingly, what this reveals is that the 2003 Tree Preservation Order referred to by Robin in comments names only one of the three joint owners. Additionally, the link to the Local Development Plan response provided by Dave Leslie in comments reflects the views of only one of the three co-owners (Trustees of AG Laing). It also contains a useful map showing the two separate ownerships (though not the up to date owners) and interesting insights into why the owners are wishing to sell the land.

Search Sheet

Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 page 1
Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 page 2
Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 page 3
Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 page 4
Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 page 5
Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 page 6
Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 page 7
Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 page 8
Midlothian Search Sheet 18364 computerised search sheet