Rural Housing Problems 2

We know about problems with the planning system and we know about the problems of land availability. For those folk who don’t want to rent from a housing association but want to buy a piece of land on which to build their own house these problems are real enough. But just when you think they’ve been solved, along comes another spanner in the works.

The village of Laggan in Inverness-shire has a reputation for getting things done and housing has been high on their agenda. However, things are not always simple and even when you think everything is going right, you get walloped by the unexpected. This is a story of the unexpected.

Campbell and Sheena Slimon own Breakachy Farm. Campbell is well-known in farming circles and Sheena has been a stalwart in local community activities for years. She is now the Highland Councillor for the Badenoch west ward. They bought Breakachy Farm in 1987 from the MacPherson’s of Glentruim Estate. In recent years, a local couple were in search of a plot of land and the Slimons agreed to sell a 3877 square metre plot for 20,000 GBP (considerably less than they could have achieved on the open market). It took 2 years to obtain planning permission and the sale was imminent. Then the unexpected happened.

Breakachy Farm was sold to the Slimons by Feu Disposition. In other words, the owners of Glentruim Estate, although they’d sold the farm, remained the Slimon’s Feudal Superiors. As Superiors, they had, among other rights, a right of pre-emption which is to say that if the Slimons were ever to sell any part or all of Breakachy Farm, the owners of Glentruim would have the right to purchase the land at a price equal to that being offered by the purchaser. In 1997, Glentruim Estate and the rights associated with the estate (including those of Feudal Superior) were sold by the MacPhersons to Roeland Hendrik Jan Groenendyk for 405,000 GBP. The Estate by now consisted of a mere 22 ha including Glentruim House.

Thus when Roland Groenendyk was notified of the sale of the housing plot, he exercised his right of pre-emption and bought the land for 20,000 GBP. Obviously this caused huge upset and the Laggan Community Association wrote to Mr Groenendyk to express their concern. In reply, he wrote,

“We were also looking for a building plot for a couple of years now, for
a young family with 2 children, who wants to settle here in this area.
So we are very pleased to get the opportunity to help another young
family and therefore will proceed with the purchase.”

However, the real motives are now apparent. Mr Groenendyk has put the plot of land up for sale at offers over 125,000 GBP. The land is being advertised for sale.

What appeared to be an alternative gesture of goodwill towards a family in housing need turned out to be no more than an exercise in profiteering.

What can be done? Well, on 28 November 2004, the Feudal system of land tenure in Scotland will finally be abolished. The Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc. (Scotland) Act does allow for the retention of certain types of title conditions including rights of pre-emption. We do not know whether Mr Groenendyk had taken steps to preserve this right or whether, had the Slimons waited a couple of months, the right of pre-emption would have been extinguished. What is clear is that many existing rights of pre-emption will disappear on 28 November BUT EQUALLY many will remain. When land is sold by ordinary dispostion (rather than by a feudal disposition) the abolition of feudalism has no impact.

So, celebrate the end of feudalism on 28 November, but still be prepared for the unexpected.