Fortrose and Rosemarkie Community Council raise concerns over Highland Council's negotiation of new leases on common good land amid concerns villages could miss out on hundreds of thousands of pounds
A “GROSS under-valuation” of common good land could rob two villages of up to half-a-million pounds, a frustrated community council has warned.
Highland Council has been accused of a lack of “commercial realism” by Fortrose and Rosemarkie Community Council (FRCC) after the Black Isle body claimed that rent negotiations on two local campsites risk under-valuing their actual worth.
The new community council fears the two villages could lose out on between £250,000 and £500,000.
Their concerns came to light after Fortrose Bay Campsite’s tenants requested a new 30-year lease, which could begin in 2025 when the existing agreement ends.
Because the land belongs to the common good, this request has automatically triggered the beginning of a public consultation process through Highland Council’s Ross and Cromarty committee.
But the possible terms of the lease – both its longevity and potential price – have got the FRCC worried. It is already talking to Highland Council over separate concerns about negotiations for the Caravan and Camping Club of Great Britain’s site in Rosemarkie. FRCC claims this separate Rosemarkie lease extension, which would begin in 2026, grossly under-values the land’s worth.
And community council chairman Dr Tom Heath has now written to Highland Council’s chief executive Donna Manson to voice concerns about both lease negotiations.
Dr Heath wrote: “The terms of the Rosemarkie negotiation are not public but it is known that earlier in discussions Highland Council argued that the current rent of a little more than £6000 [a year] was a reasonable basis for a long-term lease.
“FRCC has presented strong evidence that this is a gross under-valuation and would lose the common good fund between £250,000 and £500,000 in potential income of the life of the lease.”
To get the “real value” of both sites Dr Heath has called for the option to lease to go out to tender “as per the normal policy of Highland Council” because there is no provision to “extend” the deal in the current agreement.
That was backed-up by the council’s own papers which state: “There is no provision in the current lease granting the tenants any right to request an extension or a new lease and discussions have been ongoing in relation to changing some of the lease terms.”
The concerns follow a bumpy few years for Highland Council’s management of common good funds across the region.
In 2015, the council was left red faced when it emerged that the Nairn Common Good Fund had missed out on £147,000 in rent, and a further £40,000 in interest, after two routine seven-year rent reviews of Parkdean Holiday Park at Lochloy were overlooked. That year, it also emerged that rent worth £18,000 was not collected from Clachnacuddin Football Club on behalf of Inverness Common Good Fund between 2004 and 2006.
Just two years later, Highland Council was in the firing line again when the Inverness Common Good Fund missed out on £29,000 after the local authority failed to update the direct debit payments of five industrial estate tenants.
Acknowledging FRCC’s concerns over the possible campsite leases, Black Isle councillor Gordon Adam promised that Highland Council would work for a fair deal for all.
He said: “I welcome FRCC’s interest in protecting the interests of the common good fund. This has also been very much the concern of local councillors and Highland Council officers.
“Only limited information can be made public because of reasons of commercial confidentiality, but options including tendering will be open for discussion during the consultation period that is a requirement of the Community Empowerment Act.
“We will work for a deal that is fair to both the community and the campsite lease holders.”
Highland Council confirmed it had received FRCC’s letter and will “address the points raised” in its reply.