As reported previously on this website, the condition of the footbridge over the River Lossie at Seatown, Lossiemouth, continues to deteriorate.
Added to that, as of 03 October 2017, the bridge is effectively ownerless. Ownership of the bridge is up for grabs.
The improvement / upgrade of the Seatown Bridge was a crucial element in Lossiemouth Community Development Trust’s (LCDT) Community Plan. This importance is reflected in the fact that the bridge forms the picture on LCDT’s logo.
A preliminary difficulty has been establishing the ownership of the bridge.
It has been a slow process moving that forward.
Title searches in the national property register showed that the last known owner of the ground on which the bridge is constructed was The Lossiemouth Old Harbour Commissioners. They became owners around 1915. They ceased to exist at some time in the middle of last century and no trace of a successor could be found.
Ownerless property generally becomes the property of the Crown.
Much of the ongoing research and correspondence carried out by LCDT has been through the Queen and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (QLTR), the Crown’s representative in matters of property in Scotland.
Over months of discussions with QLTR, they were considering the possibility that either the last recorded owners of the property had ceased to exist and no rightful successor/representatives could be traced or, even if those successor representatives could be traced, they could no longer complete title to the subjects. From that, it would follow that the property was bona vacantia (“ownerless goods”) and therefore potentially the property of the Crown.
Where it appears to QLTR that property is bona vacantia, QLTR will consider whether they wish to assume ownership of the asset.
But they are not bound to assume ownership (in certain cases) particularly if that “asset” is a potential liability.
As QLTR made clear in their correspondence, QLTR is not obliged to deal with any property in any particular way and does not promise to dispose of it to any particular person at any particular time or for any particular price – or at all.
QLTR explained that, if QLTR is prepared to acquire the asset in the first place they would then have the power to consider disposal of property. In that case, the usual practice is to have the property valued for sale by the district valuer, with whoever is to become the new owner meeting the cost of the valuation. Further details of these arrangements would be provided if QLTR was satisfied that the subjects were bona vacantia.
On the other hand, where the potential Crown interest arises under the common law (and it does in this case), QLTR has the discretion to waive their interest (or potential interest), if considered appropriate. In the present case, that right to disclaim was specifically reserved by QLTR.
On 03 October 2017, LCDT received from QLTR a letter enclosing a Disclaim Notice.
The notice is published separately online in the Edinburgh Gazette.
The terms of the Notice are as follows:
Notice of Disclaimer
NOTICE OF DISCLAIMER OF BONA VACANTIA
Company Name: LOSSIEMOUTH OLD HARBOUR COMMISSIONERS
WHEREAS it has been represented to the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer that the following subjects including, in particular, the East Beach Footbridge at Seatown, Lossiemouth, Moray have fallen in whole or in part to the Crown as bona vacantia, namely:-
(One) ALL and WHOLE the subjects and others at Lossiemouth in the Parishes of Drainie and Urquhart and County of Elgin known as “The Old Harbour” more particularly described in and disponed by The Elgin and Lossiemouth Harbour Company in favour of The Lossiemouth Old Harbour Commissioners dated 27 November and recorded in the Division of the General Register of Sasines for the County of Elgin and Forres (later Moray) on 18 December both in the year 1914; and
(Two) ALL and WHOLE those six pieces of land being part of the foreshore and bed of the River Lossie below the high water mark at Lossiemouth in the Parishes and County foresaid described in and disponed by the Feu Disposition by The Board of Trade in favour of The Lossiemouth Old Harbour Commissioners dated 27 August and recorded in the said Division of the General Register of Sasines on 6 September both in the year 1915 and the whole erections thereon;
Now THEREFORE I, DAVID BRYCE HARVIE, the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer, in exercise of my discretion as the Crown’s representative in Scotland, do by this Notice waive and disclaim the Crown’s whole right and title (if any) in and to the aforesaid heritable property arising at Common Law.
Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer
25 Chambers Street
27 September 2017
The Crown has disclaimed any interest in the bridge by means of this Notice.
It means that the bridge and the ground on which it stands could be acquired by an individual or organisation. One available method appears to be in terms of Section 43 of the Land Registration etc. (Scotland) Act 2012.
Under this provision, someone who has “possessed” the ground in question for a period of at least one year may be able to register a title to it.
Who would want to own the bridge?
The bridge is not in a good state. Superficial repairs for safety reasons are already quite urgent. Donnie Stewart’s fascinating YouTube video from 2015 (“Lossie History – The Briggie”) already illustrated several personal injury risks from rusted parts of the structure. Its condition will only get worse through the effects of wind and sea.
Now that we appear to have better clarity on the ownership – or non-ownership – of the bridge, the discussion will have to move on to how the bridge can best be owned, managed and preserved for future generations.
It’s not a structure which will readily generate an income on its own and yet it is a vital connection to the East Beach and part of the wider coastal path network. Were the bridge to be closed or removed, people would surely find other methods of getting to the beach and it would only be a matter of time before someone was injured or drowned. Loss of the bridge is not an option.
Many would say that the Moray Council should take on ownership or maintenance of the bridge but, in its present state of financial health, it’s hard to see the Council volunteering.
In the months ahead, LCDT will be encouraging discussion of the issues and there may well be some hard decisions to make.