DUNDEE City councillors are being urged to seek parliamentary approval to sell off a Perthshire estate, once owned by Liberal Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.
The Belmont Castle Estate, near Meigle, was the home of the Liberal Prime Minister from 1887 to 1908 and he was buried in the churchyard of the local parish church at Meigle.
The estate was then bought by Sir James Caird, the Dundee jute baron whose family left the sprawling estate to the Dundee Corporation two years after his death in 1918 to allow the castle to be used
as a rest home for soldiers injured in the Great War and for the “benefit of the community” of the City of Dundee.
The castle has been let for decades to the Church of Scotland as a care home for the elderly while the grounds are used an outdoor education facility, the Belmont Centre.
But councillors are now being asked to approach the Scottish Parliament to allow the estate to be sold on the open market to allow the “significant” proceeds of the sale to be used to benefit the citizens of Dundee.
Roger Mennie, the council’s Head of Democratic and Legal Services , states in a report to next week’s meeting of the full council: “The Church of Scotland have approached the council to request that they be allowed to relinquish their lease. The home does not accommodate any Dundee residents or, veterans from the Great War. The Church of Scotland have recently announced the care home’s closure. “
He continues: “Dundee schoolchildren still attend music camps at Belmont Centre. The centre is used by children throughout Scotland and because of the length of the lease the Belmont Estate will continue to occupy that role. The estate is seven miles from the outer boundary of Dundee and is clearly not within the council boundaries.
“There is a park within the estate but it is rarely used by Dundee City residents. It is considered that the continuing annual cost to Dundee of the running of Belmont Estate of £10,000 is not beneficial to the citizens of Dundee.”
Mr Mennie states: “Over the years, there have been various attempts to make the Estate more viable such as a sawmill, assault course and leasing more areas to the Scottish Camp Centre. None of these
strategies have been successful. The realisation of a capital receipt for the estate to expend within Dundee is considered the best option for the City Council.
“An independent valuation of the estate has been carried out in 2010 which suggests that a significant capital receipt may be realised The capital receipt realised from the sale) could thereafter fund part of the cost of a project which more appropriately benefits the community of the City of Dundee in line with the desires of the original donor of the gift.”
To allow the sale to go ahead, the city council require the approval of the Scottish Parliament. The current “Confirmation Order” governing the estate stipulates that, should the council dispose of any part of
Belmont Estate, the proceeds should be used towards improvements at Belmont.
States Mr Mennie: “The consequence of this is that were the council to sell Belmont Estate at present all of the monies would require to be reinvested in the estate. In other words, the purchase price would have to be given back to the purchaser. Clearly, this is not an acceptable option.
“It is recommended that the council approve an application to the Scottish Parliament to amend or partially repeal the Confirmation Act so as to permit Belmont Estate to be sold and the proceeds used towards the benefit of the community of the City of Dundee, the stated aim of the original grant of the estate to Dundee Corporation in 1918.
“ It is estimated that it could take upwards of a year for this process to be completed but the benefit to the Council in the long run may be substantial.”
Councillor Ken Guild, the leader of the council, said: “We have a statutory duty to ensure we do not run up expense in maintaining empty property. Given the current financial climate, we would find the property difficult to let and we are looking at ways of ensuring Belmont does not become a drain on the finances of the council.”