Leader: Trust landed with a thorny problem

CHRISTINA McNiven must have believed there was no safer custodian of her £1 million of assets than the National Trust for Scotland. She left her estate to the trust in 1978 including her home in Duddingston with instructions that it be used to benefit Duddingston Village.

That, by any standards, was an extremely generous legacy, and one to be respected. Funds were in due course put towards environmental improvements in the village as well as the purchase of a plot of derelict land which was transformed by virtue of the funds into a village green.

Now the trust wants to sell the garden to a local conservation society. Objections have been raised over the NTS requirement for a sale at market value, particularly in view of the fact that the estate has in the meantime accumulated some 600,000. The Trust, which in recent years has had to sell properties to meet a financial crisis, is under a constraint to concentrate its funds on heritage conservation and improvement. The garden is not a heritage asset. It has to conserve its resources to carry out the functions it was created to undertake. The sale of the garden is not unreasonable in these circumstances.

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But it cannot be beyond the skills of the Trust's advisers to agree a price that reflects the element of gift that Christina McNiven intended for the village. Some compromise can surely be reached that respects the positions of both parties and which honours the good hand of intent of Ms McNiven - albeit reaching more than 30 years from the grave.