City move to get Parliament House building back

Andy Wightman at Parliament Hall. Picture: Jon Savage

Andy Wightman at Parliament Hall. Picture: Jon Savage

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A DEMAND for formal talks over the return of Britain’s oldest parliamentary building to Edinburgh has been made – just as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon appeared to rule out any possible transfer.

The News revealed on Monday how Parliament House, near St Giles’ Cathedral, was in part “gifted” to the Faculty of Advocates after council officers told the Scottish Government that they didn’t know who owned the historic site.

But the building – which includes Parliament Hall and the Laigh Hall which lies beneath – was always part of the city’s Common Good Fund and has since undergone a £58 million refurbishment by the Scottish Court Service.

City leader Andrew Burns has now revealed that secret talks have been taking place over the past few months in a bid to win it back. But yesterday at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon refused to commit to giving the 17th century building back to the city.

Answering a question from Lothians Green MSP Alison Johnstone, she said: “The title to Parliament Hall was taken by Scottish ministers in good faith and that was done with the full knowledge and consent of the council. The Scottish Courts Service and Faculty of Advocates now have good title to that property.”

However, Cllr Burns said the council would be pursuing the government to have the building handed back. He said: “I know that the council became aware of the problem in 2013 and has been in talks with the Scottish Government since last year about this issue, but we want to formalise that process.

“Steve Cardownie and I have drafted an emergency motion to go before the first relevant committee – next week’s policy and strategy committee – asking that the chief executive, Sue Bruce, writes to the Permanent Secretary seeking a voluntarily resolution to this problem as any litigation could prove costly.

“This is obviously a situation which should never have arisen.”

Parliament Hall was part of the city’s Common Good Fund until 2006 when the legal blunder by the council allowed the government to take a “voluntary registration” of the title deeds.

Land reform campaigner Andy Wightman learned that city officials had failed to realise the building was part of the common good – land and buildings owned by the people of Edinburgh but administered on their behalf by the council – despite a report into Common Good assets in 2006 referring to Parliament Hall.

gina.davidson@edinburghnews.com