Celebrations as ministers block bargain-basement sale of Princes Mall

CAMPAIGNERS were celebrating today after the Scottish Government agreed to block the sale of Princes Mall to business tycoon Sir David Murray for just 40p.

Ministers bowed to pressure to change legislation currently going through the Scottish Parliament which would have forced the city council to hand over the prime site to the former Rangers owner.

Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson has tabled an amendment to the Long Leases Bill to exempt the Princes Mall, previously known as Waverley Market, from the new law, which hands leaseholders automatic ownership of land and property held on leases of over 175 years with more than 100 years to run.

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Sir David has a long-term lease on Princes Mall – estimated to be worth £50 million – through his property company Premier Property Group (PPG).

But the government amendment redefines the leases affected by the new law and requires leases on non-domestic property to have 175 years outstanding before ownership is transferred, instead of 100, effectively removing Princes Mall from the remit of the Bill.

Lothians Green MSP Alison Johnstone said Edinburgh Greens had been campaigning on the issue for more than two years. She said: “This is a very welcome result after years of hard work. The Government has finally seen the sense of keeping this valuable land in public hands and I think that both current and future residents of Edinburgh will very much appreciate this decision.”

Edinburgh Central SNP MSP Marco Biagi also welcomed the move. He said: “It was clearly not in the public interest for a high-profile £50m central site to transfer out of the hands of the council and into private ownership for a trivial sum – publicly estimated at just 40p.

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“The Bill is intended to clear up 19th century attempts to retain feudalism through 999-year leases.

“I am glad that after having met the minister and made the case in person he has been convinced of the case that shorter commercial leases like that of the Waverley Market are outwith the objectives of the Bill.”

PPG bought the lease on Waverley Market from a previous owner for £37m in 2004 and pays the council just 1p a year in rent under a £14m deal struck between council chiefs and the original developers in the 1980s. Under the legislation the nominal purchase price for the 1.68 acre site would have been based on the current rent.

A council spokesman said: “The council welcomes the amendment to the Long Leases Bill which will serve the best interests of Waverley Market and the city centre generally.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “This amendment has been introduced in response to representations made at stage one”