Largs and Millport Weekly News

Article published around April 1999
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 Common Good Fund

Largs Common Good - Part 1

In the beginning there was no Common Good, in fact there wasn't even a Largs Town Council. We first need to go back to the setting-up of the Town Council to understand what was the situation at the time the Common Good was set up.

Largs became a Police Burgh in 1876, and later Acts of Parliament, such as in 1892, 1894, 1900 and 1903 defined the powers of the (eventual) Town Council as it existed in 1920. The 'rules' set out in the Acts stated what the Council could and could not spend the ratepayers' money on.

Some of the things that the Council could not spend the ratepayers' money on were civic receptions, local festivals and general 'promotion' of the town. Sometimes the councillors needed to spend their own money on such things.

In 1920 a benevolent landowner left some ground to the town, and the Council, with the agreement of the Burgh Auditor, decided to use this as the basis of a Common Good Fund. The hill ground was let for grazing, the gatehouse was let as a tearoom and part of the ground was rented to the Town Council where it laid out seven tennis courts. These rents were paid to the Common Good. This income of the Common Good could be used to pay for the things to benefit the town that the Council couldn't spend the ratepayers' money on. The original property of the Common Good is now Douglas Park, and the Common Good owns the ground all the way up to, and past, the direction indicator at the top.

Note that while the Common Good owns the land, the Council paid for the construction of the tennis courts, the bowling green and the gardens. The Council kept the money collected from the tennis players and bowlers, as NAC does now, since the assets which generate the money were constructed by the Council. This is fair enough, and is the agreed basis of the 'contract' between the Common Good and the Council. Remember these points; we are going to see the same thing in reverse soon.

In 1927 the Town Council decided that something needed to be done about car parking in the town. The problem was that they could not spend the rates to build a car park. But the Common Good could build it. There were various meeting of the Motor Parking Committee, and at a Town Council meeting on 12 December 1927, an 'extensive report' was submitted by Councillor Martin and after a 'free discussion' the Council 'voted to proceed with the scheme'.

Now, at this point it is worthwhile to note that each councillor was wearing two hats. One as a Town Councillor and one as a trustee of the Common Good. As trustees of the Common Good they were obliged to do the right thing for the Common Good. They could not spend the Common Good's money on something which was mostly to benefit visitors and get no return.

The precise details of the 'scheme' are not available, but we can deduce the substance of what was agreed from what took place afterwards. The Common Good paid for the construction of the carpark and all of the related running expenses, and all the takings for parking charges were credited to the Common Good. So here was the substance of the 'contract', binding on both parties to it, the Town Council and the Common Good. A contract in law does not need to be written down to be valid and enforceable, it just needs agreement and action on that agreement by the parties to it.

So now we see the 'Douglas Park' situation in reverse. With the carpark, the Council owned the land, but the Common Good paid for the construction and was entitled to the proceeds from it.

Other projects were also undertaken by the Common Good. In the early 30s there were some poor families in the town who could not afford to pay rent for the housing that was available. The Council couldn't spend the ratepayers' money to solve this problem. So the Common Good bought an old tenement property in Wilson Street, and let it out at rents which were affordable.

The Common Good was also used to buy Haylie House and the clubhouse for Routenburn Golf Course and for the houses next to it. The rent for these is paid to the Common Good.

Later on, in the 1960s and 70s the Common Good was used to buy ground in the middle of the town, which could be made available for public works in the future. These plots of land are now where St Colm's Place sheltered housing stands in School Street and the site of the AD Cameron Day Centre in Lade Street.

The accounts of Largs Town Council, which show the Common Good, reflect all of these transactions, right up to the end of Largs Town Council at 15 May 1975. In relation to the carpark none of the revenue has ever gone anywhere but the Common Good Fund, confirming the terms of the contract in 1927.

And so this was the situation at 15 May 1975.

And then along comes CDC.

Next week: Ian 'loses' the Common Good and then 'loses the place'.

Jim Perman is a Chartered Accountant and a Registered Auditor. He is also Subject Panel Leader in Finance and Fiscal Studies at Napier University of Edinburgh.

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