English aristocrat holds Scottish council to “ransom”

The old Broxburn Primary, now derelict
The old Broxburn Primary, now derelict

By Cara Sulieman

AN ENGLISH aristocrat is holding a Scottish council to “ransom” over a derelict school building.

The 17th Earl of Buchan is demanding £70,000 from West Lothian Council to allow them to sell the ex-primary school which has been empty for 10 years.

And it’s thanks to the contract created when the Earl’s ancestors gifted the land to the council in the 19th century.

The title deed states that the land must be used for educational purposes – and Malcolm Harry Erskine, the current Earl, is asking for £67,250 to change the condition.

Private nursery

It has led to a deadlock between the two parties – and has held up the sale of the building.

A local businessman offered £140,000 to buy the property – which the council owns – to turn into a private nursery and leisure facility.

But when the condition was found in the title deeds the sale fell through.

The only way for the sale to go through is for Malcolm Harry Erskine to sign over the whole deeds to the council.

After years trying to find a loophole in the contract and track down the Earl, councillors are desperate for the building to be sold.

“Pillar to post”

Councillor Graeme Morrice said: “This has dragged on for years and the council has been banded from pillar to post in trying to find a satisfactory solution.

“It has lain empty ever since we built the new replacement school annex and recently was set on fire, which has caused substantial damage in addition to the problem the building has with dry rot.

“I think it is ridiculous that the 17th Earl of Buchan, whose family no longer has any ties to West Lothian, is demanding a ransom of nearly £70,000 of public money to allow the council to sell a building it already owns due to some feudal land issue going back over 150 years.

“Rather than the money going to an aristocrat from the proceeds of the sale of the building, it should be kept and used instead for local services.

“After all, I don’t think the Earl of Buchan is short of a few bob living in a stately home in Hampshire.”

“Hard to stomach”

But for others, the battle has dragged on too long.

The council leader Peter Johnston said: “We all expect in 2009 that the days of feudal rights and superiority have long since departed.

“This is something that is hard to stomach.

“We hope he will re-evaluate his position but if he chooses not to then we are clear that we cannot allow the building to remain in its current derelict state.

“It is an eyesore and if we have to pay then we will.”