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Transport agency drives landowner to the brink

SCOTLAND'S transport agency stands accused of ruining the retirement plans of a Falkirk property developer whose land was the subject of a compulsory purchase order in the A80/M80 upgrade project.

Transport Scotland (TS) is in two disputes with Sandy Brown. The first concerns the value of 1.5 acres of land it bought from Brown at Glenview Bridge, halfway between Cumbernauld and Falkirk. The agency paid £9000 when he claimed it was worth 33 times as much.

In the second dispute, TS is claiming it owns another strip of land a few metres away. It offered to sell it to him for £240,000 even though it amounted to less than one-twentieth of an acre. This has sparked a three-year row that has stopped Brown developing or selling any of the land that he bought to fund his retirement.

Brown, 68, owns local building firm A&K Brown and won a bronze medal at the World Curling Championship in Canada in 2003.

TS informed him eight years ago that it intended to compulsorily purchase part of the 10-acre field he bought for property development in 1989. It intended to use some of the land to add extra lanes to the adjacent road as part of its upgrade to the M80 Glasgow to Stirling route.

Several years after taking possession, Brown was told TS was paying him £9000, with a final settlement to be agreed. He raised a claim for £300,000.

At the same time he secured planning permission for six housing plots on his field, with the prospect of 30 to 40 more in years to come. He sold two for £60,000 each. Both have since had four-bedroom houses worth £250,000 to £300,000 built on them.

One of the buyers, builder John Timothy, was interested in buying another of Brown's plots in 2010. But when he applied for planning permission to Falkirk Council, TS objected on the grounds that it owned a small strip of Brown's field that also crossed the drives of the two existing houses.

TS came into possession of it through another compulsory purchase order in the area by its predecessor in the 1960s. It meant the ­homeowners were crossing TS ground every time they left their houses. The question of TS owning some of the land had not stopped Brown registering his own title to it in 1989, and it did not come to light when he applied for planning permission for the six plots, or when he sold the first two.

Timothy called off the deal and Brown was advised there could be no more buying or selling of plots or houses until the matter was resolved. TS told Brown it would sell him the land for £240,000 - a price he considered far beyond its worth.

He approached Registers of Scotland (RoS) to have the title rectified in his favour, using the rationale that the party with possession is considered to have the best claim in such situations. RoS appeared ready to assist, but in early 2012 refused his request.

Under Freedom of Information laws Brown uncovered an email exchange in which RoS tells TS: "It would appear that possession of the subjects sought for rectification lies with the applicants [Brown]".

RoS asked TS five times if it had possession of the land, but it is unclear whether they received a direct response. Just before it turned down the application, a TS employee requested Brown be turned down.

He subsqeuently received planning permission for a different access to the plots. At this point TS dropped its valuation of the strip of land to £80,000, still too much for Brown.

He said it would be expensive to make the changes to make this second route viable. He said that TS has been "extremely slow" to sort things out, and has written to First Minister Alex Salmond in recent weeks seeking a way forward.

He said: "At times the pressure just gets too much. You just say 'why are people being so awkward?' It's just unbelievable." He does not believe TS would have disputed the second strip of land had there not been a dispute over the value of the first. TS declined to respond to this point.

Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson, Holyrood's Public Health Minister, said: "The way in which Transport Scotland has handled this matter has caused undue difficulty to my constituent. Given the length of time involved, they need to get this matter resolved as quickly as possible."

Matheson has asked RoS to explain why it turned down Brown's title claim. John Timothy said: "I can't sell my house and it's surrounded by wasteground. I am totally disgusted with the whole situation."

A spokesman for RoS said: "If someone is unhappy with a decision made by the Keeper … they may be able to make an application to the Lands Tribunal … The Keeper has no power to adjudicate where there is a dispute over possession."

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: "We are required to comply with the Scottish Public Finance Manual … [which] states that assets should be disposed of at market value.

"Mr Brown ... has been offered the opportunity to purchase the land in question and discussions are currently ongoing between the Valuation Office ... and his agent."

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Local government

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