Lossiemouth Seatown Bridge ownership up for grabs

Lossiemouth Seatown Bridge ownership up for grabs

As reported previously, the condition of the footbridge over the River Lossie at Seatown, Lossiemouth, continues to deteriorate.

Added to that, as of 03 October 2017, the bridge is effectively ownerless. Ownership of the bridge is up for grabs.

The improvement / upgrade of the Seatown Bridge was a crucial element in Lossiemouth Community Development Trust’s (LCDT) Community Plan (PDF; 7MB). This importance is reflected in the fact that the bridge forms the picture on LCDT’s logo.

A preliminary difficulty has been establishing the ownership of the bridge.

It has been a slow process moving that forward.

Title searches in the national property register showed that the last known owner of the ground on which the bridge is constructed was The Lossiemouth Old Harbour Commissioners. They became owners around 1915. They ceased to exist at some time in the middle of last century and no trace of a successor could be found.

Ownerless property generally becomes the property of the Crown.

Much of the ongoing research and correspondence carried out by LCDT has been through the Queen and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (QLTR), the Crown’s representative in matters of property in Scotland.

Over months of discussions with QLTR, they were considering the possibility that either the last recorded owners of the property had ceased to exist and no rightful successor/representatives could be traced or, even if those successor representatives could be traced, they could no longer complete title to the subjects. From that, it would follow that the property was bona vacantia (“ownerless goods”) and therefore the property of the Crown.

Where it appears to QLTR that property is bona vacantia, QLTR will consider disposing of it.

As QLTR made clear in their correspondence, QLTR is not obliged to deal with any property in any particular way and does not promise to dispose of it to any particular person at any particular time or for any particular price – or at all.

QLTR explained that, if QLTR is prepared to consider disposal of property, the usual practice is to have the property valued for sale by the district valuer, with whoever is to become the new owner meeting the cost of the valuation. Further details of these arrangements would be provided if QLTR was satisfied that the subjects were bona vacantia.

On the other hand, where the potential Crown interest arises under the common law (and it does in this case), QLTR has the discretion to waive the interest, if considered appropriate. In the present case, that right to disclaim was specifically reserved by QLTR.

On 03 October 2017, LCDT received from QLTR a letter enclosing a Disclaim Notice.

The notice is published separately online in the Edinburgh Gazette. The terms of the Notice are as follows:

Notice of Disclaimer


WHEREAS it has been represented to the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer that the following subjects including, in particular, the East Beach Footbridge at Seatown, Lossiemouth, Moray have fallen in whole or in part to the Crown as bona vacantia, namely:-

(One) ALL and WHOLE the subjects and others at Lossiemouth in the Parishes of Drainie and Urquhart and County of Elgin known as “The Old Harbour” more particularly described in and disponed by The Elgin and Lossiemouth Harbour Company in favour of The Lossiemouth Old Harbour Commissioners dated 27 November and recorded in the Division of the General Register of Sasines for the County of Elgin and Forres (later Moray) on 18 December both in the year 1914; and

(Two) ALL and WHOLE those six pieces of land being part of the foreshore and bed of the River Lossie below the high water mark at Lossiemouth in the Parishes and County foresaid described in and disponed by the Feu Disposition by The Board of Trade in favour of The Lossiemouth Old Harbour Commissioners dated 27 August and recorded in the said Division of the General Register of Sasines on 6 September both in the year 1915 and the whole erections thereon;

Now THEREFORE I, DAVID BRYCE HARVIE, the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer, in exercise of my discretion as the Crown’s representative in Scotland, do by this Notice waive and disclaim the Crown’s whole right and title (if any) in and to the aforesaid heritable property arising at Common Law.

David Harvie

Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer 25 Chambers Street

Edinburgh EH1 1LA

27 September 2017

The Crown has disclaimed any interest in the bridge by means of this Notice.

It means that the bridge and the ground on which it stands could be acquired by an individual or organisation. One available method appears to be in terms of Section 43 of the Land Registration etc. (Scotland) Act 2012.

Under this provision, someone who has “possessed” the ground in question for a period of at least one year may be able to register a title to it.

Who would want to own the bridge?

The bridge is not in a good state. Superficial repairs for safety reasons are already quite urgent. Donnie Stewart’s fascinating YouTube video from 2015 (“Lossie History – The Briggie”) already illustrated several personal injury risks from rusted parts of the structure. Its condition will only get worse through the effects of wind and sea.

Now that we appear to have better clarity on the ownership – or non-ownership – of the bridge, the discussion will have to move on to how the bridge can best be owned, managed and preserved for future generations.

It’s not a structure which will readily generate an income on its own and yet it is a vital connection to the East Beach and part of the wider coastal path network. Were the bridge to be closed or removed, people would surely find other methods of getting to the beach and it would only be a matter of time before someone was injured or drowned. Loss of the bridge is not an option.

Many would say that the Moray Council should take on ownership or maintenance of the bridge but, in its present state of financial health, it’s hard to see the Council volunteering.

In the months ahead, LCDT will be encouraging discussion of the issues and there may well be some hard decisions to make.

Lossiemouth Seatown Bridge in Failing Health Report Warns

Lossiemouth Seatown Bridge in Failing Health Report Warns

Lossiemouth Community Development Trust (“the Trust”) is a charity which began life as a registered company towards the end of 2014.

In order to work out how best to serve the community through the Trust’s charitable aims, there was a series of consultations, both face-­to-­face and via the internet.

One of the top priority action points identified was the need to improve and upgrade the Seatown Bridge which provides pedestrian access to the East Beach across the lower reaches of the River Lossie.

The bridge features as the image which is part of the Trust’s logo.

As well as being an iconic landmark, the bridge is essential as the only safe way to reach the East Beach on foot from the town. It is also a crucial link in public footpaths such as The Moray Coast Trail and The Moray Way.

Breaking down the need for action in relation to the bridge into separate steps, 2 major issues for the Trust were identified as:

  • Establishing the ownership of the bridge; and
  • Investigating the stability and durability of the structure of the bridge.

As it turns out, the ownership of the bridge is not a straightforward matter.

That is a subject for a separate article (but see further, below).

To assess the viability of the bridge, the Trust decided to obtain an expert assessment by a structural engineer.

This has now been undertaken by the Elgin office of consulting structural and civil engineers, Fairhurst. The report became available at the beginning of August 2016 and is based on several separate visits to the bridge during June 2016.

The main purpose of the inspection was to examine the condition of the existing structure and the requirement for any repair or reinforcement works.

The report notes that the bridge is of steel and timber construction. It spans across several timber piers. The bridge is raised in one section to provide greater clearance over the tidal waters of the River Lossie.

Sections which got a good report

The timber boarded deck of the bridge is generally in good condition and only a few boards need to be replaced.

The wooden piers on which the bridge sits are in reasonable condition and do not require any immediate attention.

Sections which did not fare so well

Some of the timber boards have worn down, leaving nails sticking up and these need to be fixed in further.

Some parts of the handrail have corroded. At best, this could be fixed by cleaning the metal back to bare steel and repainting; at worst, where sections are corroded through, they will require to be replaced.

Summary of recommendations

Even though the bridge is not at the point of falling down, a significant amount of work is needed to repair the structure.

The sections which are in a poor state of repair are likely to give rise to sharp edges and an associated risk of injury to people using the bridge. These problems are only going to become worse with the passage of time.

In broad terms, the engineering report estimated that about 15% of the steel sections under the bridge and 40% of the handrail sections already need to be replaced. For bits which don’t need to be replaced, the recommendation, as you would expect, is that all steel sections should be cleaned back to bare metal and repainted.

Practical considerations

With this being a bridge over flowing water, there will be additional considerations for anyone planning repair and replacement works as a contractor. There will also be the issue of whether, during any works, it will be possible to maintain public access via the bridge or whether it will be necessary to close the bridge for some of the time.

The report does not go into the cost implications of the bridge work which has been identified as desirable or necessary. No doubt, the costs will be significant.

Previous research carried out on behalf of Lossiemouth Community Council suggests that, when Moray Council obtained quotes for replacement of the bridge in 1992, the lowest estimate was for £388,000. When the bridge was last repaired – in about 1995 – the cost was around £150,000.

These amounts have not been independently checked by us but the point we hope they make (20 to 25 years later) is that significant repairs to the bridge – or its replacement – are going to cost A LOT of money.

Safety considerations

Though not the main focus of this article, the Trust’s research indicates that the current ownership of the bridge is unclear.

The last known owner of the ground on which the bridge sits is The Lossiemouth Old Harbour Commissioners. They acquired their title from the Government (Board of Trade) in 1915.

Though the Moray Council (and its predecessors) has paid for works on the bridge from time to time in the interim, title searches have not revealed it to be owner of the bridge. Just because the Council has paid to maintain the bridge in the past does not mean it has any current or future obligation to do so.

The Lossiemouth Old Harbour Commissioners no longer exist as a legal entity and it is most likely that ownership of the bridge has passed to the Crown – because “ownerless” land in Scotland reverts to the Crown.

The Crown’s representative in Scotland for this sort of thing is the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (“QLTR”). QLTR does not have to deal with property in any particular way – or even look after it.

As things stand, the best advice to users of the bridge is probably to say that the bridge is still safe, provided you take care. You should watch out in particular for sharp points and edges, which might cut you.

Given the uncertainty about ownership of the bridge and current responsibility for the bridge, you should bear in mind that, if you suffer injury while using the bridge, it may be very difficult for you to establish a claim against anyone.