A Dumfries community group is asking fellow citizens to respond to an emergency request and come together, as a town, and buy two High Street buildings that are set to be traded amongst speculators in an auction. The group is looking to local people to help raise a stake to bid in the auction on behalf of the town, against the property speculators.
These properties form part of the community-led Midsteeple Quarter regeneration project for the town centre. Local Community Benefit Society, Midsteeple Quarter was recently granted money from the Scottish Land Fund to prepare plans and negotiate with the London-based pension fund Threadneedle for a community buy-out of 113-119 High Street. Without any warning, a high-level decision within the pension fund has been taken to dump a significant number of their derelict Scottish commercial buildings at an auction on 5th February – including 113-119 High St in Dumfries.
Chair of Midsteeple Quarter, Scott Mackay said: ‘We have decided to launch a fightback against this cycle of outside property speculation that has blighted our town for decades. We have the organisation in place to attract public investment to Dumfries that would see these buildings as part of a prosperous future, a future that would see part of our High Street held in common ownership by local people.’
The group are asking people to contribute to a crowdfunding campaign to secure the buildings for the community, anyone making a contribution is offered incentives and will become a part-owner of the entire Midsteeple Quarter project.
The Midsteeple Quarter project is being assisted by Dumfries and Galloway Small Communities Housing Trust. Mike Staples of the Trust commented: ‘We estimate that the market value of these properties in their current condition is very low and achievable for the local community. We have support from agencies like Scottish Land Fund to help the community make a competitive bid for these properties, but contributions from people in the community would be doubly valuable in sending a powerful message to speculators who are sitting on empty properties.’
In November Midsteeple Quarter was granted ownership of the former Bakers Oven building (135-139 High St) and are already making improvements to the ground floor to support opportunities for local enterprises to get up and running. The group is also drawing up plans for new flats on the upper floors and building works is scheduled to start in early 2020.
Scott Mackay further commented: ‘Midsteeple Quarter is well organised and has a viable plan for the town centre, a plan that has already attracted significant support from Scottish Government and the Council. All over Scotland communities are taking back control of land from absentee landlords and now Dumfries is leading the way as the first community buy-out of a High Street in the country.’