EDINBURGH City Council is to ask the Scottish Government to return the former Parliament House on the Royal Mile to the ownership of the common good account of the city after the council inadvertently “lost” the building.

The council’s governance committee will meet tomorrow to discuss a motion by its leader Andrew Burns asking for the Scottish Government to “voluntarily” give back Parliament House, built in the 17th century and long-term home of the Supreme Courts, without any recourse to legal action.

There is little doubt that the Council gave up Parliament House 10 years ago as a result of a simple mistake – an official apparently confused Parliament House with the former Royal High School a mile away which had once been intended to house the Scottish Parliament after devolution.

The Scottish Greens group of councillors said that the council had “confused Royal High School and Parliament House” when the Scottish ministers undertook a voluntary registration of the title to the court complex between Parliament Square and the Cowgate.

The Scottish Executive, as it then was called, was about to authorise the spending of £60 million by the Scottish Courts Service on modernising the Supreme Courts and wanted to define exactly who owned the various buildings.

In April 2006, the council was asked to confirm that it had no legal interest in the land.

The council checked its asset register at that time, and this did not show the it as being the owner of the land, despite it being a matter of history that the citizens of Edinburgh had paid for Parliament House back in the 1640s.

The Executive was duly issued with a Land Certificate by Registers of Scotland which recorded them having a good title to the court complex including the Hall which housed the Scottish Parliament up to 1701.

One complicating factor is that the library underneath Parliament House, the Laigh Hall, was passed to the Faculty of Advocates, which was then issued with its own Land Certificate for that property. This records the Faculty of Advocates as having a good title.

Some 15 months ago, it was brought to the attention of council officials that the confirmation given in 2006 was incorrect and that Parliament Hall, including the Laigh Hall, should indeed be recorded as part of the common good property owned by the council on behalf of the citizens of Edinburgh.

Council officials have begun talks with the Scottish Government to have the common good asset restored to the council, but legal experts say the Scottish Government is under no pressure to do so.

A report to tomorrow’s committee meeting states that “there may be legal remedies available to the council but in order to save the expenditure of public funds in potentially lengthy and costly litigation it would be preferable to resolve the matter voluntarily in discussions with Scottish Government”.

The committee will be asked to support a request that the chief executive writes to the permanent secretary seeking a voluntary resolution to restore ownership to the council.

The concerned citizen who first noticed the error is Andy Wightman, a writer and researcher on land rights.

In his blog, Wightman says he has reported “on many cases of maladministration of [Common Good] assets where councils have been sloppy in their record-keeping and where the interests of the citizen has been poorly served by the councils that replaced the town councils in 1975”.

Last night, Wightman said: “Edinburgh’s then town council effectively handed over control of the building in 1816 to the courts and the faculty and let them occupy it without ever finalising that relationship.

“The faculty have used their space for which they now have a title and they will continue to be there – the only difference is they own the fresh air, not the walls and fittings.

“Scottish ministers have a clear title to Parliament House, and that trumps everything.

“Edinburgh council has no legal leverage to get it back. The best they could expect is compensation but you can’t have an institution going to the courts 10 years after they said ‘we don’t own it’.

“And I don’t think the residents of Edinburgh would take too kindly to the legal expanses incurred by going to court.

“The pity is that, given the citizens of Edinburgh paid for it all those years ago, they have no right to have access to it. That’s the offensive thing.”

The committee is expected to approve the motion to approach the Government but there is no indication as yet as to how the Government will respond to the request.