Rural and Environment
Scotland’s Land Reform Agenda
2017 has been a landmark year for Scotland’s Land Reform agenda.
Our progressive community land ownership policies have delivered huge benefits to communities across the country, and have set us on an ambitious process to transform the relationship between the land and the people of Scotland.
Community right to buy, which we expanded through the Community Empowerment Act in 2015 and Land Reform legislation in 2016, has unlocked potential in our urban, rural and island communities and has given local people a say in their future.
Communities now have the right to be involved in community planning and participation requests, and our urban communities now have the same rights to buy land as rural communities have enjoyed for the previous 14 years.
The introduction of the Asset Transfer Requests gave communities the right to request that they use, manage or even own assets owned by public bodies, and not just those that are surplus to requirements.
In the last year, the Scottish Land Commission has become fully operational, demonstrating the Scottish Government’s commitment to long-term land reform. The Commission is helping to provide momentum and focus, and is leading debate across urban and rural Scotland on the significance of land reform as a driver of sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
Under its three-year Strategic Plan published in September, the Commission will be examining options for future land reform, including looking at the concentration of land ownership in Scotland and whether better use could be made of common-good land, including an option for transfer of common good land into community ownership.
The Scottish Land Fund – which we have committed to funding until at least 2020 and in the coming year will again be £10 million – continues to play an important role in delivering our ambitious community land ambitions by providing awards to community groups to purchase land.
In the last year, the Scottish Land Fund has made awards to 57 groups, totalling over £4 million. There are also over 200 groups in the pipeline, who have contacted the fund to begin the application process.
Thanks to these policies, we are providing an independent assessment on what can be improved and ensuring that community land ownership remains high on the agenda.
Our commitment is matched by ambitious targets. By 2020, we would like to see 1 million acres under community ownership. Last month, Scotland’s Chief Statistician published the first Estimate of Community Owned Land in Scotland in 2017.
Although there is still some way to go, we now have over 560,000 acres of land in community ownership, and it is encouraging to see just how far we’ve come.
Since 1990, the amount of land in community ownership has seen a fivefold increase and as at June 2017 there were 562,230 acres in community ownership – 2.9% of the total land area of Scotland.
There are now over 400 community groups who own land across Scotland, and the number is rising. Community ownership is concentrated in two local authorities: Na hEileanan Siar and Highland which contains 385,340 and 141,912 respectively, equating to 93.7% (527,252 acres) of the total land in community ownership in Scotland.
This year, there have been 10 new registrations of interest in land, and another 2 are in the process of being registered. The means that there have now been over 230 registered interests in land.
In October, we granted consent to The North West Mull Community Woodland Company to register its interest in purchasing the Isle of Ulva in the Inner Hebrides, with an ambitious view to attracting new residents by increasing economic activity and housing stock on the island.
Although The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 has been successfully used across rural and urban Scotland, this was the first time permission had been granted to register interest in buying a Scottish Island under this legislation.
However, there is still more work to be done. In 2018, we will see the new Community Right to Buy for Abandoned, Neglected or Detrimental Land. This is a compulsory right which has the potential to be a major shift in the community ownership landscape.
We published the world’s first Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement in September. This will help shape the thinking on land issues in Scotland over the coming years.
The Statement adopts a human rights based approach to land rights and responsibilities and it signals our determination to continue leading the way in ensuring that Scotland’s urban and rural land contributes to inclusive and sustainable economic growth and to social justice.
There is no single approach to Land Reform, and the various measures that we have introduced in the previous year or two, have all contributed in some way.
Among the important work I have asked the Scottish Land Commission to undertake is a review of the right to buy mechanisms and to make recommendations to me about how we can simplify and improve the process and make it easier for community groups to achieve a successful outcome.
This year we will lay draft regulations on the Register of Controlling Interests and will publish guidance on engaging communities in decisions relating to land.
All of these reforms will continue to lay the groundwork for communities to take control of assets that matter to them in 2018, and I look forward to a time when that community ownership becomes the norm, rather than the exception.
By Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Land Reform.
Tags: land reform