In the last of SCVO’s pre-local election blogs, Linsay Chalmers of Community Land Scotland describes issues around community land.
SCVO - 540,000 acres of land are now in community ownership in Scotland and 2017 could be the busiest ever year for community buyouts, with 187 applications currently in the pipeline for the Scottish Land Fund. Here at Community Land Scotland, the representative body for aspiring and established community landowners, we believe that Councils and Councillors have a significant role to play in working with communities at all stages of their landowning journey.
In the early days, when communities are thinking about purchasing land, Councillors will often be their first port of call for information. It’s important that communities are given the right advice at this stage and organisations such as ours are happy to signpost Councillors to the right information or speak at community events.
Sometimes community consultations will highlight that land is needed for affordable housing, community hubs or other developments but establishing what land is available locally can be a tricky task. Councillors, particularly in urban areas, may have a better idea of what land is unused but not on the open market, than communities do and can provide pointers on where to look.
Later this year, new legislation around Community Right to Buy for Abandoned, Neglected and Detrimental land will come into force, providing an opportunity for communities to bring unused land and buildings back into use. The Scottish Government has also made a commitment to introducing Compulsory Sale Orders, a new statutory power that will allow local authorities to require that vacant and derelict land is brought to public auction. We would like to see Councils actively working with communities to use this legislation to bring unused land and buildings back into productive use.
There are also opportunities for Councils to work with established community landowners on economic development and regeneration. Community landowners are democratic bodies with open membership and regular elections. Regeneration of their local area is integral to their objectives and development plans are based on cycles of community consultation and business planning. Many many have tackled long-standing problems in their area such as a lack of affordable housing or business space. If Councils and community landowners were to work together on community-led planning, we could see even more rapid and joined-up regeneration at a local level.
One Council that has been working hand in hand with community landowners is Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, also known as Western Isles Council. 75% of people in the Western Isles now live on community owned land. Community landowners, such as West Harris Trust, which has been responsible for a 20% increase in the population of West Harris since its buyout in 2010, can tap into local knowledge, energy and funding avenues that would be difficult for a Council to access. The Council has recognised that working with community landowners helps achieve both Council’s and community objectives. The 12 post-purchase and four pre-purchase community landowners on the islands have all benefitted at one time or another from support from the Comhairle.