Our approach to progressing community ownership of Vacant and Derelict Land and Buildings (VDL) has been to respond to community interest. This allowed us to better understand what communities want, and how policy and funding decisions are being made, and to structure our work accordingly. VDL sites are often tricky to develop and can be a liability (such as due to ground contamination or an unsafe structure), so are not generally a good option for groups just beginning community ownership. A decision was made that it was not appropriate for us to promote VDL sites to communities, or impose a research agenda on this topic, but instead to be responsive to community groups, and welcome collaborative and coproducing opportunities.
Community groups in contact have had good interest in vacant and derelict land or buildings. Of the 60 sites we have researched in detail with community groups, 66% are vacant and derelict of some kind. It’s clear that communities are very interested in VDL of all types, and where community groups have taken on VDL sites they are delivering notable outcomes.
Vacant and derelict sites contain a wide range of challenges ranging from immediate health and safety risks to complex land ownership information. To give one example, we have been supporting one early-stage group consider taking ownership of a site the official Vacant and Derelict Land Register– this site has five different landownership titles, and ownership of one section of the land remains unclear. Significant community-led progress on this type of site is likely to need strategic resolution and/or a particularly determined community group.
Many community groups in touch get stuck at determining landownership. A complete, transparent, and high-quality land register for Scotland will significantly support community-led approaches to vacant and derelict land.
Vacant and derelict property can be ownerless, and we have been working with the body which addresses ownerless land (KLTR) in their new pilot property transfer scheme, which we hope will facilitate community groups in addressing these sites.
Only eight (13%) of the sites communities have asked us about are on the official Vacant and Derelict Land Register. As existing funding is linked to this official register with specific criteria, communities are largely missing out on existing funding for VDL. Previously there were more funding options, but these have decreased in recent years.
Supporting community-led approaches to addressing VDL requires a new approach. Given the scale of public expense in owning and addressing VDL, the private wealth being derived from this public investment, and the proximity of many of these sites to resource-deprived communities, a plan for building community wealth from the regeneration of VDL sites is urgently needed.
In 2022 we called for an Urban Community Led Housing Fund to support mixed-use regeneration, building on the vision for a community-led and owned high street, as set out by many including Midsteeple Quarter in Dumfries Town Centre, who are addressing derelict buildings there.
In Year 3 we will develop and share further policy recommendations for supporting community-led approaches to vacant and derelict land and buildings.