The strong interest in urban community landownership needs strategic and consistent support to become community buyouts. A community land purchase is not a quick process, and building community capacity over multiple projects takes time. It has taken 20 years for the community land sector to achieve what it has in the Highlands and Islands – we are seven years into the journey in Scotland’s towns and cities.
A mature urban community land sector will be the centrepiece of a rebalanced economy in Scotland’s central belt, delivering community wealth and embedding fairness and democracy over land. We call for the following policy changes to significantly accelerate community landownership in towns and cities.
1. Including Urban in the Land Reform Bill
Urban land reform priorities should be incorporated into the forthcoming Land Reform Bill, to be introduced by the end of 2023. This can be done in a range of ways, including through the application of the public interest test proposed to urban areas, and in other key proposals such as the duty to comply with the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, production of compulsory Land Management Plans, and requirement of Prior Notification to Sell Land (or built assets).
Communities across Scotland need coherent policy and legislative support to implement their proactive vision for land. Land Reform works across land ownership and use in the public interest— communities require a coherent set of policy and legislative support across both ownership and use. This should range from simple to apply designations (such as Prior Notifications of Sale or something similar to England and Wale’s designation” Assets of Community Value”), to more complex tools such as Local Place Plans, Community Rights to Buy, and Public Interest Tests. These policy tools should relate to one another, so that it is clear to community groups how to apply different tools as needed. This will also provide greater clarity to developers, policy makers and decision makers.
2. Addressing Land in the Community Wealth Building Bill
Legislation for Community Wealth Building has the potential to build a firm foundation for urban community landownership. This legislation needs to provide meaningful change on the socially productive use of land and property, across all landownership types. Community Land Scotland’s proposals for the forthcoming Community Wealth Building Bill should be adopted. In particular, regarding urban land:
- Review the Common Good legislation to ensure assets and resources are used specifically for the purpose of community wealth building.
- Impose on all public bodies using Community Asset Transfer provisions a standard methodology for measuring the social value of community proposals which are then reflected in a discount on market value for purchase.
- Within the Community Asset Transfer provisions, include a presumption against the inclusion of any restrictive covenants, burdens or clawbacks in transfer or sales to communities, unless in very defined exceptional circumstances.
- Give communities Rights to Invest in Scotland’s renewable, carbon, and regeneration economies, through compulsory rights to acquire investments in important local developments (using support via a Community Wealth Fund and the Scottish National Investment Bank). This will provide more diverse income streams for urban communities, who, due to the typical density of development in urban areas, are less able to implement the more common money-making projects for community land ownership, such as wind turbines.
3. Resolving Unequal Land Patterns
Landownership complexity and lack of transparency are holding back community-led land development. The Land Register needs to be fully completed, with no further delays. Given delays already experienced, there needs to be stronger legal basis for land registration completion. There should be a legal requirement for existing landowners to register.
There is need for flexible and intensive additional support to communities to resolve complex landownership circumstances, until the Land Register is completed.
4. Community-led Approaches to Vacant and Derelict Land
New funding is needed which effectively supports community-led approaches to Vacant and Derelict land, particularly for sites not on the official register.
Community policy levers to bring these sites into productive use should be refined and included in legislative change such as the Land Reform Act and the Community Wealth Building Bill. For example, the Community Right to Buy for Abandoned, Neglected and Detrimental Land needs to be revised to make it more effective for communities with regard to ownerless land.
5. Building Financial Robustness
Urban community purchases thus far have tended to focus on “saving” buildings that need substantial repair. Such costly projects need to be balanced by diverse business models, which will also help to reduce reliance on project-based funding.
Income generation options for the urban community land sector need to be prioritised, including:
- An Urban Community Housing Fund as noted set out in our report “Urban Dwelling: A Vision for Urban Community-led Housing in Scotland”
- A Community Wealth Fund and the Right to Invest, as set out in our Community Wealth Building proposals.
6. Enterprise for Community Development
There is no enterprise agency with a community development remit in the central belt of Scotland that can intervene in a responsive way to support community-led regeneration. There is good expertise on how to do this in Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and South of Scotland Enterprise has recently advanced with this remit. Similar, responsive support is needed to support the growing urban community land sector and could fall under Community Wealth Building.
7. Establish Ownership Routes from Temporary Management of Public Buildings
Additional research and support on community experiences of temporary asset management of publicly owned property and implications for land reform priorities is needed. A requirement for review of ongoing short-term leases should be imposed; groups occupying buildings in the medium to long term should be offered long leases or purchases to allow them to upgrade the buildings they occupy. A clearer path from lease to ownership should be provided for those groups who want to proceed to ownership. Community groups should not be dissuaded from using Community Asset Transfer as a matter of law and policy.
8. Review Land Fund Cap
Land values are a notable challenge for urban groups, with some groups not proceeding due to potentially high costs of land. Urban land prices, and the growing interest in urban community ownership, need to be considered strategically. The £1 million limit on the Scottish Land Fund should be reviewed.