Community landownership is a growing movement in Scotland that’s set to really take off in the next few years as it becomes easier for communities across the country to buy the land that they live on. Scotland has historically had the most concentrated landownership anywhere in the developed world with half of the country’s land belonging to fewer than 450 people.
That pattern is beginning to change as more communities are buying land and using it to create a place where they and future generations will want to live and work. Many people will have heard about the community buyouts in Eigg, Gigha and Knoydart, but community landownership now stretches well beyond those areas and the total amount of land in the sector stands at around 540,000 acres - that’s three times the area owned by the National Trust for Scotland.
As the representative body for community landowners, Community Land Scotland has over 30 members that are now managing and buying land and a further 30 that are working on land acquisition. Each community makes its own decision on how to develop its land, based on extensive community consultation and feasibility studies. Developments made by our members include: building affordable housing and business space, renewable energy projects, parks and food growing, harbour and pier refurbishment and woodland management. Creating local jobs and places for people to live are common drivers when deciding where to focus resources.
One area that is ploughing ahead with its development plan is West Harris, where the community bought almost 18,000 acres of land from the Scottish Government in 2010. At the time, the community set itself three aims: to add to its population of 120 people; create environmentally sustainable energy for the community and conserve and increase understanding of their natural and cultural heritage. In the six years since the buyout, it has developed a 50kw wind turbine and made housing plots available for builders. It’s now working on a 100kw hydro scheme, building six affordable houses in partnership with a local Housing Association and constructing a 5000 square foot community enterprise centre with business space, a café and venue - and a beautiful view out over the island of Taransay.
Most of the existing community landowners are in the north and west of Scotland, but this year a number of changes have come into place that will make it easier for communities across the country to acquire and fund the buyout of land. In March, the Scottish Government launched the new Scottish Land Fund which will provide £10 million, in this year alone, to communities that want to purchase land and from the 15th April the Community Right to Buy has extended to include urban as well as rural communities. The Community Right to Buy gives communities first refusal on land or buildings owned by the public or private sector when they come up for sale and the price paid is based on an Independent Valuation arranged by the Scottish Government. Community Councils have already been behind a number of Community Right to Buy registrations from Dumfries and Galloway to the Highlands.
In 2017, the Community Right to Buy will extend further, giving communities the right to buy “abandoned, neglected and detrimental” land that is not up for sale. What this right will look like in practice, we will have to wait and see.
Communities can also acquire land through negotiation with landowners and Community Land Scotland is working with the Scottish Land and Estates, the representative body for private landowners and rural businesses, to develop a protocol for the voluntary sale of land to communities.
At Community Land Scotland, we believe that there is a role for Community Councils to proactively work with local communities to identify what land and buildings could be available to them in their area. We are happy to talk to Community Councils that would like to explore the potential for community landownership in their area.
Why not participate in a discussion about community landownership? You can share your views in the Knowledge Hub group*
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