The Community Right to Buy (CRtB) was introduced under Part 2 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 as a mechanism for encouraging opportunities for community ownership of land and land assets in rural Scotland. The CRtB provision gives community bodies representing rural communities with a population of less than 10,000 the right to register a community interest in land and to obtain first refusal on the land when the landowner wishes to sell.
The Scottish Government commissioned Ipsos MORI, in collaboration with Scotland's Rural College (SRUC), to evaluate the impact of Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 on local communities in the period from 2004 to 2014.
The evaluation involved a mixed-method approach. The first stage consisted of a desk-based review of relevant documentation, in-depth scoping interviews with stakeholders, and the development of a logic model.
An online survey was then carried out with community bodies involved at each stage of the CRtB process. Responses were received from 65 community bodies, from a sample of 186 (response rate of 37% after adjusting for 29 non-contacts). Following the survey, 16 case studies were selected for more in-depth, qualitative research. Case studies were selected to include a broad spectrum of communities involved at each stage of the process. Eight of these were "full" case studies involving site visits and face-to-face fieldwork, while eight were "light" case studies that involved telephone interviews.
The evaluation has been structured using a logic model approach which shows the planned inputs and activities that are intended to lead to short, medium and, ultimately, long term outcomes. The logic model is shown at Figure A.
Outcomes from the CRtB
In general, the outcomes that were anticipated from the CRtB logic model have been delivered to varying extents and in relation to various stages of the CRtB process. Outcomes differed across case studies in relation to a number of factors, including community capacity, stage of the process reached, and (where land and assets had been acquired) the scale and income generating potential of the asset.
Anticipated outcomes for communities have been grouped around themes that correspond to the individual outcomes outlined in the CRtB logic model, namely: awareness and engagement; motivation and empowerment; and cohesion and pride. Each of the short term and medium term outcomes for communities identified in the CRtB logic model have been met to an extent. However, impacts were most apparent among members of the community bodies and those that were directly involved in the CRtB process. In terms of the wider community, the extent to which outcomes have been met has been mixed. In particular, outcomes relating to awareness, engagement and motivation to participate in the process were more clearly seen among community body members than in the wider communities.
A fuller range of outcomes was evident in cases where land and assets had been acquired. For example outcomes such as "increased sense of pride in the community" and "increased employment opportunities" had been realised among a small number of cases, but there was little evidence of this among communities who had not successfully purchased land and assets. Outcomes specifically related to land and land assets, in particular, were confined to those cases where a purchase had occurred. Where land/assets had been purchased, evidence existed of more community involved in management of land and assets. The picture was more mixed in relation to outcomes related to use of land and assets. There was evidence of land and assets being used in a more appropriate and more diverse way, but less evidence of more environmentally sustainable uses or integrated land use planning.
The evaluation identified the extent to which short term and medium term outcomes from the CRtB have been met. It is beyond the scope of the evaluation to demonstrate evidence of long term outcomes as they are realised over a longer period of time than is possible to cover within this evaluation. By following the logic model approach, however, the methodology acknowledges that evidence of short and medium term outcomes should ultimately lead to long term outcomes being achieved.
Factors enabling outcomes
Local context and concern about decline and/or potential improvement (of key assets or the community generally) have been critical inputs for case study examples. Each community will have its own set of circumstances that may play a role in their level of success in the process and the outcomes that are realised. However, common inputs (or "enablers") that have played an important role in helping to achieve outcomes have emerged from the research:
- One of the earliest steps in the CRtB process, the formation of community bodies, has been key to providing a focal point for communities and giving communities a voice that they may not have otherwise had.
- In certain cases the presence of key individuals has been an important enabler to achieving outcomes. Individuals that have been particularly active in the community body have helped motivate others to participate in the process. However, when these key individuals are no longer involved this has been a barrier to achieving outcomes.
- Advice and guidance from support agencies have played an important role in the process. Advice from Scottish Government, in particular, has helped to develop knowledge and skills relating to the CRtB process.
- Where land/assets have been purchased, a willing seller has helped make the process easier and made a successful purchase more likely. Where this is absent, the chance of a successful purchase is less likely which can be demotivating for communities.
Barriers to achieving outcomes
Acknowledging that communities will have faced their own specific challenges linked to their unique circumstances, a number of common barriers to achieving outcomes have been identified. In a number of cases, these barriers are linked to an absence of one of the key enablers outlined above.
- In certain cases, it has been difficult for community bodies to sustain interest from the community over the long term. This has been a particular challenge in cases where a registration of a community interest in land has been active for a long period (e.g. 5 years) and re-registration of that interest is required.
- While the existence of community bodies has been identified as a key element in contributing to outcomes, in some areas an ageing and declining population has made it difficult to attract new members to the community body. This has made delivering activities and driving interest among the wider community a challenge for those involved.
- Lack of specialist knowledge and expertise has been identified as a hurdle for certain community bodies. The CRtB process has been described by community bodies as time consuming and arduous and the level of information required within the timescale available has presented a challenge. Some community bodies that had stopped at early stages in the process had realised, in hindsight, that their lack of knowledge and skills had been a barrier to them progressing further.
- When attempting to purchase land or an asset, a key challenge faced by community bodies was securing finance to make the purchase at the valuation figure.
Notably, at least some of these barriers (e.g. timescales and costs/funding) presented here are likely to be at least partly addressed through the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.
Figure A: Logic Model
Email: Graeme Beale