Attitudes to land reform: research

This report outlines the main findings from research exploring public attitudes to land reform.

9. Engagement in decision-making

This section will first explore participants' previous experience in decision-making. It will then explore perceived views on the Scottish Government's policy in this area, participants' interest in future engagement and views on promoting wider engagement.

Main findings and implications

Only 13% of survey respondents indicated that they had previously been involved in decision making around land use (including decisions in towns and cities). Those in the most deprived areas were half as likely as others to have been involved – though they were just as interested in being involved in the future.

Those who had been involved in decision-making described mixed experiences. There was an indication that experiences were more empowering and rewarding when people were involved from an earlier stage of the process and had a say in what the land should be used for – rather than being involved at a later stage when a development had already been proposed (particularly if they were trying to prevent the development). This suggests that initiatives to encourage engagement should focus on early involvement in decisions about what land should be used for and on exploring the needs of the community.

There was support in principle for the Scottish Government's aim of promoting greater community involvement in decision making around land use.

A lack of awareness of how to get involved – as opposed to a lack of motivation – was the dominant explanation given by participants for not having been involved. Around two thirds indicated they would be interested in being more involved in the future. It was felt that opportunities to get involved should be publicised through a wide range of channels (local newspapers, social media, leaflets through doors). Similarly, it was agreed that there needed to be a multi-pronged approach to the engagement activities themselves including online methods, meetings, and 'knocking on doors' or engaging people when they are out and about in the community.

Publicising examples of successful community projects elsewhere was seen as important (and was something that was raised when examples were shown).

Prior engagement in decision-making

Survey respondents were asked whether they had previously been involved in any decision-making around land use, including in cities or towns as well as the countryside. Overall, 13% of respondents had been involved while 85% had not. Those most likely to have been involved included:

  • those living in accessible rural areas (26%) and remote rural areas (22%), compared with just 11% of those in large urban areas
  • those who oppose both statutory access rights (22%) and diversification of land ownership (22%), compared with 12% and 13% respectively of those who support these policies
  • those with a degree or equivalent (15% compared with 8% of those with no formal qualifications and 10% with a school or college qualification)
  • those in less deprived areas- those in the most deprived areas (SIMD 1) were only half as likely as those in other areas to have been involved (7% compared with 13% overall)

Experiences of prior involvement in decision making

There were mixed experiences of involvement among participants in the deliberative research. However, interpretation of 'involvement' seemed to vary, with several participants initially reporting no involvement but later referencing past experiences (for example, in opposing planning applications) – perhaps initially dismissing these experiences due to their perceived lack of influence over the outcome.

The decision-making processes participants spoke about were diverse. They varied in terms of issues, including access, use and ownership of land. They also covered many different types of land including both built-on land (schools, housing, car parks and community buildings) and land that had not been built on (tracks and paths, greenspace, and forestry among others).

Experiences of engagement also varied from those who felt their engagement was a positive experience (generally they has been involved from an early stage), to those who were disillusioned and frustrated by the process. Both groups, however, remarked upon the time and energy consuming nature of their engagement.

Among those who had a positive experience, they had found the process empowering and rewarding. It was empowering because they felt they and others had been listened to throughout the process and their views taken into account. It was rewarding because of the sense of satisfaction they felt when they saw the final outcome after a lengthy process of involvement.

"I went to a lot of meetings…it was very good – everybody got a say and was listened to. Everybody brought up good points and it was put to a vote – the outcome was the best thing that could be done."

Older Urban interview participant

"It felt like hard work, what felt good was obviously the reward after. Just imagine a piece of green space completely overgrown, rubbish dumped there, years of writing letters, getting permission, getting things cleaned up. Final result, you kind of forget the pain, it feels great afterwards."

Low awareness on land reform group participant

Those who felt it was a negative experience were disillusioned and frustrated by being ignored during the consultation or discovering a decision had already been made beforehand. Some described what they perceived as an 'undemocratic' system, whereby developers' money tended to overturn the views of local people. Others felt the small numbers of committee members making these decisions did not represent local authority areas well.

"It was a very negative experience – it was a foregone conclusion before you could actually ask any questions, learn anything, and make decisions. I attempted to attend a community council meeting to voice concerns about a development process [building houses on the edge of the village] and hear what the process is. I got to the meeting and found out the decision's been made before anybody's been allowed to make any comments and half the [planning] committee weren't there. The whole community were outraged but only four of us turned up to find out that the decision's already been made, deal's already been signed."

Previously involved in land use decision-making group participant

"I may be wrong, but locals don't have a voice. Councillors decide – 11 people on the committee for the whole local authority."

Mixed group participant

Among this group, frustration was also expressed in relation to processes, structures and timescales of involvement. Shortages of funding to support local communities' interests, as well as low numbers of people involved were also identified as drawbacks.

Barriers to involvement in decision-making

Survey respondents were asked to give up to three reasons from a list of options, which were stopping them from becoming more involved in decision-making about land use. The most common barriers were not knowing enough about it (48%), not knowing how to get involved (32%), not having enough time (25%) and not thinking their involvement would change anything (17%).

Figure 9.1 Q What are the main reasons stopping you from becoming more involved in decision making about land use in your area?

Chart description below

Base: 1501 adults in Scotland aged 16+

Chart Description

Figure 9.1 A chart showing the top reasons respondents gave for not being more involved in decision making on land use in their area: “I don’t know enough about it” (48%), “I don’t know how to get involved” (32%), “I don’t have enough time” (25%) and “I don’t think it would change anything” (17%)

These barriers were reflected in the deliberative research among participants who not been previously involved in decision making. Again, a lack of awareness of ways to get involved, as opposed to a lack of motivation, was the dominant explanation given by these participants, with many under the impression either that there had been no such opportunities in their area, or that these had been poorly publicised. It was felt that to reach a bigger audience, publicity should be widened, using a broader range of communication channels including social media, as well as traditional media such as local newspapers.

"I would definitely be interested, but how?"

Younger Rural group participant

"Haven't had the opportunity that I'm aware of. If you don't have issues around you, you probably wouldn't be involved."

Older Urban group participant

"No opportunity, or not aware [of it]. A lot of consultation is in a local paper, people don't buy papers anymore. Unless it's on Tik Tok they don't read it. So those sort of things pass you by."

Low awareness on land reform group participant

Other participants who were aware of opportunities had been deterred from involvement by doubt and scepticism as to whether they would have any real influence on the outcome, echoing those who reported negative experiences of feeling powerless in the process.

"There's a feeling of "What's the point?" if you're going to be in a fight and lose it."

Mixed group participant

Reactions to Scottish Government policy on community engagement

Participants in the deliberative research were provided with some information about the Scottish Government's agenda around community involvement in decision making. There was support in principle of the Scottish Government's aim to encourage greater community engagement in decision making around land use, with the deliberative research participants consistently describing it as a 'good' or 'great' idea.

However, many voiced reservations as to how well it would work in practice, without additional measures in place. Scepticism was expressed about the number of people that would invest time in being involved, even with greater awareness, and doubts were raised about how to ensure engagement processes would be representative of local populations. One view was expressed that 'encouragement' was simply not enough to motivate widespread involvement.

"It's difficult getting bums on seats – people can be very lax and don't realise how much decisions are going to affect them."

Older Urban interview participant

"Encouragement is a bit wishy washy. If you don't [engage] nothing is done. I'm not sure it goes far enough – it's not ambitious enough."

Mixed group participant

"It's all well and good saying we need more community involvement but there must be a way of measuring that – if 10 people from a community are involved that's not representative."

Younger Rural group participant

Limitations in terms of people's free time, resources and expertise were also identified as barriers to engagement, especially in relation to more complex legal or technical decisions.

"Somebody who's just come in from work, got the kids fed, there needs to be some help there because it's not simple stuff. It is difficult to throw yourself into things when you have other commitments. The policy needs to be coupled with expertise or financial assistance to make sure there's funding in place to make things work properly."

Previously involved in land use decision-making group participant

A degree of concern was expressed that greater community involvement could risk promoting 'Nimbyism'[12], and hugely slowing decision making processes at the expense of benefits to the country as a whole.

"There is danger of Nimbyism and if we are trying to grow an economy then it really slows things down if every community gets chance to say no."

Mixed group participant

Interest in greater future involvement

Around two thirds (64%) of survey respondents said they would 'definitely' or 'probably' be interested in being more involved in decision-making around land, planning and development in the future, while one third (35%) said they would 'probably' or 'definitely not' be interested.

Figure 9.2 QWould you be interested in being more involved in decision-making about land and planning/developments in your area in the future?

Chart description below

Base: 1501 adults in Scotland aged 16+

Chart Description

Figure 9.2 is a chart showing survey responses to Q “Would you be interested in being more involved in decision-making about land and planning/developments in your area in the future?” 19% - “Yes definitely”, 45% - “Yes - probably”, 26% - “No - probably not”; 9% - “No – definitely not”

There were higher levels of interest in younger participants aged 16 to 34 (70%) and 35 to 54 (69%) than those aged 55 and over (55%). There was also a notable difference between those with no formal education (32% expressed interest) and those with either a college qualification (61% expressed interest) or a university degree or equivalent (71% expressed interest).

However, those in SIMD 1 areas were equally as likely as those in less deprived areas to say they would be interested in being involved in future (64%), despite being half as likely to have been previously involved.

There were mixed attitudes in the deliberative research regarding greater future involvement in decision-making. Reflecting the concerns expressed in relation to previous engagement and Scottish Government policy, participants generally expressed an interest in greater future involvement on the condition that they would feel listened to and be able to make a difference. On the whole, participants said they would be more likely to get involved if they opposed a proposal than if they supported it.

Others expressed uncertainty about whether they would get involved, based on a lack of confidence in their knowledge.

"I think even after all this I wouldn't input into community input because I don't have a full opinion on this, this is why I vote in local council elections, they know more than me."

Younger Urban group participant

Encouraging greater engagement

Respondents were asked what they felt would encourage greater engagement in their area and were given four options to choose from. By far the most common response was 'more awareness of local land issues' (43%).

Figure 9.3 Q What would be most helpful in encouraging greater community engagement in land decision making in your area?

Chart description below

Chart Description

Figure 9.3 A chart showing what survey respondents would find most helpful in encouraging greater community engagement in land decision making in their area: “More awareness of local land issues” (43%); “Clearer rules and regulations on land reform in my area” (16%), “Examples of communities which have successfully engaged” (15%); “Having meetings in accessible venues at convenient times” (15%).

Across the deliberative research, people consistently argued that raising awareness of opportunities for community involvement was very important and it was felt this could be achieved through teaching in schools, and sharing experiences from other communities more widely through the media. Accessibility was also a strong theme, in terms of time and location. It was felt more would need to be done to 'sell' engagement processes to the wider public, both in terms of the relevance of such decisions to their lives and the effect of their input on the outcome.

A wide range of further ways to encourage engagement, including among younger people, were suggested in the deliberative research including:

  • having a "fun" element to it or some kind of incentive – "Wine, free sandwiches!"
  • using social media channels and a website for publicity
  • communicating involvement as being in people's interest - "There's something in it for them"
  • taking it to the community – "Knocking on doors, community groups"
  • financial incentives

"Having a reward that's not just a good feeling could be good for younger people. Some people will just do it, whereas others ask what will I get out of it? I think people need to know how certain situations affect them even if they think it doesn't. A lot of the time you don't want to get involved if you think something doesn't affect you personally."

Younger Urban group participant

Preferred means of engagement

Online engagement was the preferred method for those who said they would be interested in greater future engagement in decision-making around land, planning and developments in their area. Just over half of respondents (55%) selected this as their preferred means of engagement with 34% happy to be involved both online or face to face, and just 10% expressing a preference for in-person engagement only. Those aged 55 and over were more likely than those aged 16 to 54 to prefer in-person engagement only (16% compared with 7%).

Figure 9.4 Q And would you prefer to be involved online, in person or both?

Chart description below

Base: Those keen to be more involved in future engagement in decision-making (n=952)

Chart Description

Figure 9.4 is a chart showing respondents’ preferred mode of engagement – 55% -“Online”, 10% -“In person”, 34% - “Both”

No single method of engagement was unanimously preferred in the deliberative research, and it was felt there was a need for a multi-pronged approach encompassing meetings and leaflets through people's doors alongside social media and online engagement to reach all groups of people.

It was suggested that the societal changes resulting from the COVID-19 lockdown might make future engagement online easier in future.



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