10. Conclusions and implications
The research revealed that the public have a strong sense of pride in Scotland's land and an awareness of the wide range of ways in which the land benefits individuals and the country as a whole. They are also aware of some of the challenges and potential trade-offs which need to be made when making decisions about land use.
There is low awareness of the Scottish Government's land reform agenda as a whole (though slightly more awareness of some specific aspects such as CRtB and access rights). However, once explained to participants, there is considerable support for the overall aims and for specific policies on diversification of land ownership, vacant and derelict land, access rights and community involvement in decision-making. Concerns tended to relate to elements of implementation rather than the policies themselves. These included:
- a view that, while current access rights probably strike the right balance, more should be done to educate the public about their responsibilities, there should be more clarity about landowners' responsibilities in respect of allowing easy access, and there should be guidance on what to do in the event of a dispute
- a concern that communities may lack the resources and expertise to manage assets, and may be susceptible to volunteer fatigue in the longer term and therefore that support should be provided
- a concern about the relative cost-benefits of large-scale buyouts (including as land values rise). This was related by some directly to value for money in terms of the number of people likely to benefit. It also highlights the issue of rising land values as a future challenge not just in economic but also social terms
There is an evident appetite among the public for greater involvement in decisions about land use. Initiatives to encourage this should tap into the pride that is felt in Scotland's land, but also the concerns about vacant and derelict land, about the lack of community facilities and about land not being used to benefit local communities.
The term 'land reform' is perceived as somewhat unclear and is associated with undeveloped, rural land. It is not connected with tangible issues and initiatives that effect people. This has implications for how land reform is positioned: a greater emphasis on the urban elements (both urban greenspace and buildings), and buildings in rural towns and villages, may help engage more of the public and help them see the relevance of land reform to their own lives. Examples of successful community buy-outs (particularly urban examples) and repurposing of vacant and derelict land should be publicised.
There should also be a focus on encouraging early involvement in decisions about how land should be used. More fundamentally perhaps, the experiences of members of the public involved decision-making, suggest a need to consider the structures and processes within which communities can engage to meaningfully affect decisions (particularly in urban areas).
A multi-pronged approached is required both to raise awareness of opportunities for involvement (for example, through local newspapers, social media, leaflets through doors) and for the engagement activities themselves (including online methods, meetings, and 'knocking on doors' or engaging people when they are out and about in the community).
The finding demonstrate that, although people in the most deprived areas are less likely to have been involved in decisions, they show a similar level of interest in being involved in the future. They are also more likely to be affected by vacant and derelict land in their area. This suggests a need to prioritise and support engagement activities in these areas.