Attitudes to land reform: research
This report outlines the main findings from research exploring public attitudes to land reform.
Annex 1: Evidence Review and Expert Interviews
This evidence review explores what is already known about public attitudes towards land reform in Scotland. Although there has been limited research specifically on this topic, some publications have considered how land reform is relevant to different sectors of society in different parts of the country. The findings of the review will be used to shape the questions posed to participants in the national survey and deliberative workshops.
The review begins with some background to contemporary land reform in Scotland (for a more detailed history of Scottish land reform and the associated legislation and policies, see Combe et al. 2020 and/or the recent SPICe 2019 briefing on the topic). Next, the main themes of land reform are discussed to provide some boundaries for the types of topics that will be considered in the later parts of the project.
Finally, insights are drawn from recent work that has considered public understanding of these themes, as well as public perspectives in relation to land use more generally. The review also collates the views of eight experts who have professional experience and understanding of public attitudes to land reform. These experts were asked to discuss the range of public attitudes towards land reform policies, as well as how prevalent different attitudes are in different places and in different types of communities.
Contemporary land reform in Scotland and the 2003 Act
It is widely accepted that Scotland has the most concentrated pattern of private land ownership in Europe (see for example, Lorimer 2000; Wightman 2013) due to several historic factors, such as feudalism, succession laws, fiscal policies, and agricultural support (Thomson et al. 2016). During the first half of the 20th century, significant areas of land were acquired into public ownership and the number of owner-occupied farms increased in some lowland areas (Land Reform Review Group 2014). Recent decades have seen further incremental shifts, including increased ownership by environmental charities and a number of community 'buyouts' of private estates (Mackenzie 2012; McMorran et al. 2014). Nevertheless, over the last 40 years, the proportion of public, as compared to private land ownership, has remained similar and the dominance of large-scale private ownership that has perpetuated over several centuries is a central focus of contemporary debate (Wightman 2013; Combe 2018).
The Land Reform Policy Group (LRPG), established by the Scottish Office in 1997, concluded that the existing system of land ownership was inhibiting development in rural communities and causing natural heritage degradation as a result of poor land management (LRPG 1998). This led to the adoption of the core objective of contemporary Scottish land reform policy: "to remove the land-based barriers to the sustainable development of rural communities" (LRPG 1998). This could only be achieved through: a) increasing diversity in land ownership – between private, public, partnership, not-for-profit and community sectors; and b) increasing community involvement in local decision-making about how land is owned and managed (LRPG 1998).
Following these early reviews, the first step in the contemporary land reform process was the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc. (Scotland) Act 2000, which removed the centuries-old system of feudal tenure. Following devolution and the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, momentum for land reform increased. The Scottish Land Fund was established in 2001, providing financial resources to communities to support land purchase.
Building on these initial developments, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 introduced three main measures:
- a statutory right of responsible (non-motorised) access over most land
- a community (pre-emptive) 'right to buy' which gave eligible community bodies the right to register an interest in rural (settlements of less than 10,000 people) land and the opportunity to buy that land when it comes up for sale
- the crofting community right to buy, whereby crofting community bodies may register an interest in land and purchase that land (regardless of whether the owner wishes to sell), subject to approval by Scottish Ministers.
In practice, uptake of both the Community Right to Buy and Crofting Right to Buy, and conversion of applications into full community acquisitions, has been limited. By 2018, just 22 (13%) of the 174 community bodies which had applied to register an interest in land under the Community Right to Buy had successfully acquired the land or asset, with only two crofting communities having submitted applications under the Crofting Right to Buy over the same period (Scottish Government, 2015). The number of applications has increased slightly since 2015, perhaps influenced by increased funding availability and greater public awareness of land reform generally (McMorran et al. 2018). Critically, the 2003 Act is considered to have had additional indirect impacts, motivating community buyouts which occurred through negotiation without recourse to legislative measures and enabling a power shift away from private landowners towards communities (Macleod et al. 2010; Warren and McKee 2011).
The 2014 land reform review and the 2016 Act
Recognising a loss of momentum in land reform, the Scottish Government established the Land Reform Review Group (LRRG) in 2012, with the aim of 'generating innovative and radical proposals on land reform that will contribute to the success of Scotland for future generations'. The group's remit noted that:
"The relationship between the land and the people of Scotland is fundamental to the wellbeing, economic success, environmental sustainability and social justice of the country. The structure of land ownership is a defining factor in that relationship: it can facilitate and promote development, but it can also hinder it."
The report set out a series of recommendations, including increasing community input to land use decision-making, increasing transparency around controlling interests in land, and the development of measures to reduce the concentrated pattern of private land ownership. The review also identified a need for a greater focus on urban areas in relation to land reform, recommending that the support provided to communities in the Highlands and Islands should be made available to communities across Scotland. It was also recommended that the Scottish Government should take a more integrated and focused approach to supporting local community land ownership.
The Scottish Ministers responded to the Group's recommendations by establishing a working group for increasing community land ownership and developing legislation: the Community Empowerment Act (Scotland) 2015 and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 contained amendments to simplify the Community Right to Buy process. It also established measures to support community bodies through the ownership or control of land and buildings (Asset Transfer), and to ensure their voices are heard in decisions about public services.
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 represents a major step for land reform in Scotland and the culmination of decades of debate and inquiry. The 2016 Act incorporates a range of inter-related provisions including:
- a requirement for development of a Scottish Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement (LRRS) (published in 2017) to improve the relationship between the land and people of Scotland, where rights and responsibilities in relation to land are fully recognised and fulfilled
- establishment of the Scottish Land Commission to review the effectiveness and impact of current and potential future laws and policies relating to land
- powers for Scottish Ministers to provide for the disclosure of information about controlling interests in land and the establishment of a public Register of Controlling Interests in land
- development of Guidance on Engaging Communities in Decisions relating to land (published in 2018) to support landowners/managers engaging constructively with communities
- a new Right to Buy to Further Sustainable Development which follows the new Right to Buy Abandoned, Neglected and Detrimental Land
- additional measures relating to sporting land management (including provision for sporting rates), access and agricultural holdings and changes in use of common good land.
Collectively, these measures have increased support for implementing and developing land reform legislation, reinforcing a fundamental shift in the balance of power between communities and landowners.
Land reform policy themes
Land reform is "a broad concept and is considered to include measures which modify or change the management, use and possession of land in the public interest" (SPICe 2019). Unlike in other countries where land reform measures focus on the individual or tenant, the emphasis in Scotland is on the community and the role that land plays in supporting communities (Hoffman 2013). The community's right to buy land and assets is the main legislative mechanism for enabling community ownership in Scotland (although many buyouts occur outwith the legislation, as described above). However, land reform is "no longer totally synonymous with community ownership" and a broad range of themes exist (SPICe 2019).
These themes are diverse and include: community ownership and management of assets, vacant and derelict land, housing, human rights, agricultural land, public access, property law, transparency of ownership, landowner rights and responsibilities, and community engagement. Public interests and the role of communities feature strongly in relation to all of these themes, with Scottish land policy increasingly rooted in concerns about fairness, equality and the fulfilment of human rights (Peacock 2018).
In parallel with land reform legislation, the Scottish Government's Land Use Strategy (2016-2021) contains objectives to better connect urban and rural communities with the land and to "identify and publicise effective ways for communities to contribute to land use debates and decision-making". These measures place increasing pressure on all landowners to ensure sustainable land management and to involve and suppport communities with respect to land use decision-making processes.
There is also growing awareness that rural and urban land use are strongly linked to the role that communities will play in mitigating climate change, and that communities need to be able to participate in the development and implementation of nature conservation and landscape policy.
The Scottish Government supports land reform to diversify land ownership in Scotland. From community to conservation ownership, a more balanced mixed economy is envisioned for the future. Underpinning this are competing priorities, from environmental and climate change concerns, renewable energy and forestry, sustainable development and community empowerment. Contemporary land reform is therefore a means to wider ends. The historical thrust of much of the land reform debate, however, has been around an end in itself - to break the private 'monopoly' of much of Scottish land ownership as a principle.
From a societal perspective, the LRRS and the Guidance on engaging communities in decisions related to land (Scottish Government 2018a) recognise and emphasise the importance of engaging communities in land use decision-making. Following the declaration by the First Minister in 2019 of a climate emergency, the involvement of the public in decisions around land use are likely to be of continually increasing importance.
Public understanding and experience of land reform
Current levels of awareness, understanding and appetite for land reform among the general public in Scotland are largely unknown, particularly beyond those groups with a specific interest in land reform (for example, landowners, landowning bodies, land managers etc.). In 2010, land ownership was found not to be a "top-of-mind issue" for the general public (George Street Research 2010), although the broadening of land reform policy and the recent legislation, as outlined in the previous section, may have increased public awareness.
The rationale for the current land reform agenda in Scotland is increasingly centred in themes of fairness, rights and responsibilities, community engagement and economic growth. These are themes with universal application, and therefore relevance, to the Scottish public. Land reform legislation represents a relatively complex field, with awareness of the specifics of legislative measures potentially low among the general public. However, the broader themes of contemporary land reform outlined above are important to all and are often likely to feature in the public's consciousness in relation to current day politics.
In relation to human rights, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 uses the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as a guiding framework. Shields (2018) explains that the ICESCR approach encourages land to be "unlocked" in the pursuit of human rights. In Scotland, this translates to increased attention being paid to the balance between the right to property, and economic, social, and cultural rights. For example, this is particularly relevant to the redevelopment of vacant and derelict land because, as Shields explains, using vacant land to create space for affordable homes can progress people's right to housing. Similarly, using this type of land to create community greenspaces or other public goods can progress people's rights to food and health.
Until recently, there has been a lack of research on the impacts of vacant and derelict land on communities. The most recent Scottish Vacant and Derelict Land Survey recorded 11,037 hectares of derelict and urban vacant land in Scotland in 2018 (a 6% decrease from 2017) (Scottish Government 2018b). Much of this land has been vacant or derelict for more than 20 years, and has been found to have a disproportionate effect on disadvantaged communities. 58% of people living in the most deprived decile in Scotland are estimated to live within 500m of derelict land, compared to 11% in the least deprived decile.
In 2019, Peter Brett Associates led a team of researchers who identified data sources to profile health, environment, economic and community impacts related to vacant and derelict land. They also carried out stakeholder engagement to examine the harmful effects of vacant and derelict land on communities across a wide range of sites. The research revealed a range of negative impacts, including: poorer health outcomes, population health and life expectancy; negative impacts on community wellbeing; environmental pollution related to contaminated sites; and, the loss of vacant and derelict sites that had previously been used as greenspaces (Peter Brett Associates 2019).
The work published by the Scottish Land Commission in 2019 was also an important step towards understanding the experiences of members of the public who live and work in areas with large-scale and concentrated land ownership (Glenn et al. 2019). Acknowledging Principle 2 of the LRRS (that there should be a more diverse pattern of land ownership and tenure), the research looked specifically at rural Scotland, where large-scale landholdings are common. Hindle et al. (2014) estimate that 1,125 owners hold 4.1 million hectares (70% of Scotland's rural land).
Following the public call for evidence, the research received responses from more than 400 people. The responses revealed a range of public perspectives and experiences related to the benefits and disadvantages of land being owned by a small number of people. Most frequently, respondents identified issues related to the link between how land is owned and the ability of rural communities to realise their economic potential. Other themes included the link between land ownership and local housing needs, community cohesion, the natural environment, agriculture and land management. In relation to local housing needs, depopulation remains an important issue for many rural communities, and this has also acted as a main driver for community ownership of land and assets. Overall, most of the disadvantages noted by those submitting evidence to the Scottish Land Commission's research were related to the concentration of power of land use decisions (and parallels with monopoly power in wider economic policy), rather than related to the size of landholdings. Based on this work the Scottish Land Commission (2019) made recommendations to Scottish Ministers which include the need for new statutory mechanisms to address the issues identified in the research.
Communities and land use decision-making
The LRRS sets out a vision for "a strong and dynamic relationship" between Scotland's land and people (Scottish Government, 2017). To realise that vision, Principle 6 of the LRRS calls for "greater collaboration and community engagement in decisions about land".
Scotland's Regeneration Forum (SURF) recently held workshops with community members in Govan, East Kirkcaldy and Rothesay to discuss how the Scottish Land Commission's guidance and protocol on community engagement in land use decision-making 'fits' with their daily lived experiences. While there was general awareness among participants of the need for cohesive, place-based policies and bottom-up governance, planning and ownership issues are largely viewed as "unclear and complicated" (SURF, n.d. p.5). There was also agreement that encouraging land owners and managers to engage with 'the community' is not simple, particularly in urban communities. A conclusion of this work is the acknowledgement that many of the difficulties experienced by communities in relation to land result from "genuine misunderstandings and confusion about existing protocols, rights and responsibilities and, crucially, mistaken assumptions about what others needed and/or wanted" (p.6).
A lack of knowledge about how decisions are made about urban land and buildings was also noted by Young Scot (2019). Their survey focused on young people's perceptions of the urban built environment they live in, as well as whether they feel they can have an impact on land use decision-making. The survey found that 62% had little or no knowledge about how decisions are made, particularly in relation to who owns derelict land and buildings. There was also confusion regarding why these sites remain stagnant for so long. Only 9.4% felt they had some say in how land and buildings in their town or city are used. Young people's perceptions of housing in urban areas was often negative, with responses highlighting poor quality and unaffordable housing, as well as a sense of disempowerment and a loss of greenspaces to new developments. Respondents wanted urban areas to offer more 'creative spaces' (67%) and access to growing spaces (55%). Half of the respondents were aware of the community right to buy land and buildings in urban areas. Just under half were aware that communities can request to lease, own or have other rights over publicly owned buildings and land. There was little awareness of Common Good property, with only 14% understanding the term.
Recent work by Brown and Leibowitz (2019) also found confusion about the status of Common Good land and assets, and Common Good Funds in Scotland, due to issues such as poor record-keeping, financial mismanagement and legal imprecision. Combined, these factors have led to inadequate knowledge among Scottish citizens and local authorities about the existence of Common Good land and assets, and how to make the most of them in the public interest. However, more thought has been placed on how the Common Good can be updated in the future, as a result of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. The general public's awareness of the existence of Common Good land and assets remains unclear, as does their understanding of what a modern, progressive form of Common Good should look like.
Public attitudes to land use in general
A Scottish Government study on citizens' forums, attitudes to agriculture, environment and rural priorities (Diffley et al. 2019) asked participants to identify principles they believed underpin the agricultural sector in Scotland. Participants identified: healthy and productive use of land, protecting ensuring high quality food production, progressing environmental protection, and ensuring financial assistance is based on greatest need as the most important principles. The participants noted that Scottish farming was fundamental to maintaining the Scottish economy and provides a public service (for example, through provision of locally sourced foods). The need to maintain the health and productivity of the land was also noted, and for this to be supported through policy developments. There was some indication that participants were keen to see a transition towards increased levels of fruit and vegetable production, balanced with reduced meat production, following increased awareness of animal welfare and environmental sustainability issues.
The results of the citizens' forums study showed a general awareness of the need for environmental protection and ecological diversity, although this was more apparent from those under the age of 35 than those over 35. The participants indicated that they would welcome enhanced cooperation between land owners to balance productive and unproductive land uses and preserve ecosystems. There was support for funding allocation which enhances environmental goals and supports smaller farms. In rural areas, there was a slightly heightened awareness of the connectivity between agriculture and the environment, although this awareness was generally low overall. The participants recognised the role of farmers working on poorer quality land and the wider socio-economic benefits they bring, for example, acting as employment anchors within an area. As such, they supported specific allocation of funding for farms in this group.
Much of the literature concerned with attitudes towards land use focuses on public access to outdoor space. Swanwick (2009) notes that we can observe attitudes to the land through observation of behaviour and patterns of (landscape) consumption, as well as understanding individuals' values. She suggests that as a society, we are aware of the benefits that we reap from green spaces, community gardens, national parks, etc., and as such, value their preservation.
McVey et al. (2018) also identified that the public values the social and wellbeing benefits of engaging with community gardens (including neighbourly engagement, leisure, social support, community health, connectedness and diversity, empowerment, sanctuary, place attachment) (also see Kingsley et al. 2009). In pursuit of environmental justice, some groups are organising themselves to make available more opportunities for these benefits (McVey et al. 2018). Similar perceptions of benefits were identified in a study by van der Jagt and Lawrence (2019), on urban forests. However, in this study, concerns over tree safety and the responsibility of local authorities to manage and maintain such land uses were also identified. The authors highlight the difficulties that local authorities have in providing such maintenance and how this may conflict with public desire to have access to these spaces.
Some studies have highlighted uncertainty and concern among the public regarding changes in land use which may diminish their opportunities for outdoor access. McVey et al. (2018) reported feelings ofanxiety among participants in relation to impacts of land reform and unequal access to land in Scotland. They noted that they felt community gardens and allotments in Scotland were perceived by councils and governments as barriers to new development and that eventually the planning system would overrule their right to access the land. Pacione (2019) reported strong opposition to housing developments in Scotland, with the primary motivator being disagreement with the development's incursion on to greenbelt land. Other important reasons included loss of open space and impacts on facilities, infrastructure and culture.
The central message in the studies which highlight concern around land use change was a feeling of helplessness in the face of planning and development. In both cases presented above, the participants were fearful of losing access to land and being overruled by authorities. To complement this, Revell and Dinnie (2018) note a sense of disenfranchisement in the Scottish public resulting from a disconnection from the land and decision-making processes around land use. They identify that issues around local democracy, land ownership, land prices and land-use planning are necessary for emboldening communities and supporting action and engagement on the topic of land use. Although there are a number of studies on attitudes towards green spaces, they tend to focus on the urban or suburban population (for example, McVey et al. 2018; Pacione 2019) or are international in scope (for example, Bonaiuto et al. 2002; Ives and Kendal 2013). Therefore, more could be done to understand public attitudes to greenspace in rural areas and towards other forms of rural land use, for example commercial forestry, agriculture, private ownership, etc., specifically in the Scottish context.
Summary concluding points
The initial themes evident from this review can be summarised as:
- 1. The recent policy momentum and related initiatives in Scotland (for example, the development of the Scottish Land Commission) have increased the profile of land reform as a government agenda in Scotland. This may have increased public awareness around land reform.
- 2. Collectively, the raft of recent policy and wider measures have increased support for implementing and developing land reform legislation, reinforcing a fundamental shift in the balance of power between communities and landowners.
- 3. Land reform legislation and wider measures including the Land Use Strategy and LRRS have placed increasing pressure on landowners to involve communities with respect to land use decision-making processes. Local communities and the general public are therefore increasingly central to the land reform process.
- 4. As an agenda, land reform has broadened in scope to include a wide range of activities, with the rationale for further land reform focused on themes of fairness, rights and responsibilities, community engagement and economic growth. These themes have universal application and are therefore of considerable relevance and interest to the Scottish public. Nevertheless, levels of awareness, understanding and appetite for land reform among the public are largely unknown, particularly beyond those stakeholders more directly involved with the land.
- 5. Based on recent consultations relating to land reform and land use, the general public frequently identify concerns relating to the link between how land is owned and the ability of rural communities to realise their economic potential; and concerns around local housing needs and depopulation, maintaining community cohesion, the natural environment, agriculture and land management.
- 6. An important additional concern among the general public relating to land and landownership relates to concern around loss of access to areas due to planning and development and a sense of disempowerment in the Scottish public resulting from a disconnection from the land and decision-making processes around land use.
- 7. Land ownership and planning related issues are often perceived by the general public as complex and lacking clarity, with engagement between landowners and communities often challenging in practice, particularly in urban communities. As well as the broader challenges for communities and the general public identified above, additional challenges can result from misunderstandings and confusion about existing protocols, rights and responsibilities, mistaken assumptions about what others needed and/or wanted and low awareness about how decisions are being made in relation to land and other assets. These issues can occur in both rural and urban contexts and particularly in relation to who owns derelict land and buildings.
- 8. In general, members of the general public appear to recognise and value the benefits derived from land, including both those related to the potential for development and health and well-being benefits linked to accessing green space.
Between March and May 2020, eight in-depth interviews were carried out with a range of land reform experts. The aims of these interviews were to inform a review of existing evidence of public attitudes to land reform and support a public questionnaire being carried out by Ipsos MORI. Interviewees were selected to provide a range of views from a number of experts in land reform, including: a Scottish university academic; Community Land Scotland (CLS); Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTA Scotland); James Hutton Institute (JHI); Ramblers Scotland; Scottish Land and Estates (SLE); Scottish Land Commission (SLC) and Scotland's Regeneration Forum (SURF). A discussion of the main themes that emerged from the interviews is detailed below. To ensure anonymity of responses, names of interviewees and organisations have not been attributed to specific responses. However, an indication of the commonality of each response is specified where possible.
Extent of Scottish public awareness of land reform policy
Interviewees noted when generalising about the whole Scottish public that there is little awareness of the effect of land reform and that the number of people involved in the land reform debate is quite small. Interviewees noted that it is likely that members of the public often do not realise they have been affected by land reform policy and are likely to be more interested in how land reform affects them directly rather than what land reform is. One interviewee from a membership organisation noted that there is a link between the age of individuals and their level of interest in land reform, with younger people generally being more interested in the debate. One interviewee summed up their thoughts on public perceptions of land reform by saying that people are likely to be more affected by, and potentially interested in, issues relating to land and land reform than they may fully realise.
The general public perceive land reform favourably
A consensus among interviewees was that the general public perceive land reform favourably for different reasons. However, it was agreed that this is only the case for those who are aware of land reform and able to understand it. It was noted that although there is a general lack of public awareness about land reform, once people are aware of the issues related to land reform, they often believe some form of change is required. However, there are discrepancies regarding how that change is defined. According to interviewees, changes are required to ensure that large landowners and communities are working together to support meaningful engagement, increase capacities of community groups, and support greater sharing of the land's resources.
One interviewee felt that "community empowerment is probably seen as positive as long as it delivers tangible benefits in practice for communities".The interviewees also noted that some people's view of land reform is that it is not "happening quickly enough and is not as radical as some would want it to be". One interviewee felt that although the public are generally favourable towards land reform, some see land reform as "an attack on big landowners".Some interviewees noted there are mixed views among landowners on land reform. Some landowners were noted as already actively engaging with communities. Others appear to retain the view that community engagement is not a necessary component of land management and development activities.
Interviewees acknowledged that the stakeholders they have met at meetings are already those who are involved and aware of land reform. Thus, it is important to increase awareness and widen the audience for the land reform debate.
Public awareness of land reform should be increased
All interviewees agreed that public awareness of land reform should be increased. One interviewee discussed that public awareness of land, the fundamentals of land, and how it affects day-to-day lives should be increased before increasing awareness of land reform itself. One interviewee stated that, "we need to get people to understand how fundamental land is and how it affects day-to-day issues, like where people are able to buy a house and how much it costs". Another interviewee noted that we should not focus solely on increasing awareness but on the nature of this awareness. In other words, what do the public understand as land reform and how do they perceive land and land reform as impacting their lives?
Several methods of increasing awareness were discussed by the interviewees, as a way to open the debate beyond those who already have vested interests in land reform. Direct community involvement in land reform and publicity around buyouts were not viewed as sufficient for growing wider public awareness (that is, among those less directly affected) of both the importance of land and land reform. Interviewees suggested the use of traditional media, as well as social media. One interviewee stated that innovative methods would be the most effective way of increasing public awareness. Others suggested presenting relevant statistics via accessible graphics, short films, and the creation of case studies to demonstrate success. One interviewee noted the importance of encouraging the general public to get a sense of what community ownership involves in rural and urban contexts.
Some aspects of land reform are well-understood
Several interviewees agreed that public awareness of land reform is increasing, with one participant noting that "land reform is becoming less polarised".However, increasing awareness is a long-term process, and the actual level of understanding of land reform was seen as debatable. Interviewees agreed that, generally, the public are most likely to be aware of land reform in relation to responsible access and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC), potentially due to the high level of public engagement linked to the SOAC and related public campaigns. Keen walkers were referred to as generally having an awareness around access rights, but they may not always identify this knowledge as relating in any way to land reform. Additionally, some of those members of the general public who access the countryside regularly were noted as generally being aware that they have defined access rights, but they may not necessarily fully understand the meaning and implications of 'responsible' access.
Community land buyouts were also referred to as being more widely understood. This understanding was partly seen as driven by media attention around specific buyouts, with these community acquisitions having collectively raised the profile of the land reform agenda. However, for some people land reform was perceived as often being related mainly to emotive historic aspects, such as large private estates and links to the clearances. This contrasts with current government and agency objectives for land reform, which were recognised as centred on ensuring current and future opportunities for social and economic development in Scotland's communities.
The media influences awareness and opinions of land reform
The media were recognised as having influenced awareness about land reform but not always in a positive light. One example referred to by interviewees was the community purchase of the Isle of Ulva, which received a high level of financial support from the Scottish Land Fund. This led to a considerable amount of discussion among the general public and within the media, on whether the purchase was an appropriate use of public money. Other interviewees argued that media influence has driven public perception of land reform to some extent, including coverage related to the Highland Clearances and the well-documented Isle of Eigg buyout, for example. Other interviewees argued that the media, at times, supported/reinforced stereotypical attitudes towards landownership, using 'unfortunate' headlines. However, interviewees noted that there is considerable value to balanced and well-informed media coverage for increasing awareness and understanding of land reform and related issues and these are well received. Coverage of the topic on the BBC programme 'Landward' was noted in this respect.
Land reform is still seen as more relevant to rural areas
The majority of interviewees noted that there is a perception among the general public that land reform mainly impacts and is only relevant to communities in rural areas. Interviewees noted that people in rural areas commonly have a closer relationship with the land and a deeper historical understanding of land, compared with those densely populated urban areas. This relationship was perceived by some interviewees as potentially causing an increased awareness of land reform in rural areas as compared with urban areas. People living in the Highlands and Islands were generally perceived as having a greater awareness of land reform due to their awareness of the Clearances, crofting culture and the growth of community ownership in these regions in recent decades. Communities in urban areas were seen as generally less aware of the role and potential impacts of land reform. Nevertheless, this urban-rural separation in relation to land reform was perceived as changing from land reform as a predominantly rural interest to now including urban contexts, such as in relation to abandoned and derelict land and communities aiming to purchase land in the South of Scotland or the Central Belt for community benefit.
There are different views on how land reform impacts on the general public
There were some difference between the views of interviewees on the effect of land reform on the general public. This was mainly driven by a perceived lack of clarity on what constitutes land reform. Some interviewees stated that all members of the general public are effected by land reform, for example in relation to access rights and additional community rights relating to land acquisition or purchase. However, the link to land reform policy was seen as not always clearly evident. A common theme was the lack of drawing links between the impacts of land reform and land reform policy in practice, for example one interviewee felt that 'many members see the hill tracks as an issue, however, they do not link this to land reform'. On the other hand, some interviewees stated that there are only certain groups of people who are impacted by land reform, albeit this may change with the government shift to the urban context of land reform such as in relation to Community Right to Buy Abandoned, Neglected or Detrimental Land (in terms of the relevant legislation).
Access to housing and affordable land is a major impact of land reform
Several interviewees noted that a fundamental impact of land reform was the potential for increasing access to suitable land for housing and housing development. Particularly in urban areas, land reform has the potential for effecting people in relation to opportunities for developing homes and the use of derelict land. 'Considerable frustration' among the public was recognised in relation to poor access to housing, particularly among younger generations. Land reform was recognised as being important in relation to addressing some of the underlying reasons for rural depopulation, which was viewed as challenging to address unless communities have access to land, with unaffordable housing resulting in increasing out-migration of young people from an area.
Main challenges relating to public awareness and understanding of land reform
The planning system is complex
The complexity of the planning system was seen by three of the interviewees as a challenge in relation to land reform and the general public's awareness of it. The complexity and poor inclusivity of the planning system can make people less likely to respond to planning applications and engage in planning and community development. Plans such as Local Development Plans, Community Resilience Plans and Estate plans were seen as needing to be more effectively linked with each other to make it easier for communities to interact with them and related land use decision-making processes. One interviewee noted that the planning process, despite attempts to make it more efficient and transparent, remains 'a different language; to many and is often perceived as inaccessible to the general public.
This point was supported by another interviewee who noted that their members felt they were not knowledgeable enough to engage with planning applications. However, it was noted that planning has a role to play in community engagement. Increasing community powers by giving communities resources and decision-making powers was perceived as potentially working well in well-organised communities (for example, in Portobello). Nevertheless, an increased emphasis on localised planning and development processes may be more challenging in areas which are more disadvantaged, unless community capacity is increased. One interviewee stated that a move away from the formal planning process is required, as the process often fails to generate constructive community discussions and there is a requirement for more 'bottom up' community plans and planning decisions.
Land reform crosses policy sectors
Three interviewees raised the point that land reform does not exist 'in a bubble' and the majority of policy areas in Scotland have a land reform dimension within them, including access rights, purchasing land for development, the planning system, community empowerment and addressing depopulation. This cross-sectoral aspect of land reform policy can be a challenge, as it is difficult to make different parts of the land reform policy agenda relatable to the general public due to the fact that land reform touches upon multiple different sectors and policy areas and so is confusing as to what land reform is in practice. It is important to spread awareness among policy makers about land reform so they can see its interrelationships with other policy areas. Communication and relevant agencies working together were perceived as potentially helping to bridge the gap between stakeholder awareness and wider public awareness and understanding of the main facets of land reform.
Community capacity affects land reform outcomes
Interviewees highlighted that there are substantial challenges in relation to poverty and inequality across Scotland and in urban areas, referring to legislation such as the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, which provides communities with opportunities to take ownership of land and assets, including specific assets under public ownership. Despite the opportunities posed by this legislation (and the Community Right to Buy legislation under the 2003 Land Reform Act), these measures were recognised by some interviewees as also potentially inadvertently increasing inequality. Communities that are well-resourced can take advantage of what the relevant legislation supports (that is, they have greater available capacity to take advantage of specific legislative measures designed to increase opportunities for community ownership of land and assets), whereas those communities which are more disadvantaged are more focused on other areas, including putting food on the table, and have less capacity to take advantage of these measures.
Re-engaging the public in land use-decision making and land reform
Current levels of community engagement and other public engagement in land use-decision making are not sufficient
All bar one interviewee agreed that the current levels of community engagement in land use-decision making are not sufficient. One interviewee noted that it is hard to generalise about levels of public engagement in land use, as land owners and managers fall into two broad categories: those who believe they need to have an equal relationship with the community, and those with the belief that communities are not aware of land management. Interviewees recognised some positive examples of community engagement in the planning system which could be extended further. One interviewee noted that 'we have a major problem in Scotland' - the population size in local authority areas is not comparable with the rest of the EU, for example there are 10,000-18,000 people per local authority in Germany, compared with some cases of 160,000 people per local authority in Scotland. The inequality results in the mechanisms to make change and engage communities in decision-making processes being constrained.
Land reform discourse should be reframed
Interviewees highlighted how it is not necessarily a lack of interest in land reform that effects awareness and engagement with the issue. Often, it is a lack of understanding of what land reform is and how it affects people that is the challenge. The effects of land reform are not always packaged or marketed as 'land reform', so people may often be more aware of specific measures or outcomes related to land reform than they realise. Interviewees emphasised a need for wider societal debate and discussion about land reform which moves beyond existing land reform terminology to 'talk about it [land reform] and not just use the land reform terms'. Reframing the discussion is important to increase awareness and move away from the stereotypical view that land reform is based largely around private estates. Steps could include publishing the desired outcomes of land reform and increasing awareness of the public and private benefits attributable to Scotland's land, as well as demonstrating how land reform is not only of relevance to rural people. Land reform needs to be spoken about more openly with greater transparency as to what it is, and the effects associated with the land reform agenda.
Community and stakeholder capacity building are important
Capacity building is required to support community engagement, to generate discussion and to illustrate the value of effective public consultation to landowners. Interviewees raised the common issue of the same people sitting on community groups and organisations, which leads to these groups often not being inclusive nor fully representing the community's views. Often, the members of groups are from older generations, due to limited wider community capacity (particularly in rural areas) and the time commitment associated with being a member of a community group. An additional challenge recognised by some interviewees is the challenge for community groups being involved in decision-making processes related to land, particularly in rural areas, when there is a perceived lack of their capacity and knowledge about land management.
Inclusive awareness raising of land reform is required
Four interviewees discussed that communication and awareness raising needs to be inclusive, to consider issues holistically and from a Scotland-wide standpoint as opposed to from a rural or urban perspective. These interviewees emphasised that more needs to be done to communicate and demonstrate the relevance of land reform to those in the South of Scotland and in urban areas. Several interviewees noted that to engage people effectively and increase wider societal awareness, land reform, which is a very broad topic, needs to be made relevant to people's everyday lives. Increasing relevance of land reform may be through demonstrating the benefits of land reform across multiple communities through, for example, highlighting the outcomes from existing community buyouts, community facilities development and successful public asset transfers. All interviewees recognised that land reform does not only effect those in rural areas. Nevertheless, increasing transparency of what land reform is and how it is relevant to urban areas was recognised as requiring further work. It is important for the Scottish Government and other stakeholders to look at how the multiple benefits of land reform can be effectively communicated to the public at large.
Several interviewees discussed potential future changes in land use decision-making processes and public awareness of land reform. Some argued that, due to increased uptake of community ownership in recent years, the full outcomes of community ownership (for example, social, economic and environmental) are likely to be better understood over the longer term. Over time, increased community ownership also offers scope for further diversifying the overall pattern of landownership in Scotland. One interviewee stated that in the future there is likely to be a greater shift to smaller scale community ownership and the urban context of land reform. Another interviewee noted that in the future every major land holding will have a community engagement plan and a defined structure set for ongoing community engagement in decision-making processes. Some interviewees discussed the potential requirement for statutory consultation, to ensure meaningful consultation between landowners and communities occurs widely in the future.
It is early days for the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement (LRRS)
Most interviewees agreed that the LRRS is improving societal engagement with the land and improving relations between landowners and the general public. Some interviewees felt it was a framework and a 'powerful statement' which is beginning to influence what people are doing, however, changing embedded attitudes was perceived as requiring considerable time. Another interviewee noted how the LLRS is not 'as much of a lever to encourage landowners to engage with public, it does not have much teeth, it does not overlap explicitly with the Land Use Strategy'. Several interviewees commented that it is too early to determine whether the LRRS has been successful and others stated that further case studies are required to help increase awareness and evidence the success of the LRRS, as well as appropriate guidance, incentives, sanctions and legislation. One interviewee noted that they expect a decade is required to determine whether the LRRS has had a more general influence and that the changes from LRRS will be a 'slow burn'.
The Scottish Land Commission (SLC) has a critical role to play
Several interviewees discussed the role of the SLC as important for increasing public awareness of land reform. Specific responses included that: the SLC are producing useful and helpful statements; the SLC can and will raise awareness on how land reform can support rural Scotland without using the term land reform; they are researching areas that are less obvious in their link to land reform; and they are increasing awareness of land reform among younger people. The SLC was also perceived as 'doing a good job' and spreading the word in terms of what it wants to do and what the land reform agenda should be. The SLC was also recognised as helping to define the land reform agenda as much broader than what it would have been in the past, which will mean it effects more people.
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