5. Diversification of land ownership
This section will first address the public's awareness of land ownership in Scotland, and of the Scottish Government's plans to diversify it. It will then explore opinions on land ownership and, specifically, the Community Right to Buy.
Main findings and implications
Survey respondents were more aware of Scottish Government policy supporting communities to buy land and buildings than they were of its plans for land reform more generally: 40% of people said they were aware of this policy.
The majority thought there was not enough information available about who owns the land in Scotland.
Most people said they supported the Scottish Government's plans to diversify land ownership (34% strongly support, 37% tend to support, and only 7% were opposed). In the deliberative discussions, there was general support for a greater number of landowners (though less focus on widening the types of owners). However, others felt it mattered less who owned the land, and more howthey treated it – for example, whether they gave locals a say and whether they made efforts to protect the environment. Among those who did not support diversification, the existence of 'good' large landowners who looked after the land and provided economic opportunities was often cited.
There was also sometimes a misconception that diversification might entail taking land involuntarily from landowners or compulsory purchase – and this was seen as unfair. This highlights the need for clear communication about what diversification does and does not involve.
There was a range of views on CRtB. Those who were supportive tended to think that those who lived in an area were best placed to determine the way the land is used and would be more likely to have the economic and social wellbeing of the local community at heart. Participants were particularly positive about an example given of community buying a local church and turning it into a community space. They were able to connect this to their own areas more easily than the examples of community land purchases (of which they had more prior awareness). This suggests that more promotion of urban examples and examples of community purchase of smaller assets is required.
There was also a feeling that urban examples, where communities bought existing buildings or relatively small amounts of unused land, benefitted a greater number of people, for a much lower cost, than rural examples of relatively large land purchases where populations were small. There was an implicit desire, from some, for the costs and benefits of CRtB purchases to be assessed.
There was a concern that communities might lack the necessary skills and resources to take over and run the assets (particularly when those behind the initial purchase moved on). This led some to oppose the policy while others remained supportive but recognised the need for education and development support.
One perspective, among those who were ambivalent about community buyouts, was that the policy placed an unfair burden on individuals and communities to manage the land and local assets, relinquishing responsibility from public bodies. This highlighted a difference between those who viewed buy-outs as empowering versus those who saw them as a potential burden.
Survey respondents were more aware of Scottish Government policy supporting communities to buy land and buildings than they were of its plans for land reform more generally: 40% of people said they were aware of this policy, with higher levels of awareness among rural populations (55%). It was also more common for those aged 55 and over to be aware (47%) than 16 to 34 year-olds (34%) or 35 to 54 year-olds (36%).
Base: All (n=1501)
Figure 5.1 is a chart showing that 40% of survey respondents were aware that the Scottish Government supports communities in Scotland to buy and own areas of land and buildings, while 55% were not aware, and 5% said they didn’t know.
Transparency of ownership
On the issue of transparency of ownership, the majority thought there was 'definitely not' (31%) or 'probably not' (42%) enough information available about who owns the land in Scotland.
|No, probably not||42|
|No, definitely not||31|
Base: All (n=1501)
This finding was echoed in the deliberative research, in which participants expressed disatisfaction with current levels of transparency. Participants thought it was important that information on land ownership in Scotland was accessible because it was the only way to know if things are done fairly (meaning, how power and resources are distributed). Some had experience of using Scotland's land register but had not found it completely straightforward. There was a view that although there was a good deal of information available, it was not always accessible and it was not clear where to look.
Views on diversifying land ownership and Community Right to Buy
Participants in the deliberative research were asked whether they thought it mattered who owned Scotland's land. A range of views were expressed.
Among those who thought it did matter, several reasons were cited. Generally, there was support for a greater number of landowners, but less focus on widening the types of owners. There was some discomfort about a handful of people owning 'huge tracts' of land as it seemed fundamentally unfair. This was linked to a view that ownership mattered because 'that is where the power lies', and it determines 'whose interests are served'. Another reason focused more on the benefits of having a more equal distribution of land. It was thought that owning the land you live on made people more inclined to take care of it (as opposed to living on someone else's land and having less control, or owning land but not living on it). Furthermore, there was a view that more owners meant more ideas for how to use the land to benefit all.
"It's hugely important – you can transform a peat bog into a forest or a sheep farm – if different people own it, they may have very different ideas."
Mixed group participant
Participants felt concentration of ownership was at the expense of the majority of people benefiting from the land, and that it had implications for access to and use of the land, as well as ownership.
"Land ownership inequality is a big issue. Somebody in a rural area in the Highlands wanting to get one wee site to build a house for the next generation and a local landowner won't sell them it."
Older Urban group participant
"The land is owned by very few, the balance is completely wrong. Not enough of the citizens of Scotland get to use the land."
Older Urban group participant
For others, it mattered less who owned the land, and more howthey treated the land – for example, whether they gave locals a say in decisions relating to the land, whether they were present locally (as opposed to 'absentee landowners'), and whether they made efforts to protect the local environment. Particular scorn was expressed for landowners (particularly corporations) who engaged in 'land banking' – in other words, they retained land without developing it for long term financial gain rather than using it in a way that might benefit the community or the environment. There was a suggestion that land should only be sold on the condition that it would be put to good use, or that if landowners are not going to do anything with the land, they should let the community use it. Another view on this issue was that it mattered little who owns the land, so long as there are regulations in place to limit any damaging activities and to protect against environmental harm.
The survey found that most people said they supported the Scottish Government's plans to diversify land ownership (34% strongly support, 37% tend to support, and only 7% in opposition).
Base: All (n=1501)
Figure 5.3 is a chart showing levels of support and opposition to the Scottish Government’s aim to diversify land ownership in Scotland. It shows 34% of respondents said they “Strongly Support” this aim, 37% “Tend to Support”, 16% “Neither support nor oppose”, 4% “Tend to Oppose”, 3% “Strongly Oppose” and 6% “Don’t know”.
Among those who did not support diversification, the existence of 'good' large landowners who looked after the land and provided economic opportunities was often cited. A degree of concern was expressed that diversification might entail taking land involuntarily away from landowners or compulsory purchase – and this was seen as unfair.
Participants expressed a full range of views for and against community buyouts as a route to diversification. In support of these measures, there was a strong perception that the way land is used should be determined by those who live in the area. Participants mentioned examples where residents were limited by absentee landlords from taking steps that would benefit the local economy, grow the population, and allow younger people to stay in their local area.
Participants were shown two examples of past community buyouts (the Isle of Ulva and Bellfield Parish Church in Portobello) and were particularly positive about the example of the church, which was bought by residents in 2017 and now serves as a community space. Participants had not necessarily considered the possibilities of CRtB in the urban setting and were able to connect the Portobello example to their own area more easily than the examples of rural community land purchases. There was also a feeling that urban examples, where communities bought existing buildings or relatively small amounts of unused land, benefitted a greater number of people, for a much lower cost, than rural examples of relatively large land purchases where populations were small. This may well have been prompted by giving the Isle of Ulva, with a population of just six, as an example. Nevertheless, it served to uncover genuine concerns about the relative costs and benefits of community buyouts.
On the opposing side, there were concerns about whether communities were equipped to manage land and buildings. There was a concern that they may not have the necessary resources, knowledge and management systems, particularly as these sorts of projects are often led by a small number of volunteers. Some participants expressed concern about what would happen if there were conflicts within communities over what to do with land, or if future generations were not invested in carrying on the work.
To minimise the likelihood of these potential issues, participants felt that there should be more awareness raised so people know they have the option, and more support for communities who want to pursue it – not only financial support, but help with fundraising, managing the asset, conflict resolution and other practical concerns.
"If people in Aberdeen own land in Aberdeen, then they will know what it needs more than someone in Dumfries – but this needs to be balanced with education and supervision. The more of this there is, then the more individuals there will be needing education and supervision. I know that on community councils there are individuals who are stalwarts, who will put a stop to someone installing decking because they don't like look of them, or they had row with their auntie – so there needs to be governance."
Younger Rural group participant
One perspective, among those who were ambivalent about community buyouts, was that the policy placed an unfair burden on individuals and communities to manage the land and local assets, relinquishing responsibility from local authorities and other public actors. This highlighted a difference between those who viewed buyouts as empowering versus those who saw them as a potential burden. It also exposed a desire for more and better community facilities without necessarily wanting to own and run them.
A very different type of opposition came from those who felt uncomfortable with the CRtB not because they objected to community ownership, but because they objected to the fact that the community did not already own the land they lived on. They felt that CRtB meant giving large amounts of public money to landowners who don't need or deserve it, and whose ancestors likely 'stole the land in the first place'. There were concerns about the amount of money and work that communities were expected to put in to purchase land that they live on and are invested in. One participant spoke about Gigha, an island which was bought by local residents from its owner in 2002 for £4m, and another area owned by the Duke of Buccleuch.
"Why should Gigha have had to raise so much money and pay the landowner, they should have been given it. It all boiled up for me recently when the Duke of Buccleuch got £4m for a grouse land, it was poor quality of land for farming so why was it so much? Fair play to the locals who got it, I'm sure it'll be really good but why should the landowner get so much money?"
Older Urban group participant
This process was seen as problematic for participants who resented that communities and taxpayers paid significant sums to landowners perceived as wealthy. Questions were also raised over whether landowners even had a legal right to their land.
"And historically it seemed to be that land was passed from one hand to another as dowry for a daughter, or because they wanted them on their side for a battle or something, and it actually wasn't legal. [Politician] was doing work on getting that land back into the hands of the people."
Older Urban group participant
There were also those who supported the CRtB in theory, but felt they would have to know more detail about individual cases before they committed to supporting them – especially given the amount of money involved in these buyouts.
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