Publication - Research and analysis

Attitudes to land reform: research

Published: 5 Mar 2021
Directorate:
Environment and Forestry Directorate
ISBN:
9781800047198

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

Attitudes to land reform: research
6. Vacant and Derelict Land

6. Vacant and Derelict Land

This section will first address the level of concern among the Scottish public over vacant and derelict land before exploring awareness of, and attitudes towards, Scottish Government policy on this issue.

Main findings and implications

The survey revealed that a considerable proportion (44%) of the public are concerned about vacant or derelict land in their own area. This issue resonated more personally than other aspects of land reform. This suggests there is more scope to engage the public in this aspect of land reform.

Even among those who had little vacant or derelict land near them, there were concerns about the detrimental effect on wellbeing for those who did.

There was a concern that it can be in the interests of landowners to keep land derelict and support for tighter regulations to limit this.

There was low awareness of the Scottish Government's aim to reduce the amount of vacant and derelict land and to give local communities the chance to take control of the land – and an assumption that the Government could be doing more given the current extent of the problem.

The was a positive reaction to the example of the Shettleston Community Growing Project. Participants were particularly supportive of given communities the resources to improve their local area and meet the needs of local people. There was a recognition that communities may need support to do this effectively. Less commonly, there was a view that this was an unfair way to shift responsibility for provision of amenities from public bodies to local communities.

There was a worry was that some derelict land will not be suitable for communities to use as it could be polluted or contaminated. Reassurances should be provided in guidance to communities who might be interested in taking control of land that appropriate safety checks would always apply and who would be responsible for these.

Levels of concern

Survey respondents were asked how concerned they were about vacant and derelict land in their area. The introductory text read:

'Vacant and derelict land is land which has typically been used in the past for industrial purposes or previously been built on, but is not currently being used'.

Respondents were split on this issue with just under half (44%) saying they were 'very' or 'fairly concerned', while just over half (55%) said they were 'not very' or 'not at all concerned'.

Figure 6.1 Q How concerned are you about vacant or derelict land in your area?

Chart description below

Base: 1501 adults in Scotland aged 16+

Chart Description

Figure 6.1 is a chart showing levels of concern about vacant and derelict land in their local area. It shows 11% of respondents were “very concerned”, 31% “fairly concerned”, 41% “not very concerned” and 14% “not at all concerned”.

Levels of concern were highest among:

  • older respondents - those aged 55 and over were more likely (45%) than 16 to 34 year olds (38%) to be concerned
  • those in more deprived areas - 51% in SIMD 1 areas and 47% in SIMD 2 areas compared with 38% in SIMD 4 areas and 36% SIMD 5 areas
  • those living in Glasgow - 52% were 'very' or 'fairly concerned' compared with 42% across Scotland as a whole.

"There's all types [of vacant or derelict land]. Commercial and residential. estates are being knocked down, sometimes developed with more [buildings]. But it's destroying communities."

Older Urban interview participant

Those living in remote rural areas were less concerned about vacant or derelict land (29% compared with 42% in Scotland overall). This may reflect a view raised in the deliberative groups – by both urban and rural participants – that vacant or derelict land in the countryside is not as much of a problem as it is in towns (including small rural towns) and cities. Reasons behind this distinction included: the view that some abandoned buildings are part of Scotland's cultural heritage, that they are less visible in rural areas, and that they can be a normal – sometimes picturesque – part of the rural landscape.

"Old farm buildings doesn't [concern me], in the middle of field, no one sees, barn owls like them - but Aberdeen city centre has gorgeous red brick buildings going to ruin."

Younger Rural Group participant

Other than this, there was a strong view across the groups that vacant and derelict land in Scotland was a concern. This issue resonated more personally than other aspects of land reform which participants did not see as so directly relevant to their own lives (even if they had a view on the rights or wrongs of different policies). However, even among those who were not personally concerned about vacant land near them, there were concerns about the effect on others of vacant land elsewhere.

Participants were generally able to identify vacant or derelict sites nearby, including those living in both urban and rural areas. Participants mentioned derelict buildings such as shops, flats, an old psychiatric hospital, an abandoned cinema and shopping centre. Participants also described spoiled land such as old industrial sites, old mining land and disused gasworks. There was often uncertainty over who owned the land.

There was a view that seeing derelict land, day in and day out, has a negative effect on local residents' wellbeing, because it is unattractive and shows a disregard by landowners – and by wider society – for the area and the people who live there.

"Seventies tower blocks, most depressing things I've ever seen – I can't imagine the mental health effects of seeing that every day – and thinking of the absolute lack of care your council has for you."

Younger Rural group participant

Even among those who did not feel personally affected by vacant and derelict land in their area, there was a widespread view that it was wrong to waste land that could be used for something positive. Participants listed several ways this type of land could be repurposed to benefit local communities, from building more housing to creating a space for children to play.

"It doesn't concern me it's just like, why not build something or use it?"

Younger Urban interview participant

"As long as the community can get on it and do something with it, even allotments – that's better than a pile of rubble."

Mixed group participant

Other worries touched on the lack of accountability from owners of derelict land. There was a concern that it can be in the interests of landowners to keep land derelict, to the detriment of the local community.

"There was a huge fire in vacant warehouses a few years ago- cost the fire service [a huge amount of money] to put out. And that was owned by business owners who just owned it as collateral for business stuff – they didn't have to pay a penny, paid by the taxes of the people in Glasgow. I think it's really wrong they pay no rates on empty land- should be the opposite, pay high rates because sitting on land till it builds value is not doing anything."

Older Urban group participant

Awareness of the Scottish Government's policies in this area

Most people (77%) were not aware of the Scottish Government's aim to reduce the amount of vacant and derelict land in Scotland and to give local communities the chance to take control of the land, while 20% were aware of this aim.

Those who have previously been involved in decision-making about land use were more likely to be aware of the aim than those who had not (46% compared with 17%).

Awareness of the Scottish Government's policy on vacant and derelict land was very low in the deliberative research. However, there was an assumption that it could be doing more to rectify the issue given participants personal experiences of vacant and derelict sites in their area.

Participants were given some information on the extent of derelict land in Scotland and the new community right to buy abandoned, neglected or detrimental land under the 2016 Land Reform Act. This included the example of the Shettleston Community Growing Project in the east end of Glasgow where an allotment was set up on a previously vacant site and turned into an established community hub.

There was a consistently strong positive reaction to the Shettleston example. Participants were particularly supportive of giving communities the support and resources they need to improve their local area and meet the needs of local people. There was a view that the Shettleston community garden would improve the sense of community spirit by bringing people together and giving people something to take ownership of and be proud of.

"That is what land reform should be about - making people proud of their environment and getting use of it."

Previously involved in land use decision-making group

It was felt that the COVID-19 pandemic furthered the need for community spaces such as this, to mitigate increased levels of social isolation. Similarly, participants mentioned the added importance of improving people's mental health by removing unattractive derelict sites during a time where people will be struggling with their mental health more than usual.

For one participant, the Shettleston community garden project broadened their perceptions of what land reform could achieve and its potential to help people and communities: "It shows that land reform is about people as much as, if not more than, about land."

It was also pointed out that improving derelict sites could make them safer for the public to access and make it safer to walk past them after dark.

At the same time, participants raised some concerns about communities buying vacant and derelict land. There were mixed opinions on whether communities were best placed to be able to make the best use of this land and have the time or expertise required. This echoes the concerns about the broader CRtB policy.

"It's unfair to expect people who haven't seen an allotment to know how to run one, they need to be given support".

Younger Rural group participant

Similarly, there was a view that repurposing local land was more of a responsibility for local councils and not for residents – while others thought it was empowering for the community to take charge. The following extract illustrates opposing views in one group:

"Participant 1: Isn't it a case of shifting responsibility? In the normal course the council would do, this but they have shifted responsibility onto the residents.

Participant 2: I disagree. I think it's a tremendous idea and people will put a lot more into it without the council standing over them.

Participant 3: It's not that they are having to do it, they want to do it, to get the benefits- to build feeling of respect and community spirit.

Participant 4: There are definitely benefits and those community gardens, that needs to be more widespread.

Participant 1: True but is that because they want to or are forced to? We have a community shop here where people donate things – not because we want to but because we have to because there is no-one else to do it."

Mixed group participants

However, there was an alternative view that communities would be able to use the land in a more effective way than local government. Furthermore, the process of looking after the land could encourage people in the local community to take on responsibility and develop new skills which would benefit them.

"Local community impact will always be 100 times better than local government impact – giving people confidence they can do things – get out and garden and that can lead to getting a job etc."

Younger Rural group participant

There was some doubt as to whether communities would be able to maintain the land in the long term. Participants pointed out that people may care less about looking after the land once the novelty wears off, or there may be nobody to continue the work of those who originally oversaw the buyout. One participant believed that the Scottish Government should not fund the entire process as it was important for communities to fundraise and take some ownership of the project themselves and create a certain degree of buy-in.

"The longevity of these projects slightly worries me… it's coming from a great place, but you need to make sure it's still used down the line."

Previously involved in land use decision-making group

However, participants suggested this was something that could be resolved with careful planning and enough support from the Scottish Government.

"Often when something is setting up people are enthusiastic, but people might move on or die and sometimes it gets forgotten about. Handing over the reins has to be carefully managed."

Older Urban interview participant

There was a concern that some derelict land will not be suitable for communities to use as it could be polluted or contaminated and therefore unsafe. Reassurances should be provided in guidance to communities who might be interested in taking control of land that appropriate safety checks would always apply and who would be responsible for these.[10]

Participants broadly felt that, for this policy to work, education and awareness raising were very important. They felt that communities would need to be given a lot of information so that people were aware of the opportunity as well as being able to understand the process. There was a suggestion that the Scottish Government could employ people to help groups put in bids for land, however existing support was not discussed.

Among those who were the most supportive of the CRtB for vacant and derelict land, there was a view that the policy could go even further by making it compulsory for landowners to sell or give up land which has been vacant for a certain length of time or at least make it difficult to hold onto the land.

"If they refuse to sell the land, they should have to pay money in order to do that -I'm thinking about that hospital land [where owners were refusing to sell vacant land wanted for a hospital car park] and it's a disgrace."

Mixed group participant

There was a suggestion that local authorities could be given the power to take control of land by default if the landowner could not be identified. However, there was some resistance to this idea among those who felt it would be unfair to landowners, particularly if the land had been in their family for a long time.


Contact

Email: socialresearch@gov.scot