1. Between 30 June and 29 September 2017, the Scottish Government undertook a public consultation  on statutory guidance for local authorities on how to fulfil the requirements of Part 8 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 in relation to Common Good property  . Part 8 places new duties on local authorities in relation to Common Good property. The consultation asked for views on issues such as timescales, information about assets, local consultation and publicising proposals. This report presents an analysis of the responses.
2. The consultation received 44 submissions. Most of the responses (33) were submitted by organisational respondents; 11 were from individuals. Organisational respondents comprised 13 Community Councils, 12 local authorities and 8 other organisations.
3. Note that in consultations such as this, respondents are self-selecting and, therefore, the views expressed cannot be taken to be indicative of wider opinion.
Views on publicising information and contacting community bodies/members
4. Several of the consultation questions were about where to publicise information and how to get in contact with community bodies and community members and make sure that, as much as possible, relevant stakeholders are made aware of the register, representations, responses and proposals to give them a chance to comment and respond.
- Q1 - Where or how else should the draft register be published as a minimum requirement?
- Q4 - What, if any, further ways should local authorities use to identify and contact relevant community bodies?
- Q9 - Where or how else, should details of a proposed disposal or change of use be published as a minimum requirement?
5. There were many similarities in the responses across this range of questions and, although a few respondents were generally content with the recommendations set out in the draft guidance, many suggestions were offered for places to publicise and methods to contact including advertising:
- in all libraries (including mobile vans) with information, be it register or proposals, to be made available in paper format
- at central and local Council offices
- at sports centres, job centres, community centres, churches and schools, local supermarket, local garage
- via social media; local newspapers and via local news groups
- at the Registers of Scotland (land and property only) and in GIS format
6. Other suggestions included:
- to actively send out information, primarily to Community Councils; burgh Councils and Parishes; and all council tax payers.
- to use Community Councils to help identify relevant groups to contact, but also use other relevant networks and officials e.g. Children and Families services; Development Trusts; local councillors; local ward/neighbourhood/community worker posts
- to put on a programme of events and local meetings
7. The range of methods was intended to assist those who may not have access to or be comfortable using computers; those who may find travel difficult, such as those in rural areas, and to ensure awareness amongst those who may not engage with any specific community group.
Views on timescales for the different processes
8. A second key theme in the consultation was asking about views on the suggested amount of time recommended for a range of processes associated with generating the Common Good register and dealing with Common Good items on the register. These were:
- Q2 – What are your views on eight weeks for people to comment on the draft list of Common Good property?
- Q5 – What are your views on eight weeks for the local authority to investigate representations in respect of the register?
- Q6 – What are your views on the timescale for publishing the Common Good register? (as soon as is practicable after the initial eight week consultation period has ended and within six months)
- Q10 – What are your views on 20 days for people to make a representation on a proposed change or disposal of a Common Good asset?
- Q11 – What are your views on 20 days for local authorities to respond to representations on a proposed change or disposal of a Common Good asset?
9. Although these questions were referring to different processes, the themes raised again were very similar across the questions, especially when taking account of whether the question was asking about time for people to respond or time for local authorities to act or respond.
Time for people to respond
10. For Q2, whilst many respondents felt the timescale of eight weeks was about right for people to comment on the draft list of Common Good property, there were also a considerable number who thought that it should be longer. No justification was provided by those who thought it was about right. For those that thought it should be longer, this was because Common Good assets are important to communities; time is required to ensure there is awareness of the draft list in the first instance and then time is needed to allow people to digest the information, conduct any research and consult members of groups or the community. It was highlighted that Community Councils may not meet within the suggested timescale and account needs to be taken in general of holidays.
11. These same arguments about awareness, time to digest, research, consult and respond and consideration of meeting frequency and holidays, were also used by those who thought that 20 working days was too short to allow people to make representations regarding a proposal to dispose of or change a Common Good asset (Q10). The feeling was even stronger in this instance with 34 respondents feeling the timescale should be longer and seven that it was about right. Even the latter felt there should be flexibility in the timescale to account for more complex cases.
Time for local authorities to respond
12. For Q5, 17 thought eight weeks was about right for local authorities to investigate representations regarding the draft register and 23 thought it should be longer. Those that thought it was about right felt that any longer and this would lead to delay and the authorities should already have the information ready to hand. There was also a sense that the current wording in the draft guidance allows for flexibility where that is required.
13. For those that felt that a longer period of time should be given, this was because of the potential volume of representations; complexity of some cases; possible difficulty in accessing necessary records and information; and concern about availability of resources to tackle the workload.
14. For Q6, 26 felt that publishing the ‘final’ register as soon as is practicable after the initial eight week consultation period has ended and within six months was about right; six felt it should be longer and seven that it should be shorter. A key concern for those that thought it should be longer was again around availability of resources. Those that thought it should be shorter again felt the authorities should already have the lists and it would help with transparency and with communities to plan their actions.
15. For Q11, views were mixed, 20 responded that 20 working days was about right for local authorities to respond to representations on a proposed change or disposal of a Common Good asset. Twenty thought it should be longer. For those that thought it was about right, the sentiment was that local authorities should already have the information to hand. For those that thought it should be longer, the main concern was again around the issue of complexity and to take due care and consideration around the decisions made.
Views on content of the register, plans to review it and requirement for further consultation on amendments to proposals to dispose or change assets
16.Q3 asked “What, if any, further information about Common Good property should be provided?”. About a third suggested the recommendations in the draft guidance were sufficient. The remaining respondents offered a large range of suggestions, most of which fell into several broad themes:
- Information which clearly identified the item as Common Good and provided details of ownership and control
- Financial information, including value, income from properties, rents, costs for maintenance and more
- Attributes of assets such as boundary details, grid references, physical plan of properties, photograph of items, size and condition, state of repair etc.
- Historical information including history or rights and ownership, dates of donation or change of hands, boundary changes
- Use (including any plans for disposal or change). There was a call to include current use and any restrictions or conditions of use.
17. Q7 asked “Do you agree or disagree with the proposals to publish the register even when some items on it are not yet confirmed?”. There was almost unanimous agreement with this. The main view was that it was better to have partial information available than none at all.
18. Q8 asked for views on whether the register should be reviewed annually. Most agreed with this (25), with seven who thought it should be longer and five who thought it should be shorter. However, the main view expressed by all groups was that it is a ‘living’ document and that it should be updated on an ongoing basis as changes occur, with new items added as and when they are identified and items confirmed when possible.
19. Finally, Q12 asked “If the proposals are amended, should the guidance recommend consulting again on the revised proposal?”. The majority responded yes (32) citing the following reasons:
- Because the amendments may lead to a different conclusion from the initial one
- A fear that Councils may make only small changes that don’t reflect the representations and with the potential to create loopholes in the system
- It would be in the true spirit of participation and community empowerment
20. A key theme was the consideration that re-consulting should really only apply to amendments that made a material change and there should be a limit to the number of consultations to prevent this going on ad infinitum.
21. Those that disagreed with further consultation were concerned that the process would become onerous, overly delayed and never ending and that consensus may never be possible in connection with Common Goods.