Guidance on engaging communities in decisions relating to land: consultation

Consultation on new guidance to encourage co-operative and positive working relationships between local communities and land-owners.

Chapter 3: Draft Guidance

Amongst other things, this public consultation will be an important information gathering exercise. It will help us to understand how best to make the Guidance useful for land owners, land managers and communities.

This draft version of the Guidance does not provide specific scenario-based examples of when and how to engage. We consider that such an approach would risk being overly prescriptive and that it would not be possible to cover the full range of possible circumstances that would be required.

However, we consider that it would be helpful to include some real-life examples of engagement in the final published guidance: at question 13 we ask respondents to submit relevant case studies, to help us to include real-life, credible, examples of good practice in community engagement in the final version of the Guidance.

The following sets out a draft of the Guidance for comment.

1. Using this guidance

This guidance is relevant to all land in Scotland, including buildings and structures on the land, and watercourses. The guidance is for land owners and managers taking decisions which could impact on a neighbouring community, including private, public or third sector organisations, and individuals. It should be considered in relation to decisions relating to land which could impact on a local community and its economic, environmental, social or cultural opportunities.

The guidance covers decisions on land ownership, land use or land management, where these have the potential to significantly impact on a local community. This includes situations where the decision being taken is to continue with existing practices in relation to land, as this continuation may also have the potential to significantly impact a local community.

What constitutes appropriate or good engagement will depend on the specific circumstances of the decision being taken and the wider context of the community. Not all decisions relating to land require the same level of engagement, and not all decisions will involve engaging all members of the local community. Many decisions will involve no engagement at all.

The guidance covers the following areas:

  • Why should I engage with communities?
  • Best practice principles for fair engagement
  • When should I carry out engagement?
  • How should I engage?
  • Who should I engage?
  • References

2. Why should I engage with communities?

Land is a resource for the people of Scotland. Land and buildings help to shape our urban and rural communities and impact on economic, social and environmental development and wellbeing.

Community engagement is the process of involving people in decisions that affect them. In relation to land, this means involving communities when decisions relating to the use and management of land and buildings impact on people who live, work and spend time in the area.

It is in the public interest that the ownership, management and use of land and buildings in Scotland contribute to the collective benefit of the people of Scotland. Land owners and land managers have a responsibility to practise good stewardship of their land and, as part of this, when their decisions impact on local communities they should give consideration to the views of these communities. Positive, co‑operative working relationships between land owners and managers and communities can identify mutually beneficial solutions to local barriers to sustainable development and promote better local outcomes.

This guidance on engaging communities in decisions relating to land contains a set of good working practices for land owners and land managers when they take decisions that impact on their local community.

When community engagement is carried out well it can lead to the following outcomes:

  • Land owners and land managers are valued members of the community and contribute to the community's wellbeing and sustainable development.
  • Land owners and land managers recognise the value of the local community's views, and see the community as a valuable partner when taking important decisions relating to land.
  • There are increased opportunities for local economic, social, cultural and environmental development, bringing improved local outcomes.

The guidance contributes to 7 of the Scottish Government's National Outcomes:

  • We live in a Scotland that is the most attractive place for doing business in Europe.
  • We have tackled the significant inequalities in Scottish society.
  • We live in well-designed sustainable places where we are able to access the amenities and services we need.
  • We have strong, resilient and supportive communities where people take responsibility for their own actions and how they affect others.
  • We value and enjoy our built and natural environment and protect and enhance it for future generations.
  • We reduce the local and global environmental impact of our consumption and production.
  • Our public services are high quality, continually improving, efficient and responsive to local people's needs.

3. Best practice principles for fair engagement

Engagement will always be specific to the context in which it is taking place. Land owners and land managers should choose the means of engagement most appropriate to them and the decision being taken. These high-level, best practice principles should guide how that engagement is carried out.


Engagement is proportionate to the impact that the decision may have on the community.

  • Engagement is not an undue burden on either the land owner, land manager or community.
  • Impact is thought about in a holistic way, including environmental, economic, social and cultural impacts.
  • Appropriate and accessible methods of communication are used.


Engagement is a genuine exercise in collaboration, and consideration of community views helps to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

  • Engagement is started at the earliest opportunity in the decision-making process.
  • Community views are given due consideration.
  • Communication is open, clear and two-directional.


On-going engagement and communication fosters positive relationships between communities and land owners and managers.

  • Feedback is provided to the community on the final decision taken, and the reasons for it.
  • The community is kept informed by on-going communication and updates.

4. When should I engage?

Community engagement should be undertaken when making a decision relating to land that will have a significant impact on the local community.

Community engagement

5. How should I engage?



How to engage

Good Neighbour

Most day-to-day decisions relating to land where the impact on the local community is small or non-existent.

Most routine urban and rural land management activities including day-to-day farming, forestry, estate management and business activities, when the activity is carried out with reasonable consideration.

When there is little impact on the community, there is no need to engage. However, regular contact can help to prevent problems arising.

Informal Engagement

Decisions where the scale of the impact on the local community is significant.

This includes:

  • short-term disruptive activities
  • activities carried out in irregular circumstances
  • changes to regular activities

Decisions about:

  • significantly disruptive urban and rural land management activities, including farming, forestry, estate management, building works
  • activities which disrupt transport or business activities
  • activities causing light, sound or smell pollution
  • activities carried out at unusual times, or causing more disruption than usual

Informal engagement can include:

  • sending a letter or an email
  • a notice on a community notice board
  • posting on social media
  • a phone call
  • visiting in person
  • putting up a sign

Regular communication, even when no very significant decisions are being undertaken, can help to prevent problems arising, and build good neighbourhood relationships.

Formal Engagement

Decisions which may impact on the social or economic development of a community, and access to a good quality environment.

This includes:

  • long-term or permanent changes with significant impact
  • long-term or very disruptive activities
  • activities which impact on the local economy, society and culture, or environment

Decisions about:

  • significant changes to land use, for instance changes between farmland, forestry, nature reserves, green spaces, industry, housing, regeneration and development
  • estate management, where a significant proportion of land in a community is controlled by one party
  • a business or service that contributes to local employment or provides vital services
  • local environment, including heritage, cleanliness and aesthetic quality

Engagement about very significant decisions is characterised by being planned and should include feedback to the community. Formal methods of engagement include:

  • publishing a written consultation or survey
  • holding local meeting(s)
  • holding site visit(s)
  • carrying out workshop(s), perhaps with a facilitator
  • collaborating with the community to co-design a project

Once formal engagement is carried out, there should be feedback to the community on the decision taken and the reasons for it. The references section gives links to further guidance on different ways of involving communities in decision-making.

6. Who should I engage with?

One of the challenges to engaging with communities is identifying the correct people with whom to engage. You may be able to get help with this from community councils or similar bodies. Community councils are statutory, elected bodies whose role is to represent the views of the community. There may also be a development trust or residents' association for the area, and groups for local businesses such as a Chamber of Commerce or Business Improvement District.

While the focus of this guidance is on engaging with local communities, you may sometimes find it useful to consult bodies that represent certain groups within the local population. For example when taking a decision that could impact on, or offer opportunities for, disabled people in the local community it could be useful to contact a relevant national representative body.

It is not always necessary to engage everybody within a community, for example when taking a decision relating to a sports facility, it may be sufficient to engage those who make use of the facility.

If bodies such as community councils are unable to help, then reasonable steps can be taken to advertise more broadly, for example by advertising a public meeting on a community notice board, in a local newspaper or via social media.

Where possible, effort should be made to minimise any practical barriers which might prevent people in the community from taking part in engagement activities. This can be as simple as ensuring that meetings are organised at appropriate times, in accessible venues and ensuring that any written material is clear and easy to understand.

7. References

National Standards for Community Engagement
The Scottish Government
The National Standards for Community Engagement are good-practice principles designed to support and inform the process of community engagement, and improve what happens as a result.

Place Standard
The Scottish Government
The Place Standard provides a framework to assess the quality of a place, and is designed to support communities, public, private and third sectors to work efficiently together.

Talking about our place
Scottish Natural Heritage
This toolkit provides a range of guidance and practical tools on how to talk about your place, celebrate it, and consider ways to improve it.

A toolbox for public engagement in forest and woodland planning
The Forestry Commission
This toolbox aims to assist forest and woodland managers when preparing for public engagement.

Involving your community
Development Trusts Association Scotland
This practical guide describes techniques for involving and consulting local communities in community asset based projects.

Working together for sustainable estate communities
University of Highlands and the Islands
This document explores the potential of collaborative initiatives between privately‑owned rural estates, rural communities and other partners in upland Scotland.

Questions on the draft Guidance

Question 5: Have we identified appropriate uses for the Guidance in section 1 of the draft Guidance? Please explain you answer.

Question 6: Have we identified appropriate reasons for why community engagement should take place in section 2 of the draft Guidance? Please explain your answer.

Question 7: Have we identified appropriate best practice principles in section 3 of the draft Guidance? Please explain your answer.

Question 8: Have we identified appropriate situations for when engagement should or should not take place in section 4 of the draft Guidance? Please explain your answer.

Question 9: Have we identified appropriate methods for engaging with communities in section 5 of the draft Guidance? Please explain your answer.

Question 10: Have we identified appropriate ways of identifying who to engage with in section 6 of the draft Guidance? Please explain your answer.

Question 11: Considering the draft Guidance as a whole, do you agree that it has proportionate and reasonable expectations of land owners, land managers and communities? How could we improve the Guidance in this respect?

Question 12: In relation to Part 5 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 (as discussed in Chapter 1 of this consultation), we consider the Guidance should contain sufficient certainty so that land owners and land managers can demonstrate that they are fulfilling the expectations of the Guidance, or so that communities can demonstrate that this is not the case. This must be balanced against being overly prescriptive and failing to account for the specific local contexts in which the decision is being taken.
Do you agree that, as a whole, the draft Guidance balances these concerns? How could we improve the Guidance in this respect?

Question 13: In the final published Guidance we would like to include examples of when engagement should be carried out. Can you provide examples of situations in which you think that engagement either is, or is not, necessary?

Question 14: Do you have any other comments?


Email: Land Reform Team

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