Engaging and empowering communities and stakeholders in rural land use and land management in Scotland

Report on how best to assist rural communities to engage with decisions on land use and land management.

Annex 3 Background to empowerment

At a Scottish level, national policy is increasingly embedding engagement. Scotland's Land Use Strategy 1 seeks to deliver multiple benefits from nature through " partnerships with nature" that " link people with the land". One of its objectives is: " urban and rural communities better connected to the land, with more people enjoying the land and positively influencing land use".

Empowering communities " to influence how land is used and managed in Scotland" is one of the key ways in which this objective is to be delivered. This includes influencing the management of privately owned land via policy instruments and " wider community opinion". This is supported by one of the ten principles that underpin the Land Use Strategy, which is that " people should have opportunities to contribute to debates and decisions about land use and management decisions which affect their lives and their future". One of the 13 actions for the Scottish Government included in the strategy is to " identify and publicise effective ways for communities to contribute to land-use debates and decision-making". Specifically, the Land Use Strategy makes a commitment to "give appropriate guidance on land ownership models that give local communities an opportunity to have a stake in their future, and which support sustainable land use."

Reforms to the Scottish planning system contained in the Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006 2 and subsequent National Planning Frameworks were based on the premise that " creating more opportunities for community participation will help local people shape the decisions that affect their communities and forge new partnerships and ways of working". Under the new system, communities have more opportunities than ever before to engage in planning decisions.

Most recently, the 2015 Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act aims to " strengthen community participation, unlock enterprising community development and renew communities". It aims to empower community bodies through the ownership of land and buildings, and has increased the level of duty on public bodies to ensure that communities can influence decisions about the provision of services. It includes:

  • Reforms to community planning, for example putting Community Planning Partnerships on a statutory footing, and imposes duties on them around the involvement of community bodies at all stages of community planning.
  • It gives community bodies a right at any time to request to be involved in a process that is meant to improve the outcomes of a public service.
  • It seeks to improve and streamline administrative procedures to make community right to buy more accessible and efficient, so that more communities are encouraged to register a community interest in land.
  • Where all other options have failed to achieve the sustainable development of land, communities are given powers to acquire the land without having to wait for it to be put on the market (even without a willing seller), providing Ministers are satisfied that " the right to buy is compatible with furthering the achievement of sustainable development in relation to the land and that the continued ownership of the land by the owner is inconsistent with furthering the achievement of sustainable development in relation to the land".
  • It provides communities with rights to make it easier for them to " take over unused and underused public sector assets", contributing towards the Government's commitment to have 1 million acres of land in community ownership by 2020 3 .

What is community empowerment?

The Scottish Government defines community empowerment as, "communities being supported to do things for themselves; people having their voices heard in the planning and delivery of services [through] community engagement and participation". A review of the academic literature on empowerment further specifies this as: a process and an outcome in which communities identify and overcome the conditions that foster powerlessness, and foster the power necessary to control and implement decisions that affect them.


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