Overcoming barriers to community land-based activities: gudiance

Guidance on good practice in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities.

Executive summary

Background and approach

Roberts and McKee (2015) identified a number of different types of barriers to community land-based activities. This report focusses on ways in which such barriers can be overcome. The findings are based on an interview survey of representatives of private and third sector landowners. A number of types of 'resolution strategies' are described along with the factors for success in overcoming barriers, a review of the challenges facing landowners, and perceived principles of 'good practice' by both landowners and communities. The report concludes with views on the role for policy in helping to overcome barriers to community land-based activities. The project findings are relevant to Part 4 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 - engaging communities in decisions relating to land, and provide recommendations for the guidance to be issued by Scottish Ministers.

The project was based on an interview survey of twenty individuals representing private landownership in Scotland, including representatives of those who act as intermediaries and facilitators during resolution processes. Interviewees therefore included representatives of Scottish Land & Estates ( SLE) and the National Farmers Union Scotland, representatives of the forestry sector, representatives of conservation landowners, representatives of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Valuation Office Agency ( VOA), as well as rural and urban land surveyors ( e.g. employed within traditional land agency companies), and planning professionals.


Through reflection on their personal and professional experience of working with landowners and communities, the interviewees identified a number of principles for 'good practice' by communities and landowners, as summarised in Box 1. Many of the principles are shared by both community bodies and landowners; nonetheless, key distinctions arise.

Box 1 - Good practice principles for landowners and communities

Good practice principles for private landowners

(i) Ensuring clarity and transparency regarding engagement processes ( e.g. regarding intentions, through an agreed discussion format and recording discussions).

(ii) Ensuring supportive behaviour and attitude ( i.e. respect, honesty and responsiveness, plus commitment to community engagement).

(iii) Fostering positive relationships through direct communication, and building a 'track record' of community engagement.

(iv) Involving expertise and specialist knowledge, and ensuring that professional land management advisors adhere to good practice principles.

(v) Reflectivity in land ownership and management ( i.e. promoting a transparent estate development strategy, including community engagement, recognising the public interest in decision-making, identifying surplus land/assets and make available for community land-based activities, etc.).

Good practice principles for communities

(i) Ensuring positive and early engagement with the relevant landowner(s) ( e.g. presenting proposals, and seeking up-to-date information and views).

(ii) Undertaking strategic and critical thinking ( i.e. regarding community dynamics, capacity, governance, and needs, in addition to the role of asset ownership and alternatives).

(iii) Establishing a 'sustainable development' plan, demonstrating community visioning, land use assessments and resource planning.

(iv) Achieving a unified community voice, through active participation in local democracy and dialogue.

(v) Building community capacity, positive engagement behaviours and knowledge ( e.g. of valuation processes, negotiation practices, business planning, etc.).

(vi) To work with objective and highly skilled community advisors (including development officers and land agents), in order to support the progress of land-based activities ( e.g. in seeking funding, devising business plans, commissioning feasibility studies, transacting land sales, etc.).

(i) Case studies and resolution strategies

The interviewees described their experience and knowledge of a number of case studies, which demonstrated how barriers to community land-based activities may be overcome. Strategies described include direct discussion and negotiation between landowner and community, information provision, provision of land/assets by the landowner to the community (including through tailored lease arrangements, or identifying alternative sites), agreeing contracts or conditions for land use, and partnership approaches between landowners/management and community bodies.

Challenges and opportunities of overcoming barriers to community land-based activities were argued to vary between rural and urban settings. These differences derive from the scale of urban communities and associated challenge in reaching consensus, in addition to the greater number of communities of interest and stakeholders necessary to include in consultation processes in urban contexts. Furthermore, interviewees recognised a greater use of third party agencies in urban areas, and therefore less direct landowner- community engagement, and a potential difference in motivation on the part of urban landowners in community engagement processes.

(ii) Success factors

A range of success factors were identified based on past experiences of overcoming barriers to community land-based activities. These include an awareness of the influence of individual personalities as either positive or negative in overcoming barriers, and the role of 'champions' in community engagement processes who build trust and transparency. A related success factor is establishing 'rules of engagement', i.e. the codes of conduct expected within landowner-community dialogue processes. Such codes of conduct should include the shared responsibility of all stakeholders to explain their aspirations, motivations and circumstances, in order to seek areas of 'common cause'. It follows that successful partnerships are underpinned by "openness, sharing information, communications, and willingness of community to work with the estate [owner/management] and vice-versa."

Pre-emptive engagement was identified as helpful in that it provides a point of departure for dialogue. Such proactive engagement may range, for example, from landowner involvement with children's education, to so-called 'constant consultation' with a community on day-to-day and strategic land management planning decisions. Success factors therefore include 'friendly' negotiations focused on outcomes as opposed to discussions around land value. High quality engagement ensures that all viewpoints are incorporated (including those not active in community bodies), and it is important that monitoring and evaluation of the engagement process occurs. A handbook detailing 'good practice' in landowner-community engagement is recommended in order to ensure quality and flexibility in engagement practices.

The importance of communication practices and the role of language are also highlighted as critical success factors, and a 'communication plan' is suggested as a core component of estate management and community planning. Communication relies on a clear understanding of who is the landowner and the 'community', in addition to a common technical language for land management/transactions.

The role of professional brokers and external support was considered in detail by the interviewees and they were in agreement that direct communication is preferable between landowner and community, but that external support may be necessary in certain circumstances to overcome barriers to community land-based activities. In particular, the involvement of individuals and organisations with specialist knowledge can support an 'outcomes' approach. Therefore, the role of land agents, lawyers, community support agencies and others, their culture, attitude, and advisory services are key success factors. The opportunity for further training in community engagement and greater use of mediation and dispute resolution services for these intermediaries was advocated.

A common theme identified as important for achieving positive outcomes was community action planning integrated with a proactive local development plan. This would require evidence gathering processes, effective public consultation, and clarity of communication, community-led visioning and associated action plans. It was also considered important to include land use/capability assessments and that both the community and landowner commit time and effort to the planning process. Tools and approaches for successful community engagement described by the interviewees, included the interactive 'Charrette' process, the use of participatory mapping and technology-based approaches (in particular for gathering the views of urban communities). Stakeholder mapping is also highlighted and the role of facilitated 'round table' discussions to consider alternative options. Availability of funding to support such tools and approaches is important.

Finally, interviewees explained that a critical success factor in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities is an approach to governance and regulation that ensures landowners engage effectively and proactively, with associated penalties and incentives to ensure this is the case. Some interviewees asserted that changing the rhetoric around land reform is important. Others suggest that ensuring the accountability of private landowners is as important in overcoming barriers. At a more specific level, interviewees suggested that greater consideration could be given to identifying opportunities for assets to be sold where not central to the requirements of a land-based business. However, others stressed the need for 'protection' for both communities and landowners, and were concerned that the landowners' perspective is under-represented in such considerations.

(iii) Challenges facing private landowners

The interviewees recognised a range of challenges facing private and third sector landowners in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities. These include landowner perceptions that the community lacks a cohesive vision (due to the small scale of the community body, internal divisions, or the heterogeneity of urban communities), and limitations within the community group, including their capacity, skill set ( e.g. communication and business skills) and knowledge ( e.g. of land management and farming practices). Challenges also arise when landowner and community engagement is conducted at too late a stage in the development process, where there is an apparent lack of community interest in engagement processes, or where engagement is not well received by the community.

Disputes between landowner and community can arise due to a lack of trust, or polarised viewpoints. Landowner 'exclusion' from a community body was considered a challenge by interviewees in some cases; in contrast, farmers tend to be more likely to be perceived as community members. Conflicting motivations and objectives of the landowner (and landowning trustees, e.g. conservation objectives) with the community (whose wishes may be for greater employment and housing) can also contribute to challenges.

Further challenges detailed by the interviewees include multiple uncertainties arising from family responsibility and expectation, political rhetoric around land reform, lack of experience in community engagement, negative perceptions held by the community, and/or personality type, in addition to uncertainties that concern business interests ( e.g. community land uses and potential security of tenure). Perceived and actual resource costs on the part of the private landowner can be an issue, in terms of time, effort and skills required, plus the expense of community engagement processes. Potential tax liabilities, the scale of impact on land-based businesses, and the costs associated with lease arrangements can also inhibit private landowners from seeking to overcome barriers to community land-based activities as can the landowner's personal capacity and skill set. In addition perceived power imbalances, with disempowerment both on the part of the community and that of the landowner, can inhibit the dialogue necessary to overcome barriers.

(vi) The role for policy in supporting good practice

The interviewees agreed that policy has a key role to play in supporting good practice in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities. However they also stressed the need to evaluate existing legislative measures and underlying policy before seeking to add further regulation or guidance.

The opportunity for policy to better support community capacity building was raised, including knowledge around land management and terminology, an awareness of available support and participation opportunities in the planning system, as well as further training for institutions in community engagement. A collaborative role for policy, working with landowners, and the professions ( e.g. planners, surveyors, lawyers) was advocated. It is recommended that policy development builds on experience from related policy, e.g. the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Measures of success should be incorporated into policy implementation and guidance as should recognition of good practice and standards of professional conduct.

'Soft' policy approaches were suggested by the interviewees, including best practice templates and guidance. The interviewees also called for clarity regarding the consequences for land owners/managers of failing to adhere to engagement guidance (Part 4 of Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016), whether statutory or voluntary. There should also be recognition of the role of the forthcoming Land Commission to gather necessary evidence and make recommendations for mediation, negotiation, and compensation processes. More generally, the interviewees called for policy 'work streams' to be brought closer together ( e.g. the Land Use Strategy, LEADER and the National Planning Framework 3), and for planning policy to support community developments ( e.g. through 'bolder' use of CPO powers).


Email: Graeme Beale, socialresearch@gov.scot

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