Engaging communities in decisions relating to land: consultation analysis

Analysis of the consultation on the draft guidance on engaging communities in decisions relating to land.

Scottish Ministers published a public consultation on the dra

5. Views on the Draft Guidance: General

Question 11: Considering the draft Guidance as a whole, do you agree that it has proportionate and reasonable expectations of land owners, land managers and communities.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?

5.1 21 (49%) respondents answered the closed aspect of this question, and 29 (67%) answered the open part. Of the 21 respondents, 16 considered that the draft Guidance as a whole has proportionate and reasonable expectations of land owners, land managers and communities. Five respondents (two community organisations, one individual, one local authority and one private company) disagreed.

5.2 Several respondents commented that whilst they acknowledged the intentions of the draft Guidance to establish a reasonable and proportionate framework for engagement, the document required further definition and clarity in places to ensure the intentions are explicit and all parties have appropriate expectations.

5.3 Four respondents from different sectors advocated the inclusion of case studies to provide a clear picture of when engagement should take place and the level and nature of this in different circumstances. Four respondents from across three sectors suggested that references and links to training and guidance material could help land owners/managers and communities in ensuring proportionality and effectiveness in engagement.

5.4 Areas identified for further clarity in the draft Guidance, which respondents considered would impact on proportionality were:

  • What is meant by “significant impact”.
  • When supplementary engagement is appropriate.

5.5 Two respondents called for more emphasis on engagement at the planning stages ( NDPB); and how best practice in community engagement can be demonstrated (James Hutton Institute).

5.6 Referring specifically to land owners and managers, it was suggested that the scale of engagement could be managed better if owners and managers were encouraged to collaborate with each other in their engagement with local communities ( NDPB); and if Guidance is available to support them on how to respond to requests from communities ( NDPB).

5.7 Referring specifically to communities, improvements emerged from six respondents across a range of sectors:

  • More emphasis and clarity are required on communities being able to instigate engagement.
  • More emphasis is needed on what are reasonable expectations for communities.
  • Greater consideration should be given to imbalances in engagement capacity, expertise and financial constraints between land owners/managers and communities.

5.8 Several respondents made suggestions for additional content to the Guidance which they considered would contribute to ensuring expectations are proportionate and reasonable:

  • Information on how to manage disagreement and tension.
  • One community organisation suggested the Guidance recognises the particular challenges faced in remote and rural areas, and potential challenges associated with engaging with people with disabilities.
  • Two respondents ( NDPB and NNGO) recommended more explicit guidance for managers in managing community expectations. They remarked that this had been referred to in the consultation document but not carried through to the draft Guidance.

Question 12: In relation to Part 5 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, 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 taken.

Do you agree that, as a whole, the draft Guidance balances these concerns? How could we improve the Guidance in this respect?

5.9 22 (51%) respondents answered the closed aspect of this question. Of these, 12 stated that they agreed that, as a whole, the draft Guidance balances the need to provide sufficient certainty whilst allowing for local contexts; ten respondents disagreed. Table 5.1 below summarises views by category of respondent. Whilst six of the seven community organisations who provided a view agreed that a balance has been achieved by the draft Guidance, in contrast, four of the five NNGOs did not agree.

Table 5.1 Views on whether the draft Guidance balances providing certainty with allowing for local contexts

Category Agree Disagree No. of respondents providing a view
NNGOs 1 4 5
Private Sector and Professional Bodies 1 1 2
Community Organisations and their Representative Bodies 6 1 7
NDPBs 1 2 3
Local Authorities 1 1 2
Academic 1 0 1
Total Organisations 11 9 20
Total Individuals 1 1 2
Grand total 12 10 22

5.10 29 (67%) respondents answered the open part of the question. Three main themes emerged from their responses:

  • The lack of specificity required to accommodate different local contexts can be supported with case studies and other relevant further guidance which can be accessed, as appropriate, to provide further steer. (6 mentions)
  • The Guidance will require details of how to record engagement practice, evidence of engagement, and any concerns regarding inadequate engagement, in order to be able to hold those responsible to account for any failure to fulfil expectations. (6 mentions)

“More detailed guidance on recording engagement and outcomes of engagement would be beneficial. We have many examples where community groups and land managers have met but have then a different recollection of what was discussed and in some circumstances the parties have been unable to agree on the minute of the discussion. This is not conducive to effective on-going engagement. Support on this issue is required for communities as well as land managers” (Scottish Land and Estates).

  • Details are required of who will monitor engagement performance; in what timescale; and what redress will be forthcoming if shortcomings are identified. (5 mentions)

5.11 A few NNGOs considered that the draft Guidance was not sufficiently clear on when land owners and managers should engage with communities; a few respondents from different sectors suggested that subjectivity around terms such as “community” and “significant impact” hindered establishing certainty, and meanings should be clearer before “sufficient certainty” can be achieved.

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?

5.12 Nine (21%) respondents provided examples in response to this question. A few other respondents agreed on the importance of including examples.

5.13 The James Hutton Institute re-iterated their view that on-going communication between land owners/managers and communities should underpin all decisions relating to land, and therefore there are no situations where engagement is not necessary.

Suggestions for examples of when formal engagement is necessary

5.14 Two respondents (a community organisation and a NDPB) provided the following suggestions for when formal engagement is necessary:

  • Significant changes to a landscape that will impact upon people.
  • Changes of use from sports facilities to agricultural use.
  • Major impacts on access.
  • The proposed closure or relocation of an island business where the business activity helps to sustain a regular ferry service.
  • The development of long-term strategic land management plans that will drive and inform future land use activities in later years.
  • Proposed closure of a visitor attraction or amenity that will affect future visitor numbers and consequently will impact on local jobs and supply chain.

5.15 One local authority highlighted strategic asset reviews being undertaken, which might present future issues concerning land use or transactions.

Suggestions for examples of when informal engagement is necessary

5.16 A NDPB respondent provided the following suggestions for when informal engagement is necessary:

  • The temporary closing of footpaths or access routes to enable another activity to take place.
  • Short-term disruptive activities that will not constitute an unreasonable impact on the community, such as large or high-volume deliveries, on-going noise arising from land management or building work operations, light pollution arising from temporary floodlights or security lights.
  • The installation of bollards or other restrictions to prevent vehicular access or parking on private land.

Suggestions for examples of when no engagement is necessary

5.17 Four respondents across three different sectors provided suggestions for when no engagement is necessary:

  • Anything which is at an individual business or household level which doesn’t impact upon the community.
  • Where there is not much impact from a change or no real change.
  • The sale of a residential property or business unit.
  • Regular and routine land management operations and activities such as ploughing, crop harvesting, low impact tree-thinning or sporting activity.
  • Repairs, maintenance or building work that will not impact on neighbouring properties or the local community.
  • From an historic house point of view, changes to opening hours/days of historic properties or timings of normal business activity.
  • Any changes to terms of residential, commercial or agricultural tenancies.

Example of when there could be a case for and against engagement

5.18 One community organisation provided an example which they considered could have a case for engagement argued for or against: impact of crops such as oil-seed rape which could have a detrimental impact on some people’s health.

Examples of previous engagement

5.19 Two respondents provided examples of effective previous engagement:

Tomintoul & Glenlivet Regeneration Project (2016 SURF Award Winner, Community Led Regeneration Category): This wide-ranging initiative supported the socio-economic recovery of the remote Moray town of Tomintoul. The local Development Trust engaged widely with more than 300 local resident members and other stakeholders to take the local youth hostel, visitor information centre and museum into community ownership, and to establish new footpaths and mountain bike trails to enhance local tourism.

Laurieston’s ‘Open Spaces’ – 2015 SURF Award Winner, Creative Regeneration Category: This initiative complemented a new housing development in south Glasgow by giving local arts and community groups the opportunity to make use of a diverse set of buildings and public spaces in the area, including railway arches, an Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson church, and an adaptable open space on the site of a former high-rise building.

Stromness Townscape Heritage Initiative – 2013 SURF Award Winner, Town Centre Regeneration Category: Planned investments in the Orkney town’s built environment were improved by an extensive consultation exercise, which engaged businesses, residents, schools, the local college, and a number of third sector groups. The project’s legacy is an attractive and successful town centre, with more than 50 restored properties and vacant buildings brought back into use for a wide range of social and economic purposes.

The National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate: The estate extends over 29,000 hectares, and the Trust engages regularly with the community as the estate has a significant economic and social impact on the local community and, has the potential to deliver even greater benefits for the Braemar area. There is an obvious mutual dependency. Open, honest engagement provides a host of opportunities for Mar Lodge Estate to consult interested parties about its ambitions and plans, as well as to update the community on progress and any initiatives being undertaken, such as in woodland restoration.

Actions currently undertaken to better engage with the community include meeting with the Braemar Community Council and neighbouring estates, publicised open days to encourage the involvement of the community and volunteering in estate management, regular newsletters providing updates on the work of the estate and contributions to the local community newsletter, the Braemar Buzzard.

St Kilda: The archipelago of St Kilda, the remotest part of the British Isles, lies 41 miles (66 kilometres) west of Benbecula in Scotland's Outer Hebrides and its exceptional cliffs and sea stacks form the most important seabird breeding station in north-west Europe as well as being of huge cultural importance to Scotland. Due to this, the Trust implements a policy of minimal intervention which can take the form of recording, consolidation and at times repair of the relict structures. Little if any management of the natural heritage is undertaken, natural processes normally being allowed to take their course without intervention, unless they threaten an element considered to be of greater heritage significance.

The National Trust for Scotland cares for St Kilda, however it is not the only organisation with an interest in how the islands are managed. As a dual World Heritage Site; as an integral part of the Western Isles, its culture, identity and economy; and as the site of a unique test and evaluation facility for the Ministry of Defence, collaborative working and engagement is crucial to its on-going conservation. Though there is no immediately resident community, the Trust produces a five-year plan after consultation with interested parties, including communities of place and communities of interest.

Question 14: Do you have any other comments?

5.20 23 (53%) respondents had further comments. Their comments can be grouped under the following themes:

Additional support is available. Several respondents, across a range of sectors, referred to further sources of support for land owners, managers and communities, in undertaking engagement. Included were: tools in the VOICE ( www.voicescotland.org.uk); the “Working Together for Sustainable Estate Communities” [9] booklet; the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 information and links to wider human rights, principles and standards; the Place Standard tool ( https://placestandard.scot/); and local Third Sector Interfaces ( TSIs). A few NNGOs suggested that over time, local videos and case studies could be shared as further illustration and support. A local authority suggested that land owners/managers and communities may need their local authority, or another independent public body, to facilitate engagement where they need help working towards a consensus.

Greater specificity and definition is required, particularly if there is any link made between failure to engage and communities’ application of the Land Reform Act 2016 in relation to Right to Buy. Actions will require to stand up to legal challenge and the Guidance will therefore need to be explicit on who should consult, on what issues and in what manner. A few respondents highlighted areas which they considered required greater clarity: the inclusion of urban as well as rural land and buildings; communities of interest as well as those of geography; the option of communities instigating engagement; the situation regarding charities, whose legal obligation of trustees is to act in the interests of the charity, which could create tension, in some cases, between the wishes of the local community and the purpose of the charity.

Relationship with wider land and planning policy. A few respondents emphasised their view that engagement with communities should supplement wider land policies, rather than provide an alternative. The need to achieve greater diversity in ownership of land was highlighted as fundamental, with engagement with communities standing alongside this. A professional body recommended that a co-ordinated approach be adopted, with the Scottish Government considering how the Guidance relating to land use decisions that sit outwith the planning system can be developed to fit with the suite of statutory consultation and engagement that already exists in relation to land use.

Promotion of the Guidance. Two respondents ( LA and NNGO) considered that promotion of the Guidance will be important in raising awareness and influence, and this will require careful planning.

5.20 Other relevant comments made were:

  • The Guidance should promote transparency in practices. Greater involvement of communities in land use decisions will depend on improving transparency and accountability of information about how these decisions are made (Professional body).
  • A framework for monitoring and evaluating the Guidance should be put in place ( NNGO and LA).
  • The Guidance should not be made compulsory by, for example, enshrining it in pre-application planning procedures. The possibility of this should be addressed by the Scottish Government in the final version of the Guidance.
  • There is potential for watchdogs or enforcers to emerge and the implications of this should be considered (Private company).


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