The land of Scotland and the common good: report

The final report of the Land Reform Review Group.

Section 19 - Community Support Services

19.1 Social Development

1 The growth over the last 20 years in the extent of local community land ownership has been concentrated in the Highlands and Islands for many reasons. However, there is also wide acknowledgement of the role played by Highlands and Islands Enterprise's ( HIE's) Community Land Unit, in helping this growth take place by providing a range of types of support to the local communities involved.

2 HIE set up the Community Land Unit in 1997 and renamed it the 'Community Assets Team' in 2010. While that Team continues to provide the same types of support to local communities in the geographic area covered by HIE, there is no, and never has been, equivalent support for local communities in the rest of Scotland covered by Scottish Enterprise ( SE). The Review Group recognises that the partnership between HIE and BIG to deliver the Scottish Land Fund ( SLF) provides a support service to aspiring community land owners across the whole of rural Scotland. However, the disparity in broader community economic development support continues to be a significant factor in the limited growth in community land ownership in rural Scotland outwith HIE's area (in areas such the Eastern and Central Highlands, Borders and South West Scotland).

3 The origins of this different approach in the delivery of public support in these two parts of Scotland goes back to the legislation in 1965 that established HIE's predecessor, the Highlands and Islands Development Board ( HIDB). [1] The HIDB was charged with furthering both economic and social development, rather than just economic development. When the HIDB was replaced in 1990 by the legislation establishing HIE and SE, promoting social development as well as economic development was only included in the functions of HIE. [2]

4 The Review Group considers the fact that local communities outside the HIE area are not also able to benefit from the types of support provided by HIE's Community Assets Team, to be an issue that should be addressed. The Group considers this different treatment of local communities in the two areas appears all the more anomalous, when HIE has been involved on a Scotland-wide basis in implementing the BIG Lottery's Growing Communities Assets grant scheme and the Government's current Scottish Land Fund. The Government also now uses HIE to implement some other community programmes on a national basis, for example, as the lead delivery partner in Community Broadband Scotland.

5 The Review Group considers how this disparity in support for community land ownership might best be addressed later in this Section. However, there are wider issues over the position where furthering social development is not part of SE's functions. The fact that SE has economic and environmental objectives, yet no social objective, would seem at odds with the essence of public policy. The Group's view is that, as a matter of principle, there is no justification for social development not being an objective in the rest of Scotland outside the HIE area. The Group considers that its omission works against creating stronger and more resilient communities, and is therefore at odds with the Group's remit in that respect. The current position also works against the implementation of that remit, including appropriate support across Scotland for community land ownership and for community land owners as social enterprises.

6 The functions of SE and HIE are set out in Section 1(a) and (b) respectively of the Enterprise and New Towns (Scotland) Act 1990. The terms of their functions are very similar except for the omission of 'social development' from SE's functions. It would appear that 'social development' might be readily inserted into SE's functions, for example, in 1(a)(iv) so it would read " furthering social development and improvement of the environment of Scotland".

7 The Review Group considers that the wider social remit of Highlands and Islands Enterprise has proved valuable in strengthening local communities and could be extended across the whole of Scotland, through amending section 1(a) of the Enterprise and New Towns (Scotland) Act 1990 to incorporate furthering social development into the functions of Scottish Enterprise.

19.2 Types of Community Support

8 The ownership of buildings and land is recognised as an important component of local community development and there is an increasing number of successful examples of the benefits local community land ownership can deliver. However, the growth of community land ownership is a relatively new development in Scotland and there are very few examples in most parts of the country.

9 Against this background, the Review Group considers that progress in delivering the Government's policy to increase local community land ownership will be very much influenced by the nature of the support given to local communities that might want to acquire buildings and land. Property ownership is a new venture for most local communities. Over the last 15 years much of this generic support has been delivered by the public sector, most notably HIE's Community Land Unit, (now the Community Assets Team), but also by other public agencies such as the Scottish Government's own Community Right to Buy Team, the BIG Lottery and some local authorities. [3]

10 More recently, third sector organisations have emerged to complement this support. Among these is the Development Trust Association which administers the Community Ownership Support Service, aimed primarily at assisting community organisations with the acquisition of assets being transferred from public bodies, particularly local authorities. Specialist advice and support services are provided by, for example, Community Land Scotland, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Community Energy Scotland, the Energy Savings Trust, the Community Woodland Association, Community Recycling Network for Scotland, Scottish Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, Plunkett / Community Retail Network and other community-led networks (such as Scottish Community Alliance, the Single Interface Network).

11 An important aspect of that support has been assistance with community development especially during the early stages, for example, with community engagement, capacity building and training. Linked to that is assistance by helping provide access to professional advice on a wide range of potential topics. These might include legal advice on setting up an appropriate local community body to own property and on the conveyancing and other aspects involved in acquiring a property. Financial advice might include assistance with business planning, accounting systems and funding sources. Communities can also require advice over negotiations or technical assistance on their planned use of the land to be acquired, for example, building redevelopment, renewable energy projects, forestry and many others.

12 The work of the Community Assets Team also demonstrates important lessons about the most effective approach to adopt in providing support services to local communities. The approach includes, for example, experience of engaging with communities, user friendliness, access to expert support staff giving objective advice, flexibility, prompt responses and decision making, delegated decision making over small funding packages to help finance the development process and promotion of other grants or support programmes which might assist a community.

13 The Review Group considers that the types of support services provided by HIE for local community land ownership in its area, should be available to local communities throughout urban and rural Scotland. This support should be accessible and there is a need for a more proactive approach to raise awareness of local community ownership in the rest of Scotland. This is also emphasised by the development of new opportunities for communities including, for example, Community Asset Transfer Schemes and measures currently proposed in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill. In addition, the Group considers that the greater emphasis in public policy on the importance of encouraging and supporting community ownership requires a more integrated and focused approach within Government.

14 The Review Group concludes that communities embarking on land and property ownership and management require considerable support. The Group recommends that the types of support services provided in the Highlands and Islands should be made available to local communities in the rest of Scotland and that the Scottish Government should take a more integrated and focused approach to encouraging and supporting the growth of local community land ownership.

19.3 Community Land Agency

15 Increasing the extent to which local communities own buildings and land that are important to their community, is recognised as a core component of creating stronger and more resilient local communities in Scotland. However, current Government support for increasing local community land ownership is relatively limited, and somewhat fragmented with major differences in the support available to communities between those in the Highlands and Islands or the rest of Scotland, as well as between rural and urban communities.

16 The Group considers that Government policies to achieve a significant increase in community land ownership across urban and rural Scotland, should be supported by establishing a specific agency within Government to lead on this. This agency is referred to here as a Community Land Agency ( CLA). A number of the submissions to the Group and most particularly from Community Land Scotland have recommended setting up a CLA and while proposals have varied over their details, there is agreement that such an agency is a key requirement to encourage and support increased local community land ownership. [4]

17 The Review Group sees the CLA as having the following structural characteristics:

  • The CLA should be a distinct unit within Government, because of the cross cutting and targeted nature of its purpose. The Group therefore uses the term agency in the sense of a body "created to enable executive functions within Government to be carried out by a well-defined business unit with a clear focus on delivering specific outputs within a framework of accountability to Ministers" [5]
  • While focused on increasing community land ownership, the CLA would ensure improved delivery of a range of Government policies and measures aimed at promoting stronger and more resilient local communities
  • While the CLA would have specialist staff it would also have access to expertise within Government. The degree of 'distance' created by its distinct position should be recognised as helpful for its role in working with communities

Primary functions

18 The CLA would have three primary roles:

a. Facilitating negotiated settlements. The Group acknowledges that most local community property acquisitions to date, have not been through exercising statutory rights or from the public sector. There have been many negotiated settlements with private land owners and encouraging and supporting this process should be a priority focus for the CLA. The Review Group considers that, as a key part of this, the CLA's role should include providing advice to land owners who would like to sell or gift land to a local community. The Group considers that the CLA should develop best practice in negotiating successful community acquisitions, including the use of specific approaches such as mediation in difficult cases. The Group acknowledges that there may be a series of outcomes from such negotiations, including community ownership, leasing and other partnership arrangements.

b. Advising Ministers on the use of 'backstop' powers. An important element in the core activity of facilitating negotiated settlements, is the existence of a 'backstop' power if negotiations fail to achieve an outcome in the public interest. This power can be seen as part of the menu of community rights over land, in addition to the current right of pre-emption, as described in Section 17. The Group's view is that local communities should hold statutory rights over land, rather than the CLA and that the CLA's responsibility would be to advise Ministers on the implementation of backstop powers. The Group's view, on the basis of the experience since the Land Reform Act in 2003, is that the existence of such rights will further encourage negotiated acquisitions. The Group considers that the proposed low threshold right of a community to register an interest in land, could provide a major opportunity for the CLA to promote greater awareness of the potential of local community land ownership amongst both communities and land owners.

c. Providing support services. The CLA should provide a clear and integrated national system of support services for community land ownership as described in Section 17.2 above. Rather than employing staff directly, the CLA could contract out such services to appropriate existing organisations, under clear guidance to ensure consistent standards of delivery. This process could involve existing agencies and community sector bodies where appropriate, both benefiting from their direct experience and strengthening the sector.

Other core tasks

19 These would include:

  • Provision of small scale grants to community bodies as part of enabling an acquisition. The CLA should not, however, be given responsibility for administering other funds such as the Scottish Land Fund
  • Help to local communities to deal with applications to funding bodies, while providing advice within Government on the merits and weaknesses of different funding schemes and the co-ordination between them
  • Assistance to communities with applications to acquire public land through non-statutory disposal schemes, such as the National Forest Land Scheme and local authority Community Asset Transfer Schemes
  • Assistance to communities to apply to register a pre-emptive right to buy over land under Part 2 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and help them exercise it if the opportunity arose. The CLA should not be involved in administering this right, with applications assessed for Ministerial approval and recorded in the Register of Community Interests in Land as at present
  • Help to communities through processes, associated with other statutory community land rights, including the existing right to buy of crofting communities under the 2003 Act or new rights for local communities that might result from the Government's current Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill
  • Advice to Government on the merits and shortcomings of measures from its knowledge and experience of them
  • Maintenance of a database of local community acquisitions, as well as post acquisition monitoring over time to inform policy and practice
  • Acting as a hub of expertise on community land ownership within Government and involved in developing improved knowledge, analysis and understanding of it in a Scottish context.

20 The Review Group concludes that communities require a wide range of support and advice in seeking to acquire and manage land. The Group recommends that the Scottish Government should establish a Community Land Agency, within Government, with a range of powers, particularly in facilitating negotiation between land owners and communities, to promote, support and deliver a significant increase in local community land ownership in Scotland.


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