Overview of Evidence on Land Reform in Scotland

The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the evidence available on the implementation and progress of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 to date, and to highlight some of the key issues that may be worth considering in its forthcoming review.

5. Scottish Land Fund

5.1 The Scottish Land Fund (SLF) ran from February 2001 to March 2006. It was set up by what was then the New Opportunities Fund, now the Big Lottery Fund (BIG), and represented a major new source of funding for asset-based community development in rural Scotland by providing a new mechanism to support ownership activities along with the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 ('the Act'). It was administered by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) in partnership with Scottish Enterprise, and delivered through HIE's Community Land Unit.

5.2 The fund was launched initially with £10m and was supplemented in 2003 with a further £5m. Its main objectives were:

  • To improve opportunities and reduce disadvantage both for communities and individuals in rural areas;
  • To encourage community involvement and participation in land ownership and management;
  • To enhance the environmental diversity and quality of rural Scotland;
  • To facilitate positive use of the land reform legislation on the community right to buy; and
  • To diversify the pattern of land ownership in rural Scotland.

5.3 The fund supported sustainable development across rural Scotland by offering assistance with: feasibility studies into the viability of prospective land purchase and development schemes, land purchase, development schemes on land where access and management agreements are in place, training, and additional costs associated with development schemes.

5.4 Under the SLF 239 grants were awarded which amounted to £13.5 million. The average grant size was about £56,000, though the five largest grants together accounted for just over half of the total SLF budget. The fund helped 188 community groups to own their own land and assets. Around 5,500 people have worked directly as part of these groups.


5.5 An evaluation by SQW (2007) found that the SLF has made a significant contribution to community development through the projects that it supported. The SLF facilitated the provision of a range of community owned and run facilities that have added to the quality of life of residents and, in many cases, led to an increase in economic activity. Importantly, it proved invaluable in enabling communities to use the CRtB legislation. The evaluation notes that 'through the provision of grants, the SLF helps overcome the considerable difficulties that communities have had, and would continue to have, in raising funds for investment'. It adds that most of the SLF value was spent on acquisitions, and that these ranged from large estate community buyouts such as North Harris and Gigha to small scale feasibility studies (SQW, 2007). More broadly, the SLF may have improved community engagement with development opportunities, thus paving the way for future improvements, acting as 'a demonstration of what can be achieved' (SQW, 2007).

5.5 In addition to these merits, the SQW evaluation also identified some limitations of the SLF. Firstly, it states that the value of the grants awarded will not make more than a modest change to the pattern of land ownership in rural Scotland. It also states that land and asset ownership facilitated by the fund cannot be seen as an end in itself, as there also needs to be a recognition of how it can help communities develop.

5.6 The SQW evaluation concluded with a number of key lessons learned which it hoped would inform the development of the successor to the SLF (Growing Community Assets). These were, that the projects funded needed to:

  • Be community-led, in order to have a long-term impact;
  • Have the support of a full time development officer, rather than only volunteers, so as to provide strong leadership and skilled support;
  • Be aware of the challenges and risks that are likely to slow applications down;
  • Have financial sustainability, which could be achieved by enabling them to generate their own incomes;
  • Be capable of generating and maintaining community engagement; and
  • Be monitored so as to identify examples of best practice.

5.7 Growing Community Assets (GCA) was introduced to replace the SLF. This was more focused on the need to help communities (rural and urban) develop, and is discussed in greater depth in the next section.

5.8 Despite these recommendations, a recent paper by Skerratt makes a case for the re-introduction of the Land Fund. This view has been endorsed by Professor James Hunter of University of the Highlands and Islands, Community Land Scotland, and its predecessor members at the community landowner conferences held in Harris. More research may be needed to determine whether to take forward this argument, as the study did not discuss its successor funding programme GCA.[4]

5.9 Skerratt's paper also identifies a number of components that could be improved in order to make the Land Fund more workable, if it were to be re-introduced (Skerratt, 2011). These are:

  • Funds need to be on a scale that allows for meaningful investments to be made;
  • Bureaucratic requirements should be proportional to the area of land being purchased;
  • The timescale for applications needs to be workable for the communities and resources involved;
  • Repeated local balloting for opinion needs to be re-considered to see whether it is the most effective means of community consultation, particularly in terms of the costs and resources it requires;
  • There is a need to re-think the requirement for governance structures to be solely locally sourced, given the reported benefits brought by external Board members, chairs and members in terms of strategic direction and connections;
  • There is a need to commit after-care officers following a purchase, to provide revenue support post-acquisition for the appointment of a project or development officer; and
  • There is a need for management / governance training to be provided to land ownership Boards, and for better signposting to help them access guidance, expertise and further funding.

5.10 Skerratt's paper also identifies specific legislative requirements that may need to be addressed in order to realise the full benefits of the SLF, including the transfer of public assets to communities at below market value (Skerratt, 2011).


Email: Angela Morgan

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