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.

7. Discussion of the Key Issues

Individual Parts of the Act

The access provisions in Part 1 of the Act are possibly being constrained by a number of factors. These mostly relate to delays in some Access Authorities drawing up core path plans; insufficient funding available to certain Access Authorities for managing core path networks; and a lack of understanding amongst some stakeholders as to the purposes and values of core paths.

The Community Right to Buy provision in Part 2 of the Act has attracted more applications than was predicted by the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. However, it has brought about relatively modest change in terms of land ownership. Suggested reasons for this include the complex, resource intensive nature of the process; land failing to come onto the market or being withdrawn from it; and a lack of funding and resources to help communities purchase land.

Where land has been purchased using the Community Right to Buy provisions, the size of the areas purchased has generally been small and purchases are often restricted to specific buildings and facilities, rather than larger estates and land per se. This raises the question of what the rationale and scope of Land Reform should be (see General Points below).

It has been suggested that the Community Right to Buy provisions are likely to favour communities that are already reasonably strong - for example, those that have well established organisations and more resources. As a result concern has been expressed that it could contribute to widening the divide between poorer and better off communities.

There may be a need to address a number of gaps in the support that is available to communities wishing to purchase land and assets. For example, the lack of a comprehensive national database on community asset ownership, and the lack of a central point of contact in the government.

To date, the uptake of Crofting Community Right to Buy has been lower than that anticipated by the Financial Memorandum, as it has never been implemented in its entirety to the point where a crofting community body has used it to purchase eligible land and associated rights. Improvements that have been suggested to help enhance the uptake and impact of CCRtB include: reviewing the complex and onerous mapping requirements; improving its promotion; and improving the fit between Crofting Community Right to Buy and other recent reforms of crofting legislation and policy.

Growing Community Assets and the Scottish Land Fund

Although Growing Community Assets (GCA) and the Scottish Land Fund (SLF) are not formally part of the Land Reform Act, they are levers that can help deliver the outcomes being sought from Land Reform.

An evaluation of the SLF found that it had made a significant contribution to community development through the projects supported (SQW, 2007). However, it also identified a number of limitations, including (SQW, 2007, Skerratt, 2011):

  • The limited value of the grants awarded, which was often too small to make more than a modest change to the pattern of land ownership;
  • The lack of recognition regarding how the fund would help communities develop;
  • The short timescales for applications, which could be unfeasible for communities; and
  • The requirement for governance structures to be entirely locally sourced, which did not acknowledge the reported benefits brought by external board members, chairs and members in terms of strategic direction and connections.

The GCA replaced the SLF in 2006. Following an evaluation of the first round of the GCA fund programme, a number of improvements have been suggested (SQW, 2009; Big Lottery Fund Research, 2010; SQW, 2011). These include:

  • Shortening the timescale of the approvals process;
  • Making the distinction between it and other funding programmes clearer;
  • Encouraging a wider range of community members to engage with funded projects;
  • Providing more training and guidance on community management; and
  • Putting more emphasis on succession planning, so that purchases have longer-term benefits and permanency.

General Points

There remains a lack of clarity over the rationale and remit of Land Reform. The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill Policy Memorandum states that its objective is 'to remove land-based barriers to the sustainable development of rural communities' (Scottish Parliament, 2001). However, it is not clear what form this sustainable development should take, or what features should be prioritised. For example, some have proposed that the Act could focus on reversing local economic and environmental decline, whilst others have suggested it could play a role in increasing the population and economic activity of rural communities (SQW, 2007; SQW, 2009). Moreover, it is not clear whether the 'land based barriers to the sustainable development of rural communities' referred to by the Scottish Parliament primarily concern land ownership or land stewardship, as both are likely to be important in terms of sustainable development and different measures would be required for each. For example, many of the potential benefits associated with land and asset ownership may not be achievable through community ownership alone, as benefits such as increasing the financial viability of land and improving local services also depend on how these are managed.

In clarifying the rationale and remit of Land Reform, it may also be important to consider that asset-based barriers (e.g. those associated with particular buildings or facilities) can pose just as much of an issue to sustainable development as land-based ones. This is suggested by the prominence of assets (as opposed to large areas of land) amongst the purchases made using the Act's CRtB provisions to date.

Linked to the above points, the evidence suggests that other options (e.g. land leasing, changes to land and asset management practises etc.) may be just as effective (if not more so) at achieving the sustainable development of rural communities in certain contexts (SQW, 2009; Big Lottery Fund Research, 2011).

The extent to which Land Reform can deliver other benefits, making it more of a means to an end than an end in itself, is also a key issue. For example, Land Reform has been promoted by some as a unifying strand of policy that can help deliver existing policies on community empowerment, asset transfer, regeneration, housing, local governance and finance, and renewable energy (Wightman, 2011).

Researchers have found that monitoring and evaluating the three parts of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 has been extremely challenging, given its flexibility and this lack of clarity regarding its rationale. Nevertheless, monitoring and evaluation will be key for assessing whether the Act is achieving what it set out to do.

Compared to economic and social improvements, the Act seems to have left a number of potential environmental gains relatively unexplored (Scottish Government, 2007). These include:

  • linking land use to land ownership type is difficult, not least because there are many other drivers of land-use change (Munton, 2009).
  • There could be potential to refocus Land Reform on the very large private estates. Yet the very large estates are the most obvious building blocks from which to deliver ecosystem services (Bryden and Geisler, 2007).

There are rapid developments taking place which support the wider policy agenda for strengthening communities, such as the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill, together with legislative changes in areas which impinge on CRtB and CCRtB, such as changes to crofting legislation and compulsory purchase processes. There is also a need to ensure that consideration is taken of developments elsewhere in the UK.


Email: Angela Morgan

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