There should be meaningful collaboration and community engagement in decisions about land.
Decisions relating to land and buildings can have a range of social, economic and environmental impacts. Broad and meaningful engagement on decisions taken in relation to land and buildings is a key aspect of responsible management and use of land. It can help to build trust between landowners, land managers, communities and other stakeholders, and secure better outcomes for everyone involved. Participation is a key part of a human rights approach to decision making and an important factor in tackling inequalities. Being able to influence policies and decisions about land can build community capacity, confidence, and wellbeing.
Meaningful engagement is when those who might be impacted by the decisions being made have a genuine opportunity to learn about proposed changes and share their views. It involves open and honest conversations between those making the decisions and those who could be affected. It takes place at an early enough stage in the process that the views shared can influence what will happen next and is followed up by feedback and information about how the decisions have been made.
In practice, effective engagement supports communities to express themselves and influence the decisions that affect them. It also enables landowners, land managers and communities to develop positive and co-operative working relationships. This can lead to creative and innovative solutions to issues, and better economic, environmental, social and cultural outcomes for all parties. Working together offers the chance to define shared objectives and priorities, share information and data that can aid decision-making, identify and understand opportunities, build mutual understanding, share knowledge and skills, and align resources. Ultimately, it makes sure needs and aspirations are taken into account and increases local support for developments, in turn leading to stronger and more sustainable projects.
Local Place Plans, introduced by the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, give communities a right to produce their own plans as part of the new Scottish planning system. These plans can set out the community's proposals for the development and use of land and offer a chance for a community-led and collaborative approach to creating resilient local places. These Local Place Plans will feed into and complement the preparation of local and planning authorities' Local Development Plans.
Participation plays an important role in tackling inequalities so it is vital to plan engagement and decision-making processes well and to remove barriers that might prevent people from getting involved. This could involve thinking beyond traditional methods of engagement, such as surveys and public meetings, and thinking about other ways to gather views and involve people, including through digital participation.
Where there are long-term and significant plans for change in an area, there may be a desire for more collaboration in land use decisions. Greater collaboration can be realised through use of participatory processes and democratic governance models. Participation and deliberation are important aspects of decision-making that allow people to work together to explore ideas and find common purpose. They enable and empower those impacted by the way that land is owned, used and managed to shape the policies that are put in place and the decisions that are made. They also offer the chance to increase the capacity and skills of those involved.
It is important that landowners and communities look outward, to their neighbours, wider society and the interconnected world within which we all live. Wide ranging engagement and collaboration is necessary to make positive progress on land reform issues, in a mutually beneficial way. Sharing ideas, good practice and learning from previous experience, as well as from other people and communities, helps us to ensure that our land is being owned, used and managed in a way that contributes to an inclusive, modern and successful country.
What we are doing
This principle is complemented by guidance on Engaging communities in decisions relating to land, published in April 2018. Its primary aim is to help ensure that people have the opportunity to be involved in decisions about land that affect them. It contains guidelines on when and how engagement should take place and with whom, while recognising that it should be tailored to meet local circumstances. The first review of the Guidance and report on the effectiveness of the Guidance was published on 23 March 2021.
In addition, this principle is supported by the following policies and publications:
- The National Standards for Community Engagement act as a guide to support and inform the process of community engagement. They were reviewed in 2016 and again in 2020 to guide thinking on how to engage effectively with communities during the Covid-19 pandemic and in recovery.
- The National Standards for Community Engagement continue to be supported by VOiCE, which is a digital tool to assist individuals, organisations and partnerships with delivering meaningful community engagement.
- The Net Zero Nation: Public Engagement Strategy for Climate Change, published in September 2021, signals a raising of our ambition and our recognition of the vital role of public and community engagement in facilitating a societal transition to a net zero and climate resilient nation. The strategy sets out our framework for engaging the Scottish public on climate change: deepening understanding of the global climate emergency, enabling participation in policy design, and encouraging and normalising climate action. This includes engagement across all climate policies, including how land use and agriculture can support our just transition to a net zero nation.
- Forestry Consultation Procedures provides information on the current community engagement requirements in forestry. Forestry guidance for woodland creation, felling permissions and long-term management plans provides further detail, Scotland's Forestry Strategy Implementation Plan 2022-2025 includes an action to 'Work with the forestry sector and communities to promote the principles set out in the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement and improve the opportunities for communities to be involved with the development of forestry proposals and plans'.
- The Islands Programme was established to support delivery of the Scottish Government's National Islands Plan – a landmark strategy to improve the quality of life for island communities. The Plan has 13 objectives, and over 100 specific commitments to address fuel poverty, population decline, tackle climate change and improve transport, housing and the delivery of public services, amongst others. The Islands Programme is designed to support those living on Scotland's islands and involves communities in the decisions on how and where investments are made.
- The Place Standard is an assessment tool for evaluating the strengths and challenges that exist in a particular place, in order to support communities and the public sector, private sector and third sector to work together to deliver high quality, sustainable places. A series of additional resources to increase participation and engagement through the use of the Place Standard tool will be published in 2022. The partnership behind the Place Standard tool launched a new 'Our Place' website in January 2022 which contains information, tools and resources to help deliver sustainable places and improve engagement and empowerment.
- Our reform of Scotland's planning system has a strong focus on improving how communities are engaged and involved in planning the future development of their local areas from the earliest stages. The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 has created a statutory link between development planning and community planning. The 2019 Act also created a new right, which came into force in 2022, for communities to prepare their own local place plans, setting out a shared vision for how their community should develop in line with the local development plan.
- Under the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003, local authorities, health boards, the enterprise networks, police, fire and regional transport partnerships have a duty to carry out Community Planning, working in concert with the community to plan and deliver better services.
- Scottish Government has introduced Participation Requests, which help people start a dialogue about the things that matters to their community; to have their voice heard in policy and service development, through contributing to decision-making processes, and to challenge decisions and seek support for alternatives, which improve outcomes. Since 2017, 75 participation requests have been made. These include community participation for pier safety issues; local road improvements; the future of local police offices; and improvements to community halls.
- On 21 July 2022, Tom Arthur, Minister for Public Finance, Planning, and Community Wealth, launched the review of the Community Empowerment Act at the Loch Ness community hub. Part 3 of the Act which concerns participation requests will form a central part of the review, and we will look to find further ways local people can be involved in the decisions about public land use in Scotland. The review is scheduled to conclude in Autumn 2023.
- We are piloting Regional Land Use Partnerships (RLUPs) across several regions of Scotland. The pilots aim to facilitate collaboration between local and national government, land owners, land managers and wider stakeholders. They will work at a regional level to enable natural capital-led consideration of how to maximise the contribution that our land can make to addressing the twin climate and environmental crises.
- The Scottish Government continue to support participatory budgeting (PB) as a tool for community empowerment. The National PB Strategic Group defines PB as a "democratic process in which citizens decide directly how to spend part of a public budget". As part of the National PB Support Programme, we support a range of local, regional and national partners to raise awareness of PB and deliver it as a means to strengthen local decision making processes. The National PB Framework involves five themes, underpinned by sixteen priority recommendations, which looks at how PB can improve participatory democracy across issues such as climate justice, health and wellbeing and housing.
Case Study - Applecross Community Land Use Plan
The Applecross peninsula is one of the most remote areas on the Scottish mainland. Twenty crofting township communities live dispersed over a large estate owned by a single owner, the Applecross Trust. Significant local housing needs have created a collaborative process engaging the community landowner, local authority, and public agencies to identify housing sites through a Community Land Use Plan.
In the past, the community and the Applecross Trust did not have a clear route for communications where everyone's views could be heard, leading to misconceptions and misunderstandings between the key players. Ground conditions, difficulties getting services and infrastructure in, and the amount of land under crofting tenure made it difficult to select suitable housing sites. The vast scale of the Local Development Plan area only has extremely broad place statements. Applecross therefore lacked a democratic process for selecting sites in a collaborative way.
The Applecross Community Forum has been established recently which has brought together key stakeholders to 'improve both local responsiveness and collaborative problem solving.' Members of the forum include the major landowners, community organisations, Highland Small Communities Housing Trust developers, the local authority, and a range of other statutory bodies.
The forum has provided the central discussion group needed to bring the key parties together in a neutral and independently chaired space with a remit to 'promote affordable development for land and housing, employment and community uses for local residents and those wishing to make a long term contribution to the Applecross community.' PAS (Planning Aid Scotland) were brought in to lead on the development of the Community Land Use Plan, endorsed by Highland Council as a material planning consideration.
Benefits and Lessons Learned
The Applecross case study reflects a point in time in an ongoing process. The ultimate success will come when the houses needed are built. But several of the lessons so far could be applied in other parts of rural Scotland. These include:
- A fine-grained local housing survey to prove local housings needs.
- A neutral forum set up to improve communication between all parties.
- Production of a Community Land Use Plan using independent facilitator, and its adoption as a Material Planning Consideration by Highland Council as a strong example of a Local Place Plan (LPP) approach. This could be a model for LPPs to meet identified local need elsewhere.
- Ability to attract funding and other in-kind help to support a resource-intensive process.
More detail about the challenges and positive outcomes from this project are included in more detail in the report The Role of Land in Enabling New Housing Supply in Rural Scotland.
Case Study - NorthWest2045 Project
The NorthWest2045 project has been established by a diverse group of local organisations with a common desire to see a future where local communities thrive economically, socially, and environmentally. The project aims to create a collective, long-term vision for the future (to 2045), giving voice to the desires and needs of the people of the North West Highlands and working together to make their aspirations reality.
Since March 2020, a diverse team of volunteers, paid professionals and young local interviewers have been working with communities from Coigach up to Durness and round the North coast to Bettyhill to help develop this shared vision for the area. A consultation carried out online and in person (including an open survey, a young persons' survey, in-depth interviews and community workshops) attracted the attention of one in ten North West residents.
NW2045 is the lead partner in one of several Regional Land Use Partnership (RLUP) pilots being implemented across Scotland. NW2045 are working out what a Land Use Partnership can be 'on the ground' and what it might meaningfully bring to the area.
So far, the RLUP is grappling with how to achieve and sustain collective communication and collaboration, working with partners including the Highland Council; Highlands and Islands Enterprise; NatureScot; the environmental non-governmental organisations; and landowners and community bodies such as The North West Highlands Geopark, Assynt Development Trust, Scourie Development Company and UpNorth!.
RLUP led activities to date have included:
- the commissioning of the first Natural Capital Assessment of the NW2045 area, which received input from a wide variety of public; private and community sources. To further understand what taking a 'place-based natural capital' approach might mean, a community council area was focussed on and input sought from the Grazing Committees; landowners; tenant farmers and community representatives.
- making connections, gathering ideas and sharing information through creative and cultural exchange by their participation in the inaugural Highland Climate Festival and the annual Durness Gathering in collaboration with NatureScot Peatland Action, North West Highlands Geopark and the North Highlands Climate Action Hub.
- collaborating with Flora and Fauna International to discuss a research project on one of the local sea lochs - helping to bridge the gap between academic situated research and critical community and stakeholder input.
- hosting a meeting by Ariane Burgess MSP with two major landowners to hear about their respective activities, including those to address repopulation.
- attending the Assynt Highland Games in partnership with Assynt Development Trust; the Land Reform Engagement event in Helmsdale; and meeting with Minister for Environment and Land Reform Mairi McAllan to give her the NW2045 Vision and a community generated reflection of their natural capital research.
NW2045 RLUP activities under development include:
- working with NatureScot on two pilots: one on community engagement in landscape change and the second on contributing to the co-design of a natural capital toolkit.
- working with the Scottish Government's Rural Payments and Inspections Division to explore how to use their data to generate an accessible set of NW2045 relevant information.
- working with the University of the Highlands and Islands to take forward community-led research.
- widening the reach and representation of the RLUP pilot and developing a Regional Land Use Framework.
It is challenging to determine relevance to geographically dispersed people and partners with diverse drivers and perceptions. This is underlined when attempting to discuss concepts like natural capital, a new topic to many. Making concepts like this into understood parts of community futures will enable communities to be active participants in discussions and possible developments.
The dispersed, networked nature NW2045 is reflected in the methodology of the initial research to inform the Vision and perpetuated through their work with a diverse range of local community representatives and community connectors.
While the NW2045-led RLUP pilot is keen to collaborate with key partners to deliver tangible, action-oriented activity, there are limits to their capacity, and they face challenges in bringing together such diverse community voices.
RLUPs are presently being piloted and their future role is being considered. However, land futures are pivotal to the NW2045 area, and NW2045 believes that with appropriate strategy, recognition and resources, RLUPs will going forwards be able to influence policy, place and people.
The first phase of the RLUPS pilot informs their ongoing work in an iterative way. It will be critical to optimise the resource-knowledge, connections and capital of the NW2045 partners and wider collaborators. Going forward, they intend to focus on communication and engagement, developing a hybrid approach to digital and in-person consolidated and coordinated working.
More information can be found on the NorthWest2045 website.
There is a problem
Thanks for your feedback