More local communities should have the opportunity to own, lease or use buildings and land which can contribute to their community's wellbeing and future development.
Land is a key asset for supporting local and national economic growth and social, cultural and environmental aspirations and objectives. Land and buildings are required to meet many different needs for local communities such as housing, food production, renewable energy generation, and many forms of business activity, including social and community enterprises. Land, and its associated natural resources, also provide a basis for many public goods, including air quality, water supply, flood management and carbon sinks.
All types of landowners, public and private, can help to contribute to sustainable development but community-based organisations are particularly well placed to identify and understand the needs and aspirations of local people. The ownership or lease of land and buildings can support community wellbeing and resilience and empower people by strengthening their voices in the decisions about the resources and services that matter to them. Ownership and lease of assets provides communities with opportunities to create jobs through enterprise, support vulnerable people, build homes for local residents, bring vacant and derelict sites back into use, support health and wellbeing, protect heritage assets, deliver vital local services, tackle depopulation, and celebrate local culture.
Having control over land and buildings can help communities to tackle the issues that affect them, enabling and empowering them to develop plans to adapt to changing circumstances. This is especially important in remote rural and island areas, many of which are impacted by population decline and demographic challenges that threaten sustainability. Community ownership has made and continues to make significant contributions to these areas and is a key part of achieving a green recovery and long-term sustainability.
Opportunities for communities in urban areas to own, lease and use land and buildings are also important. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 introduced new rights for communities, including those in urban areas, to buy land and to have a say in how land is used and managed. Since these rights were introduced, many urban communities have taken ownership or control of local assets to deliver important services and activities for the people of their area. Although these rights are important, it is also helpful for landowners and managers to consider when they can negotiate the sale, use or lease of a building with a community.
Landowners and managers of all kinds can and do play an important role in supporting communities to own, lease and use buildings and land. They do this by taking a proactive approach to building relationships and working with communities, and by considering the wider social, cultural, environmental or economic benefits that can be delivered when selling, leasing, or developing assets. Public bodies play a key part in creating an environment that supports this and providing practical support for communities to build capacity and explore suitable opportunities. Taking a community wealth building approach to local economic development and using the Place Principle, public bodies and other anchor institutions can support democratic and collective ownership of assets and enable communities to benefit from local land and buildings. Underpinned by the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, the land and property pillar encourages management of land and buildings in a socially just way that grows the economic, financial, social and environmental value that local communities gain from assets.
All landowners, including community landowners, have responsibilities as well as rights relating to their land. They play a vital part in tackling the climate and nature crises, contributing to a successful wellbeing economy and in meeting the economic and social challenges we face as a nation and as world citizens.
What we are doing
- We have committed to doubling the Scottish Land Fund (from £10m each year to £20m) by 2026 and in the year ahead, we will work with stakeholder organisations and communities to build the pipeline of projects to take advantage of the fund as it increases.
- Under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 the Community Right to Buy powers have been extended to urban Scotland, so that every local community has the opportunity to benefit from the advantages of community ownership under this right to buy.
- Forestry and Land Scotland's Community Asset Transfer Scheme(CATS) for Scotland's national forests and land, launched in 2017, delivers the rights for communities under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 to request to lease or buy part of the national forests and land. The 19 transfers completed since 2017 include community woodlands, sites for community hub, mountain bike skills trails and community hydro projects, with an ongoing pipeline of projects at various stages of development.
- Part 5 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 establishes a community right to buy land to further sustainable development.
- Asset Transfer powers in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 give community organisations a right to request the transfer of ownership or other rights in land from public sector bodies, where they can make better use of that land.
- Community Right to Buy legislation (Part 2 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, as amended by Part 4 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015) allows community organisations to apply to register their interest in buying land and building assets that would help them in achieving their aims.
- Scotland has a strong focus on climate justice because those who are suffering the worst impacts of climate change have often done the least to cause it. The report Mapping Flood Disadvantage in Scotland 2015 assesses social vulnerability against flood risk to ensure flood disadvantage metrics inform people working in flood risk management, resilience, emergency services, public health, social care, housing, and the environment.
- The Scottish Government's Local Energy Policy Statement has set a target for 2 GW of operational renewable energy capacity to be community or locally owned by 2030. The Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) is the main mechanism for supporting delivery and that the scheme supports communities to engage, participate and benefit from the energy transition to net zero.
- Our Place Based Investment Programme provides capital investment to support community led regeneration. This includes the Regeneration Capital Grant Fund, and is supported by the Vacant and Derelict Land Investment Programme and the Empowering Communities Programme. The Empowering Communities Programme supports community-led regeneration activity throughout the country to help tackle inequality, empowering communities to deliver on the priorities that matter to them most. It supports a wide range of place based community led regeneration.
- The Empowering Communities Programme also includes funding to deliver the Community Ownership Support Service which provides advice and information to those communities considering asset ownership.
- South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE) is committed to supporting enterprising communities in its region and has a team of advisors and specialists focused on helping communities achieve their ambitions, including to acquire assets and manage them sustainably to contribute to their wellbeing. SOSE's support is tailored to the needs of the local community and advisors work closely with the community to understand and respond to those needs. Over the last two financial years SOSE has made a £3.9m investment in capital assets and projects.
- Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) works in partnership with many communities to manage land, providing an alternative to communities who do not want to take full ownership through asset transfer. As well as consulting with communities on woodland creation and land management, a huge range of community activities are freely carried out on the national forests land. Groups can also get permissions for activities which require more formal arrangements, such as sporting events, habitat management, or path maintenance to improve access to a woodland. FLS also work with communities to carry out projects and longer-term activities through agreements and leases. These range from woodland management agreements, community buildings, and wildlife conservation. Presently, FLS have around 90 formal leases and agreements with communities.
Case Study - Portgordon Harbour
Portgordon Community Trust was established in 2021 to drive regeneration in Portgordon through making best use of village assets. The Trust, originating from the former Portgordon Community Harbour Group, acts as an umbrella organisation for local groups and has bold plans which will see the community take ownership of the local harbour, a key part of the identity and regeneration of Portgordon, while also creating a community hub.
Portgordon Harbour is currently owned by Crown Estate Scotland, the body responsible for managing Scottish Crown Estate assets. The historic stone harbour was officially closed in 1947 and there have been a series of feasibility studies and proposals over the last 20 years aiming to find a solution to securing the harbour structure in the long-term. These have included a feasibility study in 2005 on the potential to develop a marina facility and a 2011 study to locate a new village hall on land adjacent to the harbour.
Past offers of transfer of the harbour to the community have foundered due to concerns over the liabilities for maintaining the infrastructure; as is often the case with small trust ports the key challenges have been volunteer capacity, revenues to support operations and access to finance for infrastructure work. As a non-operational harbour, repair and maintenance has generally been limited to health and safety works, however in 2015 substantial repairs to the harbour's east pier were made following a storm induced collapse of a portion of that pier.
Building on previous work and local engagement by Portgordon Community Harbour Group, Moray Council supported a Planning for Real exercise in 2017 to help clarify and distil community aspirations. Following an unsuccessful application under Crown Estate Scotland's Local Management Pilot Scheme in 2019 to take on management of the harbour, Crown Estate Scotland provided contractor assistance to support community capacity for future governance and to further investigate options and recommendations.
Since 2021, asset transfer of the harbour estate to community ownership has been progressing well. An MoU has been signed between Crown Estate Scotland and Portgordon Community Trust outlining how the organisations will work together towards a shared vision. Crown Estate Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise are also co-funding a Development Officer role to help drive forward the asset transfer, source funding, and further develop the Trust's action plan.
A key milestone set out in the MoU was the purchase of a former pub opposite the harbour by Crown Estate Scotland following community-led consultation. Purchase of the pub forms part of an overall funding package to help facilitate community ownership, and the building will be transferred along with other harbour assets to the community by the end of 2023 enabling a more economically resilient model for ownership. The new community hub will generate income for the Trust through a café and visitor accommodation and will also act as a base for local services and groups – a key priority identified during previous fact-finding surveys.
Formalising commitments through an MoU was an important step in agreeing joint aims and a way forward. This included establishing regular meetings of a Harbour Management Advisory Group as a platform for information sharing and discussion between Portgordon Community Trust, Crown Estate Scotland, Moray Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. This has allowed the group to agree a programme of repair works to the harbour, and importantly for the community to inform on local priorities and insights.
Recruitment of a Development Officer was also crucial in helping to turn the Trust's vision into a reality for the community. The Trust is a key anchor locally and has many projects and plans which will benefit people living, working and visiting the area, however as a volunteer-led organisation, capacity is an issue and so having a dedicated staff resource is important.
The key to success of this joint venture will be working with openness and transparency. We have an opportunity to develop a model with strong foundations, drawing upon each other to build capacity through the sharing of knowledge, signposting opportunities and ensuring that none is left behind.
The ability to connect with other communities who have undergone similar ventures will be essential in our own growth and understanding of how we can generate an economy and sustain the assets for which we will be responsible.
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