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August 26, 2009

A community right to buy is a local issue

When a community tries to register its interest in buying land under the Land Reform Act, all the paperwork is handled by the Community Assets Branch within the Scottish Government. Civil servants decide whether the requirements of the Act have been satisfied and make recommendations accordingly.  An LPL supporter argues that civil servants based in Edinburgh are too remote from local communities to have any grasp of the local context. A much more localised alternative arrangement is proposed

Graham Boyd

Right to buy decisions should be local
I enjoyed reading the outcomes of LPL’s land reform meeting held in June which considered how civil society should seek to drive the land reform process. I found it a useful and interesting agenda of land reform topics.
My key observation lies with actions on the Community Right to Buy.  I consider that one of the fundamental weaknesses in the CRB legislation is that it was not devolved to local government. Community land is primarily a local issue and as such central government is very remote from the issues that motivate local communities. Furthermore community land is directly linked to local planning at all levels – environment, social, economic and intergerational, etc. We have since the late 1940s had a devolved planning system in Scotland. Community land is directly related to this system and local government has both the political and administrative systems and capacity to make the necessary judgements and decisions on all the issues that CRB raises. Therefore the whole CRB process should be devolved to local government who should have the power to adust the rules and regulations as they see fit within their strategic and local planning processes subject to Ministerial approval.

We need remove the current roles and responsibilities from the Scottish Government’s Land Reform ‘police’  (Community Assets Branch and its legal advisers) and turn all CRB decision-making over to local authority planning committees and departments.  There is absolutely no point in encouraging more communities to participate in a process which has proven itself over the past five years to be fundamentally flawed and lacking in transparency and accountability. Within the current arrangements (per the Community Assets Branch) we have a set of completely unsupervised administrators who : (i) encourage communities to apply to register land; (ii) provide low level technical advice; (iii) vet all applications and recommend either approval/rejection; and (iv) draft the Ministerial letters.  The Homehill court appeal in 2006 exposed the ‘kafkesque system’ that is still in place. The role of the Minister and the Community Assets Branch should be to monitor the implementation of the CRB and resolve appeals. Nothing more.