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October 21, 2009

LPL seminar – Stirling 13/10/09

Notes of the land reform seminar organised by Local People Leading, held in the Tolbooth, Stirling on 13th October

This was first in a series of land reform seminars to be coordinated by LPL’s Land Reform Advisory Group  (LRAG) .  LPL is an alliance of national and regional community based networks and the work of LRAG is being led by two of these networks – Community Woodlands Association and Development Trusts Association Scotland.

The seminar participants (see appendix to report of meeting) were a combination of invited guests and individuals who had registered their interest through the LPL Briefing which is circulated widely on a fortnightly basis.

The seminar was chaired by Ian Cooke, Director of DTAS.

Andy Wightman, author and researcher on land reform, introduced the seminar with a brief presentation outlining the recent historical and policy background to land reform. Key events/developments through the 1990’s had gradually built a momentum around land reform – events such as the Assynt Crofters community buy out ; the John McEwan Memorial Lecture series which took place between 1993 -99; publication of books such as Who Owns Scotland and How Scotland Is Owned; growing political commitment from a wide number of labour politicians such as Donald Dewar and Brian Wilson; a manifesto commitment from Labour in ’97 to initiate a study into the system of land ownership and management in Scotland.

Following the ’97 election, a Land Reform Policy Group (LRPG)  was established in October of that year. Comprised wholly of civil servants, LRPG produced two consultation papers which resulted in a series of proposals for action across a wide range of policy areas – all of which related in some way to land reform.  In advance of the first Scottish Parliament elections, the ground had been laid for some early legislative progress on land reform to be made by the new Parliament. A series of Land Reform Action Plans (ten) were published from 2000 onwards which documented progress against the commitments that had previously been made.

The last Action Plan was published in 2002 and since then the focus has been on implementation through the second term of the Parliament (2003-07). However he argued that there is much evidence to support the view that the momentum that built up during the period  1997- 2004  when the land reform programme was pulled together has dissipated without all aspects of the programme having being acted upon. Indeed, there are other aspects of this agenda that have not come under the scrutiny of the land reform programme at all such as the common good.

LRAG proposes to publish a report which will give an overview of what progress has been made (or not) with respect to the aforementioned Land Reform Action Plans.

Andy concluded with five key observations:

·        Difficulties exist with the term ‘land reform’ in terms of a common understanding of what it means. He proposed the approach currently adopted in South Africa which has three components. 1.Land tenure reform (the legislative framework) 2. Restitution (recovering/ reclaiming land rights that had historically been removed from the people) 3. Redistribution of land (addressing power inequalities in society) In essence, it was proposed that land reform concerns the mediation of power and the relationship that exists between people and land.

·        LRPG’s remit was unnecessarily restricted in its scope and the working principles on which it based its work had no rationale or intellectual basis. In particular the restriction to rural Scotland (settlements less than 10,000) and the arbitrary emphasis on the area covered by Highlands and Islands Enterprise means that resources, administrative support and the opportunity for the communities to take advantage of the legislation( in respect of the Community Right To Buy)  has been unequally apportioned across the country.

·        The number of stakeholders with an active interest in the field of land reform is now much wider than at first one might imagine and therefore this adds weight to the case for redefining land reform so that the linkages are connected together into one related ‘whole’.

·        There are several aspects of land reform which appear to exist in isolation from one another but are in fact all interrelated and impinge in some way on the relationship between people and the land they live on (see appendix 2)

·        From 2003 there has been a loss of policy focus. From 1997 – 2003 a lot of attention was given to land reform but subsequent to the legislation coming into effect, there appears to have been an unspoken assumption that the work is complete. However as he had argued, there are many areas where further progress is required and most importantly, work to ensure that the different elements need to be better coordinated.


The meeting was then opened up for wider discussion and debate. The issues raised are reported in the form of separate bullet points.


·        It was noted that there are several assets, principally land, currently in the ownership of government and government agencies which could be more proactively managed and disposed of into community ownership.

·        Greater consideration and clarity from government needs to be given to the issue of how to sell land at less than market value without infringing ‘best value’ considerations.

·        The community right to buy, outwith the crofting areas, requires a willing seller, so there is no power to enforce a sale. It is only a right to register an interest in buying should the property come onto the market.  Interest was expressed in strengthening the power of the community right to buy. It was noted that the Scottish Government Minister with responsibility  is currently not minded to review the Act.

·        An example of the need to make more explicit links between the different components of the land reform agenda was cited as the current situation pertaining to mobile home parks and the situation which relates in particular to Willowwood in West Lothian.

·         The fiscal dimension of land and broadening the public tax base offers an opportunity both to tie together many aspects of the land reform agenda and the means to make progress with policy makers at a time when public expenditure is tight and against the backdrop of relatively high land values.

·        Key to making progress in relation to this agenda is the issue of resources.  In recent years Big Lottery has been the only source of funding and that has effectively dried up. The Scottish Government has made virtually no public funds available to develop this agenda.

·        While political support has ebbed and flowed over the past decade for land reform, a consistent barrier to progress has been the attitude of civil servants and their unwillingness to see land reform as anything other than a restricted rural provision

·        There needs to be paradigm shift in terms of the way public benefit is accounted for. Currently land transfers and sales are viewed through the prism of profit margins and private sector interests. Models such as Social Return On Investment (SROI) need further investigation and promotion.

·        There needs to be a step change in the aspirations we have for the community sector. Just over 200 asset owning communities sounds a large number but we could do with some rigorous research into what community aspirations exist and what legislation currently impinges on those aspirations.

·        Noted that there would be value in promoting a wider variety of success stories of where communities have taken on assets and enjoyed significant benefits as a consequence.

·        Need to identify and encourage ‘political champions’ for this work and begin to work with the various manifesto writers to ensure that new commitments to advance land reform form part of the programmes after the next Scottish Parliament elections.

·        Agreement that the rural association with land reform needed to be challenged and extended to all of Scotland.

·        It was proposed that efforts should be made to establish a Cross Party Working Group on Land reform in Scottish Parliament. It was recognised that that the work of the LRPG is still relevant and that a new action plan and new vision for land reform would not be difficult to articulate.

·        The policy landscape has evolved since 2003  – the rationale and the first principles for a new programme of land reform needs to be clearly set out and explained to a wide audience.


LPL’s first land reform seminar closed with agreement that a record of the event would be circulated in due course and a further report would be commissioned detailing progress to date with respect to the Land Reform Policy Group’s published action plans.  The LPL Land Reform Action Group will work towards a second seminar to be held early in 2010.