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July 7, 2010

Key to unlocking the land

Enthusiasm and interest in local food production seems to know no bounds.  Waiting lists for allotments are at an all time high, community orchards are appearing in the most unlikely places and local food initiatives like the Fife Diet are being held up as models of national importance.  The main restriction on all of this seems to be a lack of available land.  LPL helped to convene a meeting last month to explore a possible solution.

Helen Pank, Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens

Report from a meeting held on 17th June of individuals and organizations  interested in the proposal to form a Community Land Bank in Scotland.

Interest in the concept of a Community Land Bank (CLB) in Scotland is growing.  The objective of a CLB is to make it easier for communities to access land for growing (and perhaps other community activities such as sport or play) as well as making it easier for land owners, both public and private, to use their land in this way.  At the moment communities can find it very difficult to find land and negotiate terms for using the land – even on a short term basis. For instance, Dunoon Allotments Association has been pressing their local authority for land for use as allotments for over 5 years.  Landowners are often overly cautious about making their land available because of fears over the return of the land in the future.

A CLB could help overcome these barriers to access to land, for example by matching communities looking for land with landowners with available land, providing template leases, advice and case studies, assisting with negotiations as an independent third party, perhaps even holding land in trust, thereby offering greater security of tenure for community groups and greater security of tenure for landowners.

The Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens(The Fed)commissioned a ‘pre-feasibility study’ into the proposal to establish a CLB in England last year.  The results showed that there was huge interest in the idea, both from public and private landowners as well as community groups.  The Fed is now undertaking further research into the possible structure and remit of a CLB. However this work is restricted to England as it is funded by Westminster Government.  Therefore, on 17th June at a meeting in Edinburgh discussions took place between a range of different stakeholders including local authorities, the NHS, the Forestry Commission, SNH, Development Trusts Association Scotland, to explore the potential for a CLB in Scotland.

Although there were widely varying opinions on how wide its remit should be, whether it should include land to be used for other community purposes than growing, how much support a CLB could realistically offer to community groups/landowners without requiring a huge organizational infrastructure and resource?  However there was a strong consensus that there was a great deal of merit in the idea and that the next step should be for the Fed to apply to the Scottish Govt for funds to undertake more detailed research to define the remit and structure of a CLB in Scotland.  If this application is successful, the Fed committed to work on this project over the winter with a view to presenting a costed CLB business plan by the end of March 2011.