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October 24, 2012

How much of Scotland is community owned?

We’ve long been aware that the volume of land and assets passing into community ownership has been increasing but because the many uses to which these assets are put, and the sources from where they come, are so diverse no one has been able to draw together the full picture.  Until now.  DTAS has produced a comprehensive baseline study of community ownership and the numbers make for interesting reading.  £1.45bn of assets owned by more than 2,700 community organisations.


Executive Summary

For a copy of the full report click here.

Through this study, Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS) has sought to establish the current scale and nature of community ownership of assets across Scotland. The research was conducted by DTAS’ Community Ownership Support Service (COSS).

The study seeks to assist in measuring the impact of, and targeting future, policy interventions aimed at increasing the number of assets in community ownership in Scotland. Specifically, it aims to:

1. Provide a baseline against which to measure the impact of policy interventions (including COSS support) on levels of community ownership;

2. Inform the development of policy interventions around community ownership, including targeting of the COSS service, through for example identifying cold spots in geographical or thematic terms;

3. Build an evidence base that can be used to raise the profile of the scale and nature of community ownership and influence wider public policy.

The study brought together data held by public and third sector bodies that have disposed of property to community organisations or that have some other involvement in the process of community asset acquisition. The findings relate only to the outright ownership of title to fixed property such as land, buildings, and land related rights (such as sporting, riparian, or minerals rights), and to ownership of major energy installations and, in one case, a ferry. Leases and management agreements have not been included.

There are an estimated 75,891 assets owned by a total of 2,718 community controlled organisations in Scotland, and with an estimated combined value of just over £1.45 billion. Collectively these assets comprise 463,006 acres (187,372 hectares) in area, equivalent to 2.38% of Scotland’s land area. The vast majority of this area (95%) comprises 17 large rural estates under community ownership.

73,151 assets in community ownership are units of housing owned by 84 community-controlled housing associations, housing co-operatives and rural development trusts. The total value of this housing stock is estimated at just over £0.8 billion. Community ownership of housing is excluded from the detailed analysis within the report.

2740 assets are what might be termed ‘community assets’; those that bring benefit to, or can be accessed by, the whole community they are intended to serve. We estimate the combined value of these assets is just over £0.65 billion. Detailed information was uncovered in relation to 376 of these assets, which were used as the basis for identifying key trends in community asset ownership in recent years.

Community assets are used for a vast array of purposes. The most common include community halls, amenity uses (e.g. greenspace), business lets, cafes or restaurants, educational uses, grocery retail, heritage preservation and interpretation, renewable energy generation, and sports facilities.

The timeline for community asset acquisitions shows a total of 315 assets coming into ownership over the past 20 years, with a rapid growth in the number of acquisitions completed in the lead up to the launch of the first Scottish Land Fund in 2001 and the enactment of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Since peaking at 34 acquisitions in 2003, the number of acquisitions would seem to have levelled off and is now in the teens each year.

Two-thirds of community ownership is to be found in remote rural areas, while those areas provide a home to just 6.5% of the population. In sharp contrast, just over one in every twenty community owned assets can be found in large urban areas while 38.9% of the population lives in such areas. DTAS believe there are likely to be a range of inter-connected reasons behind this geographical distribution, including differences in property values between areas, levels of community cohesion and capacity, and regional variances in the availability of funding and technical support for community ownership. However, further research into the factors underlying the difference in levels of uptake between urban and rural areas may prove valuable.

The vast majority of community-owed assets are to be found in areas that do not experience marked levels of deprivation, with over 90% located in the 80% least deprived and just 3% in the 5% most deprived areas (as measured through the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation). Again, there may be various reasons for this pattern, such as differing levels of capacity, aspiration or opportunity. 

DTAS believes it would be worthwhile examining further the distribution of assets in relation to specific measures of deprivation – such as levels of income, unemployment, educational attainment, and geographical access to key services. It may also be worthwhile (but less simple) to identify the extent to which the successful ownershipof assets has led communities out of relative deprivation. Assets have come into community ownership through a variety of routes and from different landowning sectors. Acquisitions on the open market have to-date remained the principle route to ownership for community organisations in Scotland, and several public funding mechanisms have played a significant role in enabling these acquisitions, notably Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s discretionary funding, the first Scottish Land Fund (2001-06), and Big Lottery Funds’ Growing Community Assets programme.

Several public policy mechanisms (voluntary and statutory) designed to increase the flow of assets from the public sector into community ownership were introduced from 2003 onwards. These have met with varying success, with the National Forest Land Scheme, operated by the Forestry Commission Scotland,being responsible for 13 acquisitions by community organisations, the Community Right to Buy for 12, and the Crofting Community Right to Buy for none. The transfer of assets at less than best consideration, in particular from the public sector, has been a notable route into asset ownership for communities, with 22 such cases uncovered through this research, many in recent years.