June 1, 2016
Strong message on land reform
Roseanna Cunningham, fresh with new responsibilities for land reform has been busy laying down a few markers for the future. Addressing landowners last week in Edinburgh, it was made plain that land reform will continue as a key priority for the Government – a message heavily reinforced at Community Land Scotland’s packed conference in Stornoway last weekend. Urging the villagers of Wanlockhead in Dumfries and Galloway to buy out their land from the Duke of Buccleuch, it was clear that she would be with them “every step of the way.”
Speech by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham MSP at the Community Land Scotland conference 2016
Thank you for that welcome, and for inviting me to speak at this conference. It’s good to see so many community landowners getting together to exchange ideas and best practice, along with representatives from supporting organisations.
It’s this spirit of co-operation and mutual support that makes community land ownership such a success.
Over the last few years, community ownership and indeed land reform in a wider sense, has taken on a momentum of its own, which is fantastic.
There have been some momentous achievements in the last few years.
The Land Reform Review Group, which this government set up in 2012, published its final report in May 2014. The report had 63 recommendations, many of which have found their way into legislation.
In 2013, at this very conference on Skye, the then First Minister Alex Salmond, announced an ambitious target of 1 million acres of land in community ownership by 2020.
We are over halfway to that target.
In June 2015, the Community Empowerment Act was passed. Amongst other things, this introduced the right for communities to request asset transfers, participate in local decision making, and opened up the Community Right to Buy to the whole of Scotland.
And of course, the Land Reform Act went further still, giving even more opportunities for communities.
It widened the right to buy still further, as well as committing to a Land Rights and Responsibilities statement and a Land Commission to oversee the future of land reform.
I said on Wednesday morning that I did not believe that you could simply draw a line underneath land reform and regard it as ‘job done’. The Land Commission will ensure that it becomes an ongoing process, evolving over time, to suit the needs of the people of Scotland.
All of these steps have been taken with the overarching aim of using land strategically and sustainably.
This will contribute to a more prosperous and successful nation.
Communities most affected by decisions about land must be fully engaged in those decisions.
Over the same period, Community Land Scotland has been alongside the government on this journey. It has seen its own membership more than triple, from 21 to 67.
One of their newest members, Wanlockhead Community Trust, is looking to buy land from one of the largest land owners in Scotland and with the advice and support of the people and organisations in this room, I hope that they are successful.
Community Land Scotland has engaged fully with the parliamentary passage of both the Community Empowerment and the Land Reform Acts.
In particular Peter Peacock has been instrumental in ensuring that the interests of community owners are kept to the fore and I thank him for his contribution to both Acts.
This willingness to engage, across the spectrum of landowners, community groups and support organisations, has delivered two pieces of legislation which embody our ideals.
We have a new spirit of co-operation which can only be good for communities in the long run.
As a perfect example of that, I am delighted that Community Land Scotland, working in partnership with Scottish Land & Estates, are to formally launch the new Protocol for Negotiated Sales at this Conference tomorrow.
The Protocol is intended to promote and facilitate the transfer of more land and associated assets from willing private landowners to community owners
This will deliver both a greater diversity of ownership of land in Scotland and enhance the delivery of public benefits.
Scottish Government has been, and remains committed to strengthening the rights of communities who may wish to purchase land.
These community rights, now enshrined in law ,are there to be used if necessary. However, I recognise that the best, most positive solution, is where the transfer of land can take place via a negotiated sale between a willing seller and a willing community.
The Protocol builds on the experience of many community purchases that have followed just such a route. It has drawn on the knowledge of communities, landowners and a wide range of professional advisors, and their input should be acknowledged.
It is no surprise that many of the lessons have been learnt here, in the Western Isles, where 70% of the land mass Is now under community ownership.
I am sure that, with the backing of both Community Land Scotland and Scottish Land & Estates, the Protocol, while not delivering the same high percentage of community ownership of all land in Scotland, can certainly assist in the delivery of meeting the Scottish Government’s million acre target
To back these policies up, the Scottish Land Fund was increased from £3m to £10m a year, as well as now being available to urban communities in keeping with the changes to community right to buy.
In fact, the first urban community group, Barmulloch Community Development Company, received a grant of £85,000 to allow them to purchase a former church in North Glasgow.
The church is currently leased by the development company and used for a boxing gym, Money Advice Centre and meeting rooms.
They now intend to modify and refurbish the premises to create more space for additional services and activities.
In the longer term they will seek to build small serviced industrial units and workshops on the land at the rear of the site, to provide new employment opportunities and generate income to support community services.
As well as expanding the scope of the fund, applications to the Land Fund have now been split into two stages.
This will allow community groups to apply at Stage 1 for pre-acquisition grants to assist in planning and developing their ideas, before taking the big step of acquisition at Stage 2. So far this year £71,000 has been allocated to 7 groups across Scotland.
But there is still more to be done. In the short term, we currently have consultations on many of the proposed changes in the Community Empowerment Act.
There is the crofting community right to buy, which seeks to simplify the right and make it more accessible to potential new community landowners.
There is the right to buy abandoned and neglected land, which seeks to bring land back into productive use, where a community can show that it can develop that land sustainably.
This is a powerful tool, as it does not require the owner’s consent to sell the land. Of course, that puts an increased burden of proof on the community, which is only right, but the potential is there for communities that want to seize the opportunity.
There is asset transfer, where communities can request the transfer of assets from public authorities. Those authorities now have additional responsibilities in how they deal with such requests, and engage with those communities who make them.
There is a consultation on participation requests. Where a community body believes it could help to improve an outcome, it will be able to request that the public body takes part in a process to improve that outcome.
Finally, there is a consultation on community planning guidance. This is about how public bodies work together and, with the local community, plan for, resource and provide or secure services which improve local outcomes.
As you can see, we are keen to hear your views on how we can progress all of these tools for communities, so I encourage you, both individually, and as organisations, to respond.
…and there’s still more…
The target of a million acres in community ownership by 2020 is a stretching one. A short life working group was set up in March last year, to look at several things. Some of the key elements were;
• A summary of the benefits of community ownership and a vision and agreed set of principles to guide the 1 million acre strategy
• A strategy outlining how to achieve the target by 2020
• An action plan outlining how to implement the strategy to shape the functions of a new dedicated community land ownership resource
The group’s final report was published in December and they identified seven major factors that were seen as the key barriers to achieving the target.
• There is a need to stimulate demand for land through raising awareness
• There is a need to build the capacity of communities to take land ownership projects forward
• There is a need to support engagement with and within communities
• There is a need to improve access to support services
• There is a need to develop the network of support providers
• We need to address the availability of land
• We need to address barriers to the supply of land
As with land reform in a wider sense, there is no single solution, no magic bullet, which will solve all of the issues and overcome all of the barriers.
We have already taken some initial steps on the road to the target.
A strategic group has been set up to look at how to tackle these issues. As I’ve already said, co-operation is key to achieving change, and the membership of the group is a clear indication of that.
We have representatives from Community Land Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates, Forestry Commission, Community Ownership Support Services, Scottish Government, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Big Lottery, on the group.
Their first priorities are focussed on two areas, raising awareness and mapping community support.
The first priority – raising awareness – will ensure that everyone involved (or potentially involved) in community ownership knows about the opportunities, benefits and challenges that come with having the ambition to take control and put together a bid for community ownership.This includes communities themselves, the public and private landowners, and the organisations that provide financial support and capacity building.
Over the course of the next year or two, a range of engagement events and promotional activity will take place across the whole of Scotland, to raise awareness and promote the benefits of community ownership.
It is widely recognised that, whilst promoting awareness is important, it does not help if the capacity to take advantage of the opportunities it brings, is not there.
It is no good “forcing” community ownership on a community that does not have the resources, both financial and in terms of the skills and knowledge, to take that on.
It is no easy task, as I’m sure you are all well aware. There is support out there for communities, but it is not always easy to find, or easy to access.
So the strategic group is looking at how best to map this support. Then they will look at how to make it more co-ordinated, easier to access and easier to understand.
This is crucial for those groups who are thinking about community ownership for the first time.
All of you have a role to play in that support network, by sharing your experiences, both good and bad, and helping those groups take the first few steps.
You can share your stories of struggle and frustration, of success and inspiration. But most of all, you can inspire those groups and help them see just what community ownership can achieve.
The range of uses that communities put their newly acquired land to varies enormously.
From army camps at Cultybraggan to whale songs at Gallan Head, from villages like Glenelg who are twinned with Mars to spaceports in Machrihanish, it just goes to show that land and assets can be used for almost anything.
The title of this conference is “What Next for the Sector?”
With the spirit of willingness that has been witnessed over the last few years, and with the legislation and support mechanism to back this up, I say that it can be almost anything you want it to be.