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August 2, 2017

More complex, more ambitious

When Scottish Parliament first introduced land reform legislation, it was lauded and damned in equal measure -predictable headlines from the right wing press screamed comparisons with Mugabe’s land grabs.  But now that the community right to buy is firmly embedded within an ever lengthening list of community empowerment rights, the scale and complexity of community ambition is inevitably growing.  From the tiny community on Isle of Ulva‘s ‘late’ bid to buy their island to the development trust in the centre of Edinburgh seeking to acquire a multi-million pound prime site. Will Scottish Government’s response match this level of ambition?

Mike Wade

The SNP administration is facing the first big test of its new laws extending the right to buy into urban areas after a community trust submitted a bid to transform a famous hospital.

Residents of streets around the “Sick Kids” hospital in Edinburgh applied yesterday to be given first refusal on the site, knowing that they face intense competition from commercial developers. The Marchmont and Sciennes Development Trust (MSDT) plans to create affordable co-operative housing, healthcare and nursery facilities, as well as space for social enterprises and a multi-purpose community hall, among other initiatives.

Nathan Bower-Bir, a spokesman for MSDT, said the government had the chance to act on its rhetoric about community empowerment, for “the benefit of all, not just the well-off”.

“The people of this community are driving this idea and it is clear they want more than what we have seen at other city-centre sites that have been sold off, where developers cram in as many expensive flats as they can and fence off any green space from public access,” he said. “This is an opportunity for ministers to show that these laws are not token gestures, but in fact are significant acts of reform that truly empower local communities.”

The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 allows urban communities to register an interest in land, potentially creating a pre-emptive right to buy it for the benefit of local residents. In the past, only communities of fewer than 10,000 had benefited from land reform.

With the 122-year-old hospital due to move next year to a new facility next to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, competition for the site appears to favour commercial developers.

Last night, it emerged that the protected status of some buildings within the four-acre complex had been removed or downgraded, a move likely to benefit commercial interests.

Under the terms of the legislation, the Sick Kids sale process is paused and ministers have 30 days to decide whether the MSDT bid, which has the support of local businesses and politicians, should get first refusal on the site.