August 22, 2018
From CPO to CSO
Fifty years ago, when local authorities were in the business of building serious amounts of social housing, they needed to assemble large tracts of land at a price they could afford. In those days, Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) were routinely used and land was purchased at the existing value – not the inflated values driven by speculation. For some reason, that device has largely gone out of fashion. But the problem of derelict brown field sites and vacant homes in town centres persists. The Scottish Land Commission has produced a set of proposals for a nuanced version of the CPO – the Compulsory Sale Order.
It is thought that more than 37,000 homes lie empty across the country, with an area twice as large as Dundee vacant.
In urban areas, almost three- quarters of this land – 11,600 hectares – is in private hands.
Now the Scottish Land Commission (SLC) has outlined plans to force gap sites, derelict commercial buildings and vacant homes back into use through compulsory sales orders (CSOs).
The powers would apply to sites and buildings left unused for an “undue period of time” and have a detrimental impact on the surrounding community.
Commissioner David Adams said: “CSOs could be part of a toolkit to bring unused land – especially small parcels of land that have lain unused and unloved, in our city and town centres – back in to productive use.
“Such sites often act as magnets for crime and anti-social behaviour. This damages quality of life for residents and can act as a deterrent for inward investment, making it more difficult to bring about long-term regeneration and renewal.”
The SLC says the scheme aims to tackle what has become an “entrenched problem”, with the “headline figures” on derelict and disused places largely unchanged “since the late 1990s”.
Adams, one of five SLC commissioners, went on: “We envisage it being used as a power of last resort. Councils and landowners should be working together to try to find solutions first.”
Bringing the orders forward within the course of the current parliament was an SNP manifesto pledge in 2016.
The SLC’s work will form a basis for a public consultation on the law change.
The report, published yesterday, suggest councillors and local authority officers should identify sites for compulsory sale, with community groups also able to request that planning bodies investigate properties for CSO.
If implemented, the scheme “would give planning authorities the ability to directly limit individual property rights”.
However, the SLC says legal advice was taken to ensure that “the details of the proposal are consistent with human rights law and in particular the European Convention on Human Rights”.
According to the blueprint, it could take up to three years to resolve each individual case, with owners able to submit evidence in their favour and appeal any CSO applied to their properties.
On selecting sites for CSOs, the body suggests those that “do not have major development potential” and “are not used for any productive purpose”.
Other criteria includes “causing demonstrable harm to the surrounding community” and being “located within or on the immediate periphery of existing settlements”.
It is expected that greenfield sites will not be eligible for CSOs.
Land reform campaigner and Scottish Greens MSP Andy Wightman described the SLC paper as “important”.
Shelter Scotland currently works with councils to bring accommodation back into use through the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership.
But while officers can advise owners on funding available to bring properties back up to scratch, they cannot force them to act.
The charity’s Shaheena Din says these homes are “a wasted resource” and called for coordinated action to tackle the situation.