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November 29, 2022

HIE praise

Much has been said about Scotland’s dysfunctional land market. Not least because of the fact that so much of our land is in the hands of so few. This matters because it ultimately determines much about our ability to tackle key issues such as the lack of affordable housing, health inequalities and the sustainable development of communities in the more remote parts of the country. There have been many calls for more state intervention in the land market and while HIE’s recent innovation is no game changer, it is nonetheless an important step forward and a recognition of where solutions lie.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has announced a new fund to support communities to register an early interest to be able to obtain first option to buy land or buildings being offered for sale.

HIE, which already administers the Scottish Land Fund across the country on behalf of Scottish Government, has developed the new Community Right to Buy Fund.

It will provide financial support for communities to utilise existing Community Right to Buy legislation in what has become a buoyant and fast-paced property market.

Research published earlier this year by the Scottish Land Commission shows that Scotland’s rural land market is experiencing exceptionally high demand, including buyers seeking to acquire rural land for its carbon and environmental potential. This growth in Scotland’s emerging natural capital market has contributed to higher land values and more off-market sales.

Nearly half of all Scottish rural estates purchased in 2021 were sold to corporate bodies, investment funds or charitable trusts. As a result, it is increasingly difficult for communities to participate in today’s land market.

The new fund will offer grants of up to £5,000 for up to 80% of the costs of engaging professional support to investigate the ownership and extent of a land holding.

It will enable communities to complete the application process to register an interest in acquiring land or buildings.

Importantly, should the land or building be offered for sale, it will give communities eight months to raise the purchase price, which is set by a valuer appointed by Scottish Government Ministers.

Stuart Black, chief executive of HIE, said: “Our new Community Right to Buy Fund will help communities across the Highlands and Islands register an interest in suitable land or buildings in advance of sale.

“Land and property acquired in this way could be used for housing or other community-led projects that play a vital role in retaining and attracting population and improving community resilience.

“They can also provide new opportunities for communities to generate income through initiatives such as renewable energy schemes and the emerging market in carbon sequestration.”

Communities will need to demonstrate to Scottish Ministers that their request to register an interest is in the public interest and that purchasing the land or building will enable further sustainable development. They’ll need to have an outline plan for how the asset will be used and how this will benefit the community.