October 3, 2023
Time for change
Twenty years ago the pioneering Unst Partnership, Scotland’s most northerly development trust, designed and built the UK’s first ever road taxed hydrogen-powered car. This remarkable achievement was feted by politicians on all sides, and it was reasonable to assume that this was merely a portent of things to come – a future in which communities would be at the forefront of the emerging renewable energy market. To date, the community share of that energy market has fallen far short of expectation and with the anticipated scale of expansion in the country’s capacity to generate renewable energy, that needs to change.
A new paper from Community Land Scotland suggests that communities across Scotland’s rural areas have repeatedly lost out when money-spinning economic developments are established in their local area. Community Land Scotland proposes a transformational system of new community partnership agreements to ensure community priorities are included from the earliest stage of new economic developments, through the detailed planning process, and including the on-going management of the project.
The paper, Beyond Community Benefit – a new deal for thriving communities, highlights the potential opportunities from massive new investment in projects such as windfarms and carbon-sequestration. Community Land Scotland’s Chairperson Ailsa Raeburn highlights the frequent struggle between local communities and investors/landowners to agree a level of direct local benefit from the exploitation of natural assets.
‘It’s worth remembering that, in generations past, agreement between landowners, developers and the local people was never properly achieved with the coming of historic profitable developments that often dominated many rural estates, such as sheep, kelp, forestry, and fish-farming.
‘Those who have been able to own those assets have always taken nearly all the benefits.
‘Existing models see local communities as a tick-box consideration, with at most contributions to a ‘community benefit fund’, which is often a fraction of the money generated from the projects. We need to move beyond this model and have the community actively involved from the very start of any development process, deciding how everyone in the community can benefit comprehensively from, what are often, very profitable developments.’
‘In 2023, renewables, for example, have huge economic development potential for rural areas of Scotland if properly managed. We need an enforceable system that ensures the local people in these communities get a significant benefit with economic development locked into the local area, as well as securing returns for the landowners and development companies.’
A key change would see Thriving Community Partnership Agreements (TCPA) being drawn up, giving new priority to the needs of the local people. TCPA’s would stipulate a more holistic understanding of ‘benefit’, such agreements could include a precise percentage share of the gross profits of income from the development (rather than a net grant from profits after costs have been deducted). However, benefits would ideally move beyond justfinancial handouts to include land-transfers, housing and service development, for example, depending on agreed community priorities.
The Thriving Community Partnership Agreement could agree a percentage share of any new business venture – such as a wind-farm – be owned by the community, thus securing longer-term, sustainable local income and ensuring the local community has a meaningful seat on governance bodies. A Local Management Board would ensure the interests of the community are represented from the earliest stages, and on a continuous basis.
’Large-scale land use change requires a transformational, truly inclusive, process with local communities at the centre of decision-making about what happens in their communities’, says Ailsa Raeburn. ‘Local community agreement would be required at each stage of the process. A true partnership agreement is best for everyone involved, the landowner and developer as well as the local people.’
She believes that radical reform of the development process – with the benefits it would bring to all stakeholders – reflects the Scottish Government’s own policy objectives, including a just transition to Net Zero, building local community wealth, and strengthening local resilience and self-reliance.
‘To achieve these aims’ Ailsa Raeburn concludes, ‘there must be trust, openness and honesty between the landowner, investors, and local community. A Thriving Community Partnership Agreement should be seen as an integral part of the costs and especially, the benefits, of doing business in the local community and accorded the same value within the owner’s development proposal and appraisal.’