October 17, 2023
A community can often be taken by surprise when some land or an important local building is put on the market. While the community might wish to purchase the asset, all the arrangements that have to be put in place (finance, a vote of support from the community to buy etc) before an offer can be made can take too long and the opportunity can be lost. Crown Estate Scotland who hold and manage significant wealth on behalf of Scottish Ministers, have come up with an elegant solution to the problem.
In September of this year, I embarked on a new journey with Crown Estate Scotland: leading development of a groundbreaking initiative called the Community Land Accelerator. Developed in partnership with the Scottish Land Commission, the accelerator aims to support diversity in land ownership in Scotland.
About Crown Estate Scotland
Crown Estate Scotland is a relatively young public body which manages assets on behalf of Scottish Ministers – including seabed, coastline, rural land and more – for the benefit of the people of Scotland. Our revenue profit goes to Scottish Government.
Performing this role in a way which involves communities, and delivers wider value beyond financial return is core to Crown Estate Scotland’s approach – but nonetheless, I didn’t expect my work to continue focusing on land reform in Scotland when I joined. I was happy to be proven wrong, however, when I was invited to meet with our then Chief Executive around four months into my tenure.
Breaking down barriers to land reform
The issue we discussed is one familiar to anyone involved in community-owned assets and land reform: how do we remove barriers to true land reform and the redistribution of Scotland’s assets? In Scotland we are lucky enough to have various types of support in place to further land reform and community empowerment – but barriers still emerge when assets are of high value, come onto the market unexpectedly, or when communities need a portion of land that an owner wants to sell in its entirety.
We felt certain that finding a way to address this issue would serve our overarching purpose of investing in property, natural resources and people to generate lasting value for Scotland, and that creating opportunities to diversify land ownership and management is critical if communities are to thrive.
Following that conversation, Crown Estate Scotland began discussions with Hamish Trench of the Scottish Land Commission – and the concept of the Community Land Accelerator was born.
What is the Community Land Accelerator?
At its core, the Community Land Accelerator envisions Crown Estate Scotland as an interim purchaser, buying time for communities to solidify their plans and raise funds for their own land purchases.
It’s a simple premise, but new to our organisation, and we’re now working steadily to create a process and mechanism that is flexible enough to act quickly, yet robust enough to satisfy our obligations under the Scottish Crown Estate Act and the Scottish Public Finance Manual. Our successful experience in Portgordon, where we acquired a former hotel / pub and handed it over to the local community, offers valuable insights for the journey ahead.
What are the next steps?
The Community Land Accelerator’s development will unfold in three phases: process development, a pilot acquisition, and, if successful, a broader rollout.
Our initial focus is on engaging with partners, stakeholders, and communities themselves, which I’m eagerly looking forward to. Following that, we want a pilot to road test the concept and teach us about the complexities of putting that mechanism into practice.
As for the types of scale and assets eligible for the pilot – a subject in which there has been considerable interest – that’s a dynamic aspect which will be influenced by factors like the acquisition process, opportunities at the time, and, crucially, available capital.
The measure of success
In both my interview for this post and in my first week in the job I was asked – ‘What would success look like to you?’
To me, success means expanding the support that public bodies and landowners can provide to communities to support their aspirations and change the pattern of land ownership in Scotland.
It’s very exciting to be ‘in on the ground floor’ of a project which, we hope, will turn out to be a leap forward for land reform and an opportunity for communities to embrace a more equitable future. I can’t wait to see what kind of impact we can make.