Land and associated asset ownership is fundamental to how our society operates and determines where we live, the price of our housing, where our employment and amenity is, and where we can develop future opportunity.
Often that ownership is beyond local control and has consequences in limiting the ability of local people to exercise some control over their own futures. Wresting control back, is what Community Land Scotland is about, with land being the basic resource our members use every day to shape their own better futures.
Many community land owners are in rural areas that would be regarded as disadvantaged, economically and socially. The modern day community land owner is a democratic, multi-faceted business delivering housing, generating electricity, running shops, developing piers and jetties, managing forests, creating work spaces and much more.
A recent study of all 12 of our members who purchased their land more than five years ago, shows that community owners have in very recent years delivered:
- 300 new or refurbished housing units
- direct employment to over 100 jobs
- increased business turnover to over £6 m annually
- increased asset value to £59m
- enabled 100 new private enterprises
- £34m new investment
Where there was once a dispirited view of the future, there are now signs that confidence and capacity are increasing all the time and we want more communities in Scotland to have those opportunities – rural and urban.
There are those who say that the communities to which I refer are somehow uniquely blessed with people of real capacity, and other communities maybe don’t have that. Well, a couple of decades ago, these communities were not regarded to have the capacity to do the things they now do.
What rural community land ownership shows is that empowering people through control of the key local assets of land and buildings, releases the potential and creativity of people.
But communities need help and support to act. I believe you need four things to deliver:
- The community desire to act to change their place – you should not try to force communities into action;
- Access to appropriate technical help;
- Adequate funding providing initial support of key purchases; and
- The political will, reflected by the right framework of law.
In community land ownership we have these elements in place. That legal element is the Land Reform Act which gives the `Right to Buy’, which the Scottish Government is now extending to urban areas through its Community Empowerment Bill.
Urban centres face the challenge of derelict land or buildings, or underused public assets, often blighting community potential. Sometimes private owned land changes hands behind the scenes between distant property speculators, and with little regard for the local community interest.
Rural communities already have rights to intervene in the land and property market and soon urban communities will, through the Community Empowerment Bill. That Bill also suggests important powers for the transfer of publicly owned assets to community control.
There is no reason to believe that the principles of what can work in a rural setting cannot extend to urban Scotland too.
Chair, Community Land Scotland