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Publication - Research Publication

Overcoming barriers to community land-based activities: gudiance

Published: 29 Jul 2016
Part of:

Guidance on good practice in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities.

59 page PDF


59 page PDF


Overcoming barriers to community land-based activities: gudiance
5. 'Success factors' in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities

59 page PDF


5. 'Success factors' in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities

The interviewees highlighted the range of perceived 'success factors' that emerge from their experiences of these resolution strategies. A simple schematic of an ideal scenario is presented in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Schematic summarising the components and participants of 'good practice' for supporting community land-based activity.

Figure 2. Schematic summarising the components and participants of 'good practice' for supporting community land-based activity.

5.1 The importance of behaviour and attitude: the role of individuals

The interviewees stressed the importance of awareness of the influence of individual personalities in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities, thus: "individual characters - they can play such an important part…You get the wrong person and it is a complete disaster." Personalities which were considered to be conducive to overcoming barriers are described as 'engaging', energetic, capable and with an understanding of community dynamics. Barriers are therefore overcome by 'champions' within organisations or individuals, who are willing to talk to stakeholders and drive a process of joined visioning. A key factor is therefore that the landowner works with these individuals or may be that person themselves.

Similarly, the interviewees described the importance of behaviour and attitude in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities. Again it is highlighted that attitude relies on personalities, and that success is built on developing trust. There is therefore a need for individuals involved to act in a professional manner, be respectful, honest and open about the process. Building trust can take considerable time, and relies on an ability to understand the perspectives of others. Interviewees recommend that one success factor is establishing 'principles of exchange', i.e. the rules and framework for engagement between parties although applied with discretion and flexibility. For example, if a community seeks an asset transfer, identifying and agreeing the 'rules of engagement' surrounding this transfer, can allow a more constructive and responsive approach, and overcome perceived or actual immediately negative reactions from landowners on community requests for land. Furthermore, this approach could mitigate the influence of the 'individual', by providing a 'code' for different situations/community requests.

5.2 Sharing viewpoints and seeking areas of common cause: opportunity of community-landowner partnerships

The interviewees highlighted a shared responsibility to engage in discussion as important where 'everyone sits around the table and thinks for the common good'. This discussion incorporates all stakeholders (beyond only the central 'players) in order to understand their different roles and drivers. There may be a need for greater explanation between landowner and community regarding their different circumstances and aspirations, for example, the challenges facing community volunteers, or landowners who wish to retain ownership for family heritage. There must be respect for each party and their role in the discussion. Overall, the interviewees called for a conciliatory commentary, seeking areas of 'common cause' and collaborative problem solving, and seeking to achieve the best outcome for all.

Case studies show that the existence of tangible links between communities and estates can contribute to the success of community land-based activities. Communities can benefit from access to capital investment (that can in-turn lead to opportunities for further public funding), expertise, and capacity through partnerships with landowners. Successful partnerships develop 'win-win' outcomes for landowner and community. For example, with regard to a joint renewable energy development, the landowner could gain income from a lease arrangement, whilst the community (the lease holders) would gain income from the renewable energy developed. However, the interviewees also described the importance of identifying aims and objectives, and the purpose of the partnership, in addition to the terms of reference (although these can be quite 'high level' and summarised to a short document). Underpinning successful partnerships are principles of: "openness, sharing information, communications, and willingness of community to work with the estate and vice-versa."

5.3 The importance of proactive and high quality engagement

This 'willingness' to engage was explained in-depth by the interviewees, who agreed that proactive engagement between landowner and community is crucial. A key success factor in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities is pre-emptive engagement that provides a baseline for future dialogue if a dispute arises ( e.g. a hostile sale or registration of community interest in the land), thus, as described: "do it in peacetime and you might get some really good results, and when opportunities come up, you might be able to react to them." Proactive engagement may also avoid so-called 'have a punt' planning applications by community groups, as reported by the interviewees, without the landowners' knowledge. Interviewees explained that it can be more difficult to reach agreement where engagement has built around a conflict. Proactive engagement can include education, e.g. involving school-age children in countryside management, as opposed to reactive engagement, when complaints or barriers arise. Similarly, during processes of valuation, interviewees explained that opening a dialogue with reference to land price can lead to enflamed discussions; therefore success factors include 'friendly' negotiations from the outset, including a spirit and readiness to get to a conclusion ( i.e. an effective valuation process), and establishing a dialogue process centred on the objectives for the sale, instead of the price.

Underpinning this success factor is the need for the development of positive relationships between all stakeholders. Interviewees described success factors as sustainable/sustained and meaningful engagement in a community, or 'constant consultation', which would contribute to community empowerment. As mentioned by some interviewees, there is a need to ensure engagement by those who are 'seldom heard', e.g. young people, and those not involved with their community council or interest groups. Indeed, there is a need for other agencies (beyond landowners) to be more proactive in wider engagement. Interviewees also raised the question of community ownership (or the disputed phrase 'sense of ownership') as underpinning engagement processes; this may be interpreted as the need for power relations to be equal in discussions between landowners and communities.

Ensuring the quality of engagement processes was raised as a key success factor by interviewees, and that this requirement is an ongoing challenge. High quality engagement includes monitoring and evaluation of the engagement process occurs. There is, however, no 'one-size-fits-all' approach, and whilst community engagement theory is well understood, its practice is considered highly variable by interviewees. Therefore a handbook detailing 'good practice' in landowner-community engagement is recommended by this group of interviewees (see also Section 7).

5.4 The importance of communication and language

A further key success factor in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities described by the interviewees relates to how individuals/organisations communicate. Communication from and between all parties is crucial, and having a 'communication plan' was suggested as essential. This plan should detail the range and type of stakeholders, plus "what are you going to tell them and how are you going to tell it." Provocative or 'marketing' language is not recommended; instead communication can involve a simple update of estate management/ community planning. For example, interviewees suggest that farmers 'knock on doors' and explain what they are going to do on farmland adjacent to communities. For example, in overcoming barriers to community recreational access, one interviewee explains:

"'It can come down to something as simple as…approaching the party that does not wish to provide access and explaining why access is required - and identifying incentives to that individual to allow a project to continue."

An associated success factor is a clear definition of 'who is the community', in addition to an awareness of previous community activities. Similarly, the landowner must be known to the community, therefore the importance of visible and accessible land management representatives ( e.g. landowner (estate owner or farmer) and/or appointed land manager) is highlighted as important. If land management representatives are not known to the community, there may be a greater likelihood of negative communication, as described:

"People have got to know who to come and speak to - or they just won't do that. If it is easier to pick up the phone to the local paper or councillor, then they will do that. …you've got to put yourself out there [ the representative of landowner]."

However, this viewpoint contradicts that held by other interviewees, who believe that a distance or external perspective to the community can be important for land management representatives in order to overcome barriers (see also Section 5.3). More generally, as mentioned in Section 5.1, the perceived attitude of the land management representative is considered the key success factor in communications with communities. Therefore, land management representatives are also required to be "open, honest, and transparent in their thinking".

A further success factor relating to communication is the need to 'get the language right for engagement'. In particular, certain words and the technical use of language used in land management can be exclusionary for those not involved in the professional land sector, therefore such language may be misconstrued and misunderstood. Land managers may be asked to explain processes, such as the requirement for slow-moving and heavy machinery, deer management, etc. Interviewees asserted that all landowners, agents, communities, and those acting for communities should be able to speak a similar or common professional language. However, it was questioned whether land agents should speak a language that those not trained in land transactions/management could also understand, or whether community representatives should be trained to be able to better understand the existing professional language. Nonetheless, a common technical language is considered a critical success factor by the interviewees, as well as consideration of the role of culture in land management.

5.5 The role of professional brokers and external support

Professional brokers can act as the intermediary when disputes arise, can lead negotiations, understand the processes and viewpoints, build on existing positive relationships ( e.g. with landowners), or alternatively can adopt an external, facilitative position: 'I'm an outsider, let's talk this over'. The interviewees described a current perception that advisors tend to be aligned with one or other viewpoint in the current land reform debate. Nonetheless, the involvement of high quality support staff, able to bridge the gap between land managers and other parts of the community, are considered a critical success factor to 'working well together'. Such support roles may be provided by charities, bodies such as the administrators of the CARES Fund, Foundation Scotland, independent 'registered facilitators', or Local Access Groups.

A further factor suggested by the interviewees is the ability of communities to partner with commercial enterprises or governmental bodies to help them to overcome a lack of expertise, issues of community capacity and critical mass. Stronger partnerships between communities and local authorities were also identified as useful. Consequently there is a need to ensure 'helpful' staff cultures within community support agencies, local authorities, the national park authorities, amongst others. Scottish Enterprise, Business Gateway and SRUC were highlighted as providing support to communities and landowners, especially private landowners, due to existing policy support for public landowners. Raising awareness of the support available to landowners and communities (in particular where it is free) was highlighted as important.

Training is also recommended by the interviewees for institutions (including local authorities or other public bodies) in order to improve community engagement, and to foster a 'cross-cutting' culture of assisting and being integrated with communities; thus: "training programmes or signposts to assistance for communities should be very well known across council departments or other bodies." It is noted that PAS has specifically designed training in advanced engagement skills for the public and private sector [3] . Similarly, community engagement training has been explored by Scottish Land & Estates, in order to encourage landowners and land agents to 'put themselves in the shoes of the local community'. The interviewees believe that such training should be integrated into college courses on estate management and that there is an opportunity for community development professionals to update their approach. A key success factor in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities is thus developing the knowledge base and skillset of Local Development Officers (see also Section 5.1).

5.6 Adopting an outcomes approach: assessing options for community land-based activities

Interviewees also described the merits of an 'outcomes' or 'shared visions' approach, with consideration of the options for achieving the desired outcomes, as a means of overcoming barriers to community land-based activities. Such a 'resolution-focussed' dialogue approaches issues from the 'solutions-end', rather than a negative perspective (see also Section 5.3). A resolution strategy 'road map' or 'toolkit' is suggested by interviewees, similar to that provided by DTAS, Cairngorms National Park toolkit or the visioning, charrette approach used in creating 'Ballater, One Voice Our Future'. Interviewees stated that even the process of completing this toolkit during a meeting would encourage progress, allowing discussion regarding aims, ambitions and agreed measures of 'successes. This will require all stakeholders expressing the goals of what they are trying to achieve, and the involvement of individuals and organisations that specialise in the desired outcome, e.g. housing associations, Rural Housing Scotland, private companies, etc.

Related to this, the interviewees highlighted the need to understand the desired 'end-points' of those in the discussion, including political timescales and budget cycles. It should also be recognised that cycles of community capacity exist and community energy can diminish. Therefore, there is a need to be transparent, up-front and honest about time requirements/limitations faced by the community, landowner and public bodies involved, including the time anticipated for decision-making, and additional time required in the instance that a decision has to go to the Minister.

The interviewees described how motivation can change towards community land-based activities when ownership becomes an option, thus: "once people take over the land they have much more incentive or investment in making things happen - and therefore they tend to happen more." In many situations ownership is considered the best option to ensure a continuous/secure land use and/or access to land for a community activity. However, the interviewees also suggested that assessing options other than ownership might lead to better community outcomes. Establishing alternative arrangements for community use of land other than ownership, e.g. lease arrangements, part ownership, could be a way forward. The interviewees advocated 'thinking outside of the box' in order to overcome barriers, with one example of a special purpose vehicle designed for a community group to become 'gardening contractors', therefore establishing a maintenance agreement (and access to land for a community garden), rather than a lease or ownership transfer.

It was agreed that different types of assets require different types and lengths of leases and a success factor is ensuring the appropriate lease type is agreed. A further success factor may be to reduce fees for lease arrangements and to develop relationships with funding organisations that will provide support to communities with lease arrangements. Examples of landowners negotiating with the source of community funding ( e.g. the Big Lottery) were highlighted in order to reach agreement that a long lease was a suitable alternative to ownership transfer. This arrangement was considered successful because it permits community capacity building through the management of the asset and demonstrates the community's commitment to the land-based activity, which supports a later proposal for ownership.

Whilst opportunities of 'meanwhile use' by communities can be a route to overcome barriers, the interviewees explained that further concerns regarding the community group getting security of tenure may be overcome by documenting community use as a licence and not a lease, thereby removing the possibility of creating unintentional agricultural leases (which may lead to eligibility by the community for right to buy, compensation for improvements, etc.). However, where community growing becomes more commercial it may be considered closer to the definition of agriculture, thus highlighting the potential for 'unintended consequences' of insufficient landowner-community engagement. A key success factor therefore is ensuring early and adequate discussion, and supporting requests for appropriate lease arrangements.

'Local Management Agreements' ( LMAs) were also highlighted as useful by the interviewees. LMAs are described as an option with a full lease attached, an option within a lease, or an option with a possibility to purchase, depending on the aspirations of the community body. The LMA mechanism is designed to overcome a community perception that the landowner will automatically refuse a request for land access, therefore dissuading community proposals. It therefore 'removes barriers' and seeks to demonstrate that the landowner is supportive of community land-based activities, developing positive relationships. The documentation of a LMA can support funding applications by the community body, as well as an "incremental process for people to have the confidence to say, 'we're making progress and this might work'."

5.7 The importance of community planning processes

A common theme amongst the interviewees was the importance of community action planning that integrates with a proactive local development plan. Critically, this relies on greater awareness by, and community engagement in, local planning processes, and ensuring opportunities for participation. It was recognised that this goal is supported by the increasing dynamism of local development planning processes within Scotland and the increasing frequency of the plan review process. Similarly, the role of the 'Place Standard' was highlighted by interviewees as supporting more discussions around 'place', and encouraging greater involvement in the place agenda, by landowners and community groups ( i.e. taking an interest earlier rather than waiting to be consulted). The interviewees believe that local planning authorities can be a catalyst for positive relationships through initiating and participating in multiple discussions with housing associations, private landowners, developers and community groups, and can provide an honest broker-type role. Neighbourhood planning in England and Wales was also highlighted as models from which to learn. The ability of communities to hold local authorities and public landowners to account is also recognised as a success factor in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities.

The interviewees suggested that the production of a community action plan should involve consultation with all community groups (including children; see Section 5.3) undertaken by clearly-defined facilitators, and with the ability to gather the wishes/needs of the community and landowners, as well as an objective assessment of how/who can fulfil these needs. Success factors therefore include evidence gathering processes, effective public consultation, clarity of communication, community-led visioning and associated action plans. It is also considered important to include land use/capability assessment and the identification of 'most productive use'. Both community and landowner need to maintain a broad outlook, possess an appropriate skill set, provide time and effort to the community planning process, and where necessary, funding. The opportunity to explore examples of best practice (and to identify why certain options have been unsuccessful) was highlighted as useful, in particular the level of high quality information available from existing community land-based activities. It was also flagged by interviewees that DTAS provides grants for members to visit other community projects around the country.

5.8 Tools and approaches for successful community engagement

A key factor in overcoming barriers to community land-based activity highlighted by interviewees is the need for an engaged general public, in both rural and urban areas, and it was recognised that successful engagement required the use of appropriate and high quality tools and approaches. For example, a 'Charrette' process is advocated by interviewees, as it provides an opportunity to begin open discussions with community groups regarding local development and land use planning, as well as a route to ensure that community proposals are well considered. Charrette processes are interactive, but also resource and time intensive, and the issue of who should cover this cost ( i.e. developers, landowners or communities) remained unclear. A further challenge to successful Charrette processes was the need to integrate 'animation' and to ensure a 'hook' to motivate participation. One suggestion to overcome this challenge is to develop processes/policy in conjunction with national-scale funders, therefore undertaking this engagement model could be a criterion for funding.

Whilst some Charrette processes experienced by interviewees have included external parties, such as famous architects, it was suggested that locally-focussed events may be more 'sustainable'. A successful Charrette depends on the engagement process overall and how it is perceived by different parties, including the community, and their expectations. Interviewees noted that the PAS Charretteplus® programme is increasingly used by communities and Local Authorities to build partnerships and align aspirations.

Managing expectations is important. This depends on the composition and concerns of the 'community (e. g. whether there is housing need, which may minimise objections to new developments, etc.), and where consultations cannot be a 'blank sheet' for community input, because of restrictions in terms of critical infrastructure needs and engineering parameters. In such cases, interviewees recommend the use of large-scale, clear maps during consultation processes ( e.g. for forestry planning), and to provide a set of draft proposals that consultees can agree/disagree with. However, there is also a need to recognise the difference between 'informing' and 'consulting', and to be clear as to which operational aspects require consultation.

The greater use of IT for gathering views from urban communities in particular ( e.g. through online polls) was suggested. Stakeholder mapping exercises were also suggested as a means of ensuring representation of community members beyond the community council. Therefore: "it is important to take some time to think through everybody that you are trying to reach, before you start - rather than just putting an ad in the paper, or saying 'we need to have a drop-in event'."

A related success factor in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities is the presentation of alternative locations/timescales, in order to seek compromises. A facilitated 'round table' discussion can be successful for all stakeholders to present and discuss alternatives, and was frequently mentioned by the interviewees. To overcome entrenched views, or if the outcome of the discussion is binding for participants, mediation processes are recommended. The interviewees stressed that mediation should be undertaken by a professionally trained mediator. It is reported that in other countries ( e.g. Austria and Sweden), mediation is more successfully utilised than in Scotland, and that there is potential for greater uptake in Scotland. Indeed, a key success factor is awareness amongst landowners that guidance exists regarding community land-based activities. For example, the RICS dispute resolution service was flagged by interviewees as useful and freely available to all.

Despite the availability of free support, a critical success factor is funding, for both community groups and landowners. Funding is required for feasibility options appraisal, technical and surveyor costs, as well as the cost of asset acquisition. Government funding at present does not provide all funding required and particular skills are required in order to be awarded grant funding. Interviewees highlighted the need for bridging finance for community groups as critical when competing with a conventional buyer. Land use planning that seeks to avoid land value inflation is considered a further success factor. However, others believe that funding availability is a driver for community ownership. Either way, funding provides confidence and the possibility of assessing different options to achieve positive outcomes.

5.9 Private landownership accountability: balancing incentives and regulation

Finally, interviewees explained that a critical success factor in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities is an approach to governance and regulation that ensures landowners engage effectively and proactively, with associated penalties and incentives. Interviewees asserted that if a barrier is insurmountable through processes of dialogue (using tools and approaches outlined in Section 5.8) then legislative power should be enacted although it was noted that this has been a rare occurrence since the implementation of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. An integrated regulatory system is recommended, but also one that is not overly-bureaucratic. For example, interviewees propose that it is in the landowners' interests to register land assets with the Land Register for their own 'data storage', as well as for public knowledge.

The interviewees also asserted that changing the rhetoric around land reform is critical, promoting the message that supporting community land-based activities is neither about removing private landowners across Scotland, nor about 'winning with others losing'. Instead, a matrix of land tenure is desired and changing relationships amongst different groups in society. The accountability of private landowners in Scotland is a critical factor in overcoming barriers to community land-based activities. Improving accountability is intended through the Scottish Land & Estates' 'Landowners' Commitment', which seeks to encourage landowning members to be much more open about their management practices, to provide management statements and estate plans, for wider scrutiny. This may help identify opportunities for assets to be sold where not 'needed' by landowners.


Email: Graeme Beale,