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Publication - Report

One million acres by 2020: strategy report and recommendations

Published: 11 Dec 2015

A report of the findings and recommended actions from the 1 Million Acre Short Life Working Group to get 1 million acres of land in community ownership by 2020.

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Contents
One million acres by 2020: strategy report and recommendations
4. Elements of Change

4. Elements of Change

There are a number of factors to consider when looking at what needs to change in order to develop and enable the growth of community land ownership envisioned by the 1 million acre target. We have identified 7 major factors (4.1-4.7 below) that have a number of underlying considerations. These do not however sit in isolation - there are connections between these factors. A set of cross-cutting themes show that a successful 1m acre strategy must consider the 7 factors in parallel, and not in isolation. These cross-cutting themes include Public Policy, Culture and Attitudes, Resourcing and Geography.

The evidence that the SLWG has gathered has been analysed to identify this group of major factors, or 'elements of change' that are seen as the key barriers to achieving the target of 1m acres of land in community ownership by 2020.

4.1 Demand for land

Current trends in the increase of community ownership are upwards. There are at least 480,000 acres of land in community ownership and more and more communities are buying land. There is an additional 71,500 acres of land in the pipeline that has had funding approved from the Scottish Land Fund but is yet to be finally acquired by communities. These transactions are anticipated to conclude by the end of March 2016. If all transactions proceed then the total at the end of March 2016 is expected to be at least 551,000 acres. However, the current trajectory is unlikely to reach the target by 2020, so a step change in levels of activity is necessary in order to stimulate demand to a degree that would have a greater chance of achieving the 1m acre target.

Table 4: Area and number of land acquisitions by community bodies, by year

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When the 1m acre target was set it was done so with the intention that it would focus minds to spread the benefits experienced by communities already owning land much more widely. The Scottish Government acknowledge that it is an ambitious target, but see it as not only important in its own terms, but as a driver to step up and encourage a greater appetite for and interest in community ownership and to remain committed to maintaining this momentum.

Fig 2

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In addition to the area of land in community ownership there are a number of other measures of success, such as, numbers of communities owning assets, a greater range in the types of people these organisations represent (including people from diversity groups e.g. race, religion etc.) and these organisations being across Scotland. The geographical focus for the development of community land ownership in Scotland in recent years has largely been within the North West of Scotland (see fig 2). It is therefore unsurprising that public awareness of community land ownership, its possibilities and potential benefits, is much greater in the Highlands and Islands, although it can be patchy even within this part of Scotland. Currently there is no strategic approach to how community ownership is promoted across Scotland. Raising awareness of community land ownership across the whole country is therefore at the core of stimulating demand.

Recommendations

2. The lack of consistency and a significant lack of awareness should be addressed across all of Scotland, but particularly out-with the Highland and Islands area among communities, landowners and a range of key professionals of:

  • The benefits and achievements of community ownership.
  • The opportunity that communities have, through the application of current policy and law to take greater control of their environment, circumstances and future through community ownership of land or other assets.
  • About what the law actually provides for, and what the policy intentions behind the law and policy is.
  • The processes and best practice that communities should follow to consider and potentially achieve ownership of land or other assets.
  • The financial and support services that are available to support communities in their endeavours.

3. There needs to be a comprehensive and co-ordinated awareness raising programme of the opportunities of community land ownership developed which addresses different audiences and potential stakeholders - to meet the particular needs of communities, landowners and their support professionals and the wider public sector.

Theme: Raising awareness

The relationship of a community to the surrounding land is a significant driver for community land ownership. It is often stated that the appetite for community land ownership in NW Scotland has been driven largely by market failure and subsequent community need and desire to address this at local level. Often community land purchases in these areas have been driven by lack of development or neglect prompting the community to take the future into their own hands, by buying the land and progressing social and economic development which addresses the fragility of their community. This context of a single, larger land owner is less evident in the rest of Scotland and it is important to reflect different local contexts and the range of drivers for change in different communities within awareness raising and support services.

For communities to be successful in acquiring and owning land there needs to be a critical recognition of the potential benefits and liabilities, coupled with a strong willingness to take on the asset. Whilst it is clear that demand needs to be stimulated to see significantly more communities owning land it is also important that communities do not have land ownership thrust upon them if it is either not the right option for them or they do not wish to pursue this option. Empowerment within a community could be displayed by consideration of an opportunity to purchase land, and then decided not to pursue this option. This will have to be recognised within the evaluation of progress towards the vision.

A key element of stimulating demand is a recognition of where the initial impetus comes from for a community to own land. In many cases it is prompted by a reaction from a community to something happening - an opportunity or a threat (e.g. potential change of owner, potential development). In these cases the community is often faced with tight timescales. The Scottish Government believes that the ownership of land in Scotland should reflect a mix of different types of public and private (including community) ownership that reflects both national and local aspirations and needs [61] . Communities need to be encouraged and supported to be more pro-active so that they are better placed to respond positively to these opportunities and threats. This could be achieved through supporting community led visioning and planning activities. While stakeholder engagement should be encouraged within these processes, the importance of the community 'owning' the vision and plan cannot be over stated - if communities do not own the vision and plan they are hardly likely to consider community ownership of land as a serious option. Over and above this, the visioning process will only be successful when linked with contemporaneous actions and planning and support to turn the vision into reality.

Recommendation

4. It should be recognised that taking a more comprehensive approach to communities owning assets will be significantly enhanced by encouragement and support for community-led visioning and planning, which includes an element of land and other asset mapping. Such visioning must be followed up with action planning to enable communities to then make decisions about, for example, registering an interest in land, and in communicating their vision most effectively to potential willing sellers of land.

Themes: Raising awareness, Engagement

4.2 Capacity of communities

Once a community group has identified a need to take on ownership of land and assets and has a clear idea of how the land asset will address this need it is essential that it has the capacity to take the project forward.

Capacity to deliver does not just mean knowledge and skills. Group members are largely volunteers and have finite resources to deliver tasks. Supporting capacity also relates to supporting volunteers and groups to share their knowledge and experience with others without taking precious resources away from day to day activities. For many communities that already own land, peer support and mentoring played a crucial role in helping them get to the point of becoming land owners. There are already a lot of volunteers that give up their time to help other communities, but this takes them away from their role with their own community. The evidence gathered by the 1m acre SLWG suggests that there is a need for more systematic and properly resourced peer support/ peer mentoring. This would enable community to community sharing of experiences and expertise, best practice, and also lessons learnt. This will need to be resourced either through additional funding or from within existing budgets and programmes. Any such scheme will not prevent volunteers spending time away from their own community group, but it will help provide some kind of compensation to reflect this.

Recommendation

5. There should be recognition in the development of future strategy and actions that the existing community ownership sector contains within it considerable insight, understanding, experience and expertise in the processes and best practice around community ownership. The Scottish Government should seek to facilitate the release of this expertise and insight to assist in growing the number of communities contributing to deliver this Strategy's vision as well as community confidence, effectiveness and chances of success.

Theme: Support services

To engage successfully with professionals and landowners, community bodies need to have an established legitimacy and have credible plans, to enable them to be an equal partner in negotiations. The majority of community land ownership projects rely on volunteer support and this can create a perception that the group do not have a sufficient level of capacity or capability to make the project successful. Whether or not this is true, there is an issue for less established groups that they perhaps lack the full range of skills they need and are not yet in a position to pay for dedicated staff or resources. As with any other type of business, a lack of a proven track record can be a barrier to community land ownership projects.

Community land ownership projects require strong leadership to keep them on track. Existing leadership capacity can depend on the individuals involved in the project, the experience of the community group and also how established the group is. Often more established groups have developed the capacity to pay for staff to develop projects who bring specific skills and experience direct to the project. The SLWG identified a need to strengthen both leadership and organisational capacity within community groups to deliver increasing levels and numbers of land ownership projects. This involves helping communities access the specific insights, tailored support and skills to help them achieve their particular objectives.

Sustainable governance is important for community groups to successfully own land and use it to further sustainable development in their local area. The governance structure of most groups is made up of a board of Directors who are largely unpaid volunteers. Successful community land ownership requires significant buy in from the local community and cannot sustainably rely on a handful of individuals to initiate projects and take them through to ownership and beyond. Community land owners will require initial and periodic on-going support with governance issues, organisational structures and succession planning.

Whilst a huge number of community groups achieve significant outcomes with the resources they have, the capacity of community groups to pursue land ownership can be significantly enhanced by engaging expert professionals at the right time. The capacity of groups to access different skills varies widely depending on the individuals involved. For groups that lack certain skills and/or experience, engaging professionals to develop their capacity can be extremely beneficial. This could be professional support with legal issues, property issues (architects and surveyors), business and financial planning, feasibility work, planning, project management, peer to peer support, mentoring or training and capacity development for group members. All groups, even high capacity ones, will need professional support of some form. It is helpful if the professionals involved have a clear understanding of community land ownership and the specific needs of the organisation.

4.3 Engagement with and within communities

Once a community group has identified a need and desire to own land, it is important that the whole community and wider stakeholders (including existing landowners and any professionals involved) are engaged in the process. The three key areas where successful engagement will help increase community land ownership are (1) engagement between the community body and the wider community, (2) improved dialogue and engagement between community bodies and existing landowners, and finally (3) improved engagement between professionals and community bodies.

Some community land ownership projects can fail to move forward effectively because of a lack of early productive dialogue or engagement between the community and existing landowners. Early engagement can help identify what land the community needs to deliver its objectives and improve the credibility of the group by helping demonstrate to the landowner why they want to own a particular piece of land and that there is a serious plan in place. Early dialogue between the community group and existing landowner can also help the community understand what aspirations or plans the existing owner may have for their land and help all parties consider how to best meet their needs and aspirations.

Recommendation

6. With consideration to part 4 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill (as introduced), further information and guidance should be developed for communities and landowners on the best ways to engage with each-other and the importance of being clear about who and how local people are represented within the community organisation and able to explain this when engaging with the landowner whether from the public or private sector, and how the community can best approach the landowner in question.

[Note: The SLWG noted that Community Land Scotland and Scottish Land and Estates are starting a piece of joint work to explore these matters in some detail.]

Theme: Engagement

The Scottish Government is supportive of community land ownership because of what is can achieve in terms of its ability to create benefits for the whole community. This is best achieved where there is wide community engagement and buy-in to what the ownership of the land can deliver and how this will address community need. It is aspirational to expect that every community will have a unified vision for how they can own land and deliver all the services and benefits that everyone in the area wants, but it is important that any differences in community aspirations are acknowledged and explored through strong community engagement and the democratic structures of the community body to ensure that community land ownership will create benefits for the many and not just the few.

Successful engagement between community bodies, landowners and professionals can help communities fully understand and appreciate the realities of land ownership and allow communities to be clear about what they want to undertake. It can also help break down barriers where there may be a lack of understanding of the different drivers for community land ownership and this may inhibit willing negotiations. Successful engagement can also help communities understand the landowner's plans and aspirations and contribute to the development of a shared vision for the locality described earlier in this report.

The SLWG found that the quality of support services for community land ownership can vary and that this can be related to the level of understanding of issues that are specific to community land ownership by professionals. There is a need to ensure that all landowners and professional groups are enabled to fully understand the drivers for community land ownership. It is important that professionals understand the issues within their profession that are specific to community land ownership so that the support services they provide both to communities and landowners are high quality.

4.4 Access to support services
The triggers for community land ownership will present different scenarios for community bodies and as such will require different types of support at different times. For example, a community that is exploring the possibility of ownership because local land has suddenly come onto the market is more likely to need intensive support at the start of the process to build capacity and react quickly to the market. A community group that has developed a clear vision and has actively pursued a piece of land to purchase could need less support developing capacity and leadership but may require more support in other areas such as navigating funding options. It is important to understand the range of different scenarios in which communities require support to take on ownership of land or assets and to understand the different needs that arise from these scenarios.

Each community ownership project will have its own challenges. Whilst a similar package of support is needed in most circumstances, the combination of types and levels of support needs to be tailored in different ways depending on the nature and timescales of the community ownership project in question.

There is a range of support services available to community groups across the country, but the ease of access and level of support can vary from region to region, most notably in the level of support and funding available to community groups within the Highland and Islands Enterprise ( HIE) area compared to that in the rest of Scotland. Research by the SLWG showed that the same support is not available in the rest of the country from other sources. Some organisations offer support services that communities need to pay for. The financing of procurement of support services can be a challenge for groups.

Geography is currently a key determinant to what kind of support aspiring community land owners can access. The most comprehensive support is offered by Highland and Islands Enterprise within its operating area. In other parts of Scotland, communities can access support from a small number of national agencies, intermediary organisations and/or through key funders - but the nature of this support tends to be less comprehensive and accessing it can be difficult to navigate. Access to responsive, flexible funding and specialist support for communities out-with the HIE area is therefore a resource intensive but necessary pre-requisite for achieving the 1 million acres target.

A number of communities use their own knowledge/ experience/ research/ personal contacts to help develop community projects. This raises an equalities question of community capacity - how lower capacity communities without access to some of the professional skills and experience needed to drive forward a land ownership project are best supported. Equal access to support is not just a question of geography, it also has an equalities dimension which needs to be reflected within any awareness raising activities and support provision.

The speed of decision making is important and not all support organisations can work within the same time scales. For example, whereas HIE can prioritise urgent cases, other organisations may not be able to do this or may have different criteria on what constitutes urgent. This is especially important when communities need to procure services from elsewhere, which can add additional workload and timescales to already fragile projects.

Recommendations

7. Within any approach to meeting the needs of all of Scotland, expertise of the sort HIE has in processing funding support and delivering other resources (e.g. staff) for potential community purchases, together with access to the sort of flexible funds and resources HIE can deploy, will be necessary in the remainder of Scotland as part of further stimulating demand which is capable of final delivery as community ownership.

8. Support services available to communities across Scotland to be able to understand, consider and take opportunities for community ownership of land and assets is patchy, operate at different levels of expertise, are largely uncoordinated, difficult to navigate, and operate on quite limited resources. Support services therefore require to be developed, adequately resourced and better coordinated to meet the needs of communities and to deliver this Strategy's vision. Even in the area with the most developed and consistent delivery of service, the HIE area, it is recognised that HIE's support services cannot be deployed to projects that do not contribute to HIE's organisational objectives.

9. That the Scottish Government should support the delivery of consistent access to appropriate advice and support to communities, available in all parts of Scotland. This should be achieved by more effective partnership working between the Scottish Government, its agencies, the Big Lottery, and existing key support providers within the sector, with the Scottish Government providing the focus for the strategic co-ordination of this effort.

10. That it is recognised that appropriate support for communities should be delivered within the following principles:

  • Flexible
  • Tailored
  • Experienced
  • Expert
  • Attuned
  • Co-ordinated
  • Quality
  • Continuous,

by partnership of the community, public, third and private sectors.

Theme: Support services

4.5 Network of support providers

Organisations who take on a signposting role tend to have various levels of understanding of community ownership. Whilst there is a range of organisations offering many support services, many of these services are largely generic and have limited relevance to the fairly specialist area of community land ownership.

Often the quality of advice given at first point of contact is wholly dependent on the degree to which the organisation, or an individual within that organisation, understands the community land ownership agenda. The SLWG found that there are a number of support services already in existence for community land ownership, covering a range support types, stages in the process and geographical coverage. Some organisations perform a signposting function as part of their remit and are able to point groups to relevant support services that can help. What is often reported however, is that the landscape of support services is cluttered with no clear single point of access with comprehensive information for community groups.

How support services resources are best distributed is another important issue. A number of organisations appear to offer different land ownership support services to communities but there is no co-ordination of these. Current support services operate with fairly limited resources and so there are risks to consider over the duplication of effort, potential gaps and the quality of provision. In addition, some organisations provide tenure neutral advice to all landowners whilst some focus solely on community owners, this can have both benefits and disadvantages.

There is a need for current core support providers to work more collaboratively in order to create a more coherent network of support providers. Formalising the role and relationships between core providers can help promote a more collaborative and strategic approach towards the provision of services, which in turn can help overcome some of the issues created by a convoluted landscape. Better sharing of best practice will help to develop networks of support.

Recommendation

11. The commitment given by the Scottish Government in 2014 within the Programme for Government to develop a dedicated resource within the Scottish Government to promote and facilitate community ownership across the whole of Scotland should be delivered by way of partnership arrangements between the Scottish Government, its agencies, the community owning sector, and other partners, each delivering according to their strengths and with the Scottish Government providing the overall strategic co-ordination.

Themes: Support services, Scottish Government leadership

4.6 Availability of land

If demand is stimulated to such a degree that it could achieve the 1m acre target there needs to be sufficient land available to satisfy this demand. Land is a finite resource and the Scottish Government is clear that the ownership and use of land in Scotland should be in the public interest and contribute to the collective benefit of the people of Scotland. The Scottish Government also believes that a growing number of local communities in Scotland should be given the opportunity to own buildings and land which contribute to their community's wellbeing and future development [62] . This is however reliant on suitable land or assets becoming available. This can present a significant challenge when land is also required for other purposes. This is a particular issue for public sector owned land and requires the development of a framework to assist public bodies balance the competing demands for a limited supply of land.

In many areas, communities may want to take on ownership of assets in their local area to deliver services to address local needs and deliver local benefits. Often these community led services can reduce or replace the demand for public services and contribute greatly to improving local and national government outcomes. The process of the transfer of publically owned assets to community ownership is often overly- complicated, inconsistent and unclear. Whilst a number of local authorities and other public bodies do have asset transfer schemes in place, the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 ( CEA) makes further provision which strengthens the community position in these processes. In particular the CEA places a duty on public bodies to agree to an asset transfer request from a community group unless they have reasonable grounds for refusal [63] . Guidance for this provision is currently being developed and will play an important part in making the process of public asset transfer more straightforward and transparent.

Recommendation

12. Scottish Ministers should require all departments and agencies of government to consider how they will support the delivery of this Strategy's vision and contribute towards meeting the target of 1m acres in community ownership, to make plans accordingly, and to report on those plans to the Scottish Government.

13. Scottish Ministers should seek to engage with local authorities in Scotland on the role community land ownership can play in helping deliver wider outcomes, and request a clear reference to community ownership and the role local authorities can play in delivering this Strategy's vision and contributing towards meeting the 1m acre target in Single Outcome Agreements, and should consider issuing guidance to local authorities on the matter, if necessary.

Themes: Scottish Government leadership, Increasing supply

4.7 Barriers to the supply of land

The above section considers where the land might come from for communities to own. This section considers what the barriers are to this land passing into community ownership - what might be preventing the land being available for communities to own? A number of these barriers have been identified through research by the James Hutton Institute [64] .

Community groups may face other barriers in striving to acquire land. These may take the form of some more legal or technical issues around land being available for them to purchase/ take ownership of. One such issue is where a community has identified a piece of land that they wish to own but the current ownership of the land is unknown, or unclear. Other examples are where the ownership rights of a piece of land are divided or where an identified piece of land currently has many owners.

The public sector owns a significant amount of land in Scotland, further details of which can be found in the Land Reform Review Group Report [65] . With this land come a number of responsibilities and policy drivers that determine how certain areas of this land are used to deliver policy objectives. Whilst there is a clear policy to support community land ownership and the benefits it can deliver, the decision to transfer publically owned land into community ownership (regardless of the agreed price) has to take into consideration whether that transfer is in the public interest in terms of the best possible use of that land for the local and national interest and potentially competing policy interests.

In negotiating potential community land ownership transactions, the relationship between the landowner and community body is critical in ensuring a smooth and productive transaction for both parties. Evidence suggests that some community groups may suffer from a lack of perceived legitimacy that can impact on a landowners' willingness to engage with and sell land to the community. This can be strongest where community groups have not necessarily communicated their needs and plans well, leading to landowners considering potential income flows from community projects as more risky. This is not an issue that occurs only with privately owned land, it can also be a particular problem with public landowners where there is a need to consider the accountability to the wider tax paying public. It is also often more of a problem for more newly established community groups who do not yet have a proven track record of delivery.

Recommendation

14. The SLWG encourages the Scottish Government and its agencies to continue the positive dialogue with private sector owners regarding their role in helping realise the opportunities that community land ownership can deliver. The SLWG suggests the focus should be on those owners seeking or willing to consider sales of assets to communities. These owners should be supported to help 'broker deals' that are mutually beneficial to all parties.

[Note: As mentioned above some work is underway on addressing how to improve specific attitudes and any misconceptions between the community sector, private owners and importantly the professional advisers that owners use.]

Themes: Engagement, Increasing supply

The original community right to buy legislation from the Land Reform (Scotland) 2003 Act has now been streamlined and made more flexible through amendments in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, which has also extended the right to buy legislation to cover the whole of Scotland. This is planned to be enacted in Spring 2016. This will go some way in making the process easier for communities to use. In gathering evidence on potential barriers to the supply of land for community ownership there was some suggestion that there are some occasions where misconceptions on the law and policy around community land ownership exist. In particular, misconceptions about policy intentions and what the legislation can deliver.

The evidence unsurprisingly suggests that the most preferable type of transaction between a landowner and a community body wishing to purchase land is where there is a willing seller. However, the drivers of community land ownership are often market failure and/ or neglect that the community wants to address. Where a community has identified a set of needs that are not being met and the plans of the landowner do not match with this set of needs the situation can arise where a community wants to buy a piece of land but the owner is unwilling to sell. This could be for a number of reasons, including retaining land for existing use, future sale, control or potential future development. A connected barrier is where an owner may be willing to sell and a community group are willing to buy but the terms of sale are unacceptable to either party. Most commonly this occurs due to differences in the valuation of the land by the community and by the seller.

Land values can present a barrier to community land ownership in a number of ways. Firstly, for public assets there can sometimes be differences in the book value of an asset and the market value that can restrict the willingness, or ability, of the seller to sell an asset to a community at or below market value. The wider economy has a direct impact on the supply and demand for land and subsequent land values. Macroeconomic changes can increase or decrease the value of land, and the book value of an asset may no longer reflect the current market conditions.

Secondly, there can be confusion around the circumstances in which an asset can be transferred at less than market value. In some cases a community may believe that a less than market value sale should be considered but the seller is asking for full assessed market value. This presents a challenge in determining a price that is acceptable to all parties. Public bodies in particular are often required to obtain best consideration in disposing of their assets, but there are opportunities for these public bodies to dispose of assets at less than best consideration where there are indirect benefits that are not measured directly as part of the valuation process. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors ( RICS) have produced guidance for local authorities on disposing of assets at less than best consideration [66] . The Scottish Public Finance Manual was updated to provide greater clarification on the circumstances under which public assets can be disposed of at less than market value [67] . However, it is apparent that there is still some confusion over when less than market value can be used.

Thirdly, there are sometimes conditions attached to public asset transfers, such as clawback measures, (particularly where less than market value has been used) that can restrict the ability of a community body to deliver a sustainable business plan.

Although surveyors have professional guidance notes and procedures that they follow to determine the value of an asset, there are some circumstances where the land or property asset in question is unique and there is not an existing market for it. In these cases it can be hard to obtain agreement across all parties on the value of the asset.

Finally, land values vary across the country. Historically community land ownership has been more common in the highlands and islands of Scotland, where land prices are generally cheaper. Recent changes to the community right to buy legislation and an increased interest in community land ownership in urban areas will place additional pressures on existing and potential funders to fund more expensive projects from a limited pot of resource.

Recommendation

15. The SLWG encourages the Scottish Government address the issue of valuation within the development of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 statutory guidance, and facilitate a set of further discussions on the above range of valuation issues to explore and seek clarity with relevant valuation professionals, professional bodies, landowners in the public sector, and communities on how the valuation issues outlined above may be addressed.

Themes: engagement, increasing supply

The potential disproportionate liabilities of ownership compared to community benefits can be a significant issue for communities when looking to take on asset ownership. In all cases it is important for communities looking to take on ownership of a piece of land to be fully clear about both the benefits that it might bring but also the responsibilities and liabilities associated with the land in question. A community body may have identified a piece of land that they believe will help deliver services to satisfy their needs, but on closer inspection of the liabilities associated with that land decide that they are too great to justify the project (even if the landowners is willing to sell). The majority of assets and land come with some form of liability, however, it is the scale of the risk associated with those liabilities that the community must judge to be appropriate or not.


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