In June of this year Derek Mackay, Minister of Local Government and Planning, launched an exploratory consultation on a range of ideas for the proposed Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill designed to:
- strengthen community participation
- unlock enterprising community development, and
- renew our communities
Arguably, one of the most controversial ideas floated in the consultation paper was the possible extension of a community right to buy to urban Scotland.
Existing Community Right to Buy in Rural Areas
At present, under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, community bodies may in certain circumstances exercise a right to buy land and buildings in rural areas of Scotland. There are a number of pre-conditions under the 2003 Act - including that the land in question must be located within a settlement with a population not exceeding 10,000 people - which currently effectively excludes any land or buildings located within any urban area of a significant size from being subject to such a community right to buy. Subject to the precise terms of the forthcoming Bill, all this may be about to change - and not everyone is happy!
Proposed Community Right to Buy in Urban Areas
Under the strap line of "Unlocking Enterprising Community Development", Part 2 of the Scottish Government's consultation paper for the new Bill asks the question "Would you support a community right to buy for urban properties?"
In support of that initiative, when launching the consultation in June, Mr Mackay said "Today I am launching an open consultation on a proposed Bill which will support communities to achieve their own goals and aspirations through taking independent action and by having their voices heard on decisions that affect their area".
However, representatives of the commercial property sector such as the Scottish Property Federation are somewhat less enthusiastic about such communities "taking independent action" - especially in relation to any extension of the community right to buy to urban Scotland. In their response to the consultation process, the SPF have stated "We do not support this proposal because it generates a risk factor for any property owner/developer looking to either sell or develop land. This is an issue already in the rural setting where contracts are negotiated at great length (and expense) may need a clause identifying potential community interests which would have the effect of negating a possible deal".
In essence the SPF are expressing the commercial property sector's concern that the prospect of any community right to buy in urban Scotland may actually be a deterrent to development/investment activity – which if borne out is not the result we suspect the Scottish Government would wish to achieve.
While it is true to say that there have been successful community buyouts under the 2003 Act of rural property such as the former Air Base at Machrihanish in Argyll, property owners and developers have traditionally seen the existing legislation as yet another "hurdle" to be overcome to secure a sale or purchase of rural property. In this sense, while the proposed Bill is likely to cover other matters such as increased community engagement with the planning process, an increased role for communities in how local authority budgets are spent in their local area, the transfer of unused or underused public sector assets within individual communities etc. it may well be this extension of the community right to buy from a rural to an urban setting that generates the most controversy.
The initial consultation on the proposed Bill closed on 26th September 2012 and the responses will be published later this month. This will be followed by the publication of the Scottish Government's own analysis of those responses in November of this year. More information on the consultation process and Reference Group tasked by of the Scottish Government with considering those responses and the outline terms of the proposed Bill may be found here.