Making the Most of (Scot)Land

The most recent Scottish Government data estimates that more than 11,000 hectares of Scotland is derelict or urban vacant land. Recognising the potential such areas can have, local communities have been, and local authorities will be, empowered to take action. Communities are also to have the right to acquire land which is neither vacant or derelict, but which they consider they can use to further sustainable development.

Abandoned, neglected or detrimental land

As we have covered previously, Part 3A of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, as introduced by the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, enabled qualifying Scottish community bodies to apply to the Scottish Ministers to acquire such land, with a view to bringing it back into productive and sustainable use. The right was introduced on 27 June 2018. More than a year on, it is yet to be exercised.

This is perhaps to be expected. Much has been written on the pre-application requirements to validly form a community body and first try (and fail) to purchase the land by private agreement. Purchase negotiations can take years. Only if negotiations are unsuccessful can an application to the Scottish Ministers be made.

Sustainable Development

In the meantime, 2020 will likely see the introduction of a further community right to buy.

Part 5 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 will enable community bodies to acquire land to further its sustainable development. This opens up land which may already be in productive use to acquisition by the community, if they can make their case adequately. A consultation on the regulations bringing Part 5 into force is open until 18 September and can be accessed here.

In addition to similar pre-application requirements as mentioned above (forming a community body, requesting transfer of the land by the owner etc.), the community body must show that the transfer would be:-

  1. in the public interest;
  2. likely to further the sustainable development of the land;
  3. likely to result in significant benefit to the relevant community; and
  4. the only, or most practicable, way of achieving this significant benefit.

It must also be shown that failure to grant the application is likely to result in harm to the community. What evidence community bodies should (or can) provide on future events is uncertain.

However, it seems clear that the application (and decision making) process will be as rigorous as that for abandoned and neglected land, as befits a process without a willing seller.

Compulsory Sales Orders

As well as communities, Local Authorities are to be given radical new powers to combat problem land within this parliamentary term.

Planning Minister Kevin Stewart has committed to introduce legislation which would enable councils to compel the sale of particularly problematic sites by auction, through the use of Compulsory Sales Orders (CSOs).

A recommendation of the Land Reform Review Group, the CSO process (on which, see further here) would enable Local Authorities to identify problem sites and carry out investigations with a view to bringing them back into use. Engagement with the landowner is built into the process, and the Authority must consider alternatives to a forced sale. Ultimately, the authority must present a strong public interest case to justify divesting an owner of their property, and also take measures to ensure that any sale is to an ‘active’ owner, to avoid problems simply continuing under a new owner.