The Scottish Land Commission has announced that they have started developing proposals for a new Compulsory Sale Order (CSO) power. The creation of the power is one of 62 recommendations which were brought forward by the Land Reform Review Group (LRRG) in 2014.

The Scottish Government has estimated that, as of 2016 there were 12,435 hectares of derelict and vacant land, with over two-thirds of this land reported to be privately owned. It has been estimated that large areas of such land have been vacant for between ten and 20 years and it is intended that the CSO power will help to realise the potential of these neglected sites that are often unsightly and prone to vandalism.

The CSO power will be used by local authorities to compel a landowner to sell their land at public auction if they determine that it is not in public interest for them to retain land which is not being used or sold.

Although the SLC will have a public consultation on their proposals before they are considered by the Scottish Government, the LRRG’s Report, ‘The Land of Scotland and the Common Good’ provides some suggestions on additional mechanisms which may be required for the CSO power, and how it may work in practice.

Who would be able to use the power?

In addition to local authorities, the powers could also be granted to public agencies who can currently exercise Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) powers. Furthermore, it has been suggested by the LRRG that other community councils or bodies may have a statutory right to request that a local authority uses a CSO over an area of land if it had not initiated it itself. The LRRG considers that this is reasonable as it is often the local community who suffer most from vacant or derelict land, and they may have an alternative use for such areas of land.

What land could be subject to a CSO?

The LRRG has said that in principle the CSO would apply to ‘abandoned’ land that remained in a vacant or derelict condition for an unacceptable period of time.

A new publicly available statutory register would be created for vacant or derelict land, using information that is already collected by local authorities, which would be supplied to the Scottish Government. There would be a right of appeal by landowners who think that their land has been wrongly included on the register, or by other parties who feel that land has been wrongly omitted from the register. In these situations, the local authority would decide if the land meets the required definition, based on the facts of each case, with a further limited right of appeal of that decision.

It was suggested by the LRRG that the period of time that land remains vacant before a CSO can be used could be linked to the current validity of planning permissions (generally three years). This would mean that a CSO could be served after three years of an area of land being registered as vacant or derelict on the statutory register.

What would it mean for landowners?

After a CSO is initiated, a notice is served by the local authority requiring the landowner to make arrangements for the land to be offered for sale at public auction. Public auctions were selected by the LRRG as an effective means to ascertain a fair price for the land, avoiding the ‘inherent difficulties’ of valuation. The land would be required to be offered at auction within six to eight months of the CSO being triggered. If the landowner fails to comply, or if the proposed auction arrangements were deemed unsatisfactory, the local authority would have reserve powers to arrange the auction itself.

The notice served on the owner would be accompanied by a planning statement prepared by the local authority, detailing existing planning permissions and development plan allocations and policies. This information would also be published on the local authority website, providing prospective purchasers with details of what types of development would likely be permitted on the land.

The auction

Any interested party would be able to bid at the auction, but safeguards may be put in place to avoid speculative purchases by purchasers who would continue to keep the land vacant. The LRRG suggests that a condition could be applied to the sale, which would allow a local authority to purchase the land if no development had commenced within three years. Furthermore, if there were no bids for the land, there would be a period of time, perhaps three years, before another CSO could be triggered.

Increasing the utility of land in Scotland

The CSO power will provide the Scottish Government with another tool to further their goals to increase the utility of land, and to help communities to become stakeholders in land ownership in Scotland.

The Community Right to Buy applies to urban and rural land and allows qualifying community bodies to register their interest in an area of land. When the landowner decides to sell, the community body is offered the land first. Scottish Government grants provide up to £1m of financial assistance to purchase the land. This right relies on a willing landowner, however there are two other rights to buy which are not in force yet, but when they are, they will allow community bodies to compel landowners to sell. These are (1) The Community Right to Buy ‘neglected and detrimental land’, and (2) the Community Right to Buy ‘to further Sustainable Development’. You can read about these rights in our previous blog post.

Although there is clearly a lot of work to do before the CPO is introduced, it will be important that at every stage of the process, the right balance is struck between landowners’ rights and the public interest. We will be following the consultations on these policies, and providing updates.