The future of community ownership

Scottish Land Commissioner, Lorne Macleod, looks at the future of community ownership following the publication today of the Commission’s recommendations to Scottish Ministers.

The ability of communities to own the land on which they live and work has long been central to the land reform agenda in Scotland. Land Commission board portraitsWith more than 562,000 acres of land in community ownership, many parts of Scotland already have control of their local land asset.

We have published a report today which looks at how this can continue to grow and for community ownership to become a normal and realistic option for communities across Scotland.  The sector is developing rapidly, and to become a normal option for both urban and rural communities there needs to be a clear vision for the way in which community ownership matures over the coming decades.

The report was informed by research from a team at Scotland’s Rural College which considered the experience of community ownership in Scotland over the last 25 year .

We make a number of recommendations for the future of community ownership; in particular, that it should become a routine option for communities, so it is planned and proactive rather than reactive.

We recommend that there needs to be a:

  • clear vision for how community ownership can become a mainstream way to deliver development and regeneration in urban and rural communities
  • recognition that community ownership is not an end in itself but a means to delivering wider outcomes
  • a shift from community acquisition being driven either by specific problems or a reaction to land coming onto the market, to being planned and proactive.

We will now work with Scottish Government to bring interested stakeholders together in a Community Ownership Delivery Group (CODG) to shape the policy tools and specific interventions needed to deliver the recommendations in the report that include:

  • embedding community land and asset ownership into local place planning
  • ensuring that targets for community ownership reflect the outcomes sought in both rural and urban communities
  • ensuring support for community ownership transfers is provided across the whole geography of Scotland
  • considering longer-term sources of financial support for both capital costs and post-acquisition development
  • supporting negotiated transfer of land as the norm, whilst streamlining right to buy processes.

Community ownership and right to buy has developed significantly over the last 20 years and community ownership is now seen as integral to regeneration and sustainable development in both rural and urban contexts in Scotland.

Community ownership should be seen as normal and routine, as it is internationally, for a community to acquire and own land that could provide local housing, business development, community facilities, recreation facilities, greenspace, as a fundamental way to create more vibrant communities and regional economies.

Community, communal, and municipal land ownership has a long history and is perfectly normal across much of Europe and elsewhere so the next stage of the Commission’s work will be to explore what makes such ownership successful, to draw lessons that can help normalise and support further community ownership, and inform that sustainable long term vision for the sector in Scotland.

We see community ownership as one part of a much more diverse  land ownership pattern in Scotland. It can unlock productivity, spread the benefits of land more widely and give people a greater stake and influence in land use decisions. We are delighted the Cabinet Secretary has accepted in principle our recommendations and we look forward to playing our part in enabling communities to take on ownership of the land and assets they need to meet their needs and ambitions.

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TFC blog: Housing in Agricultural Tenancies that are occupied by the tenant

Houses which are rented out in the non-agricultural sector are subject to regulations which ensure that the landlord provides a property that meets certain minimum standards. Unless exempt, private landlords are required to register with the Local Authority and Local Authorities have powers to intervene if a rented property is not meeting the required standard. Bob - portrait NEW

 The Tolerable Standard (TS) is a very basic standard that all houses should meet, including those in agricultural tenancies. It is a condemnatory standard: accommodation which is below the TS is not acceptable as living accommodation and Local Authorities have a duty to ensure that they are closed, demolished or brought up to standard. The Repairing Standard (RS) is the minimum standard that should apply to any property let out on a residential tenancy.

 The requirement to meet the RS does not currently apply to most privately rented agricultural housing.  Housing on agricultural holdings, including ‘tied housing’, rented crofts and small landholdings that is rented to an individual under an agricultural tenancy is currently not required to meet the same standards as other private rented accommodation.  In such cases the farmhouse is treated as an item of fixed equipment like a shed or any other item of fixed equipment. The result is that in most tenancies the landlord has the responsibility for replacing and renewing parts of the farmhouse which are worn out through fair wear and tear and the tenant is responsible for repairing and maintaining the farmhouse. In cases, however, where a post lease agreement may have transferred responsibility for replacement and renewal of fixed equipment in a secure tenancy to the tenant, this will include the farmhouse. The end result of this is that some farmhouses have been improved by the landlord, some by the tenant, some by both and some have hardly been improved at all.

 All of this is set to change. The current position arguably puts the agricultural tenant in a less favourable position than someone in a rented house in the non-agricultural sector.  Scottish Ministers have indicated that they do not see it as equitable or acceptable that this situation should continue, and intend to make legislation in 2019 to introduce a requirement for rented agricultural housing to meet the RS by 2027. This should give ample time for discussions about what work may be required and where responsibilities lie, and for the necessary work to be carried out.

 This change will undoubtedly lead to some difficult discussions between landlords and tenants. The legislation puts the onus for any work required on the landlord but it is not clear whether this will take precedence over existing post lease agreements which transfer responsibilities to the tenant. No doubt too, this will be an opportunity to engage in the age-old pastime of disagreeing over whether some of the work that may  be necessary  is due to the landlord’s failure to renew or replace or the tenant’s failure to maintain. Whatever the complexities of agricultural holdings legislation, Ministers have made it clear that they expect these complexities to be addressed, so entrenched positions will not deliver a solution. A summit on this issue has already taken place last month, and all involved in the agricultural holdings sector need to give this issue some serious thought and must come together to agree a sensible way forward that respects the legislation and which is fair to both landlord and tenant. We have the time to do this, and hope that landlords and tenants will work together on this in the same cooperative way they have on other shared challenges.