Scottish Land Commissioner, Sally Reynolds looks at the importance of community engagement in decisions relating to land following the recent publication of a protocol and supporting toolkit by the Scottish Land Commission.
Early and open engagement by those who own or manage land with the local community should be part of normal business practice in Scotland.
While there are plenty of examples of good practice, there are also occasions when communities feel they’ve been ignored or only lip service has been paid to engaging them.
But, genuine and open engagement is good for land owners because it can reduce potential conflict, help make businesses more resilient and promote innovation.
On the flip side, communities will be better informed and people will have a greater opportunity to engage, understand and influence potential change and opportunities.
By working together and engaging in a process, it is often easier to make constructive progress.
This sets out in really practical terms how landowners, land managers and communities can work together to make better – and fairer – decisions about land use, especially when changes are on the agenda.
The toolkit will help landowners in engaging with communities. It includes a ‘decision map’ with ideas for engagement methods and what is expected of landowners and managers in different situations.
We believe it will promote an open approach to decision making, all of which is a vital part of increasing the accountability of land ownership and making the most of opportunities.
The Protocol defines standard good practice for engagement over land use and management.
I live and work on community owned estates and I have seen first-hand the positive outcomes engagement can have for both the community and land owner. I also know how daunting it can be for organisations who would like to engage with the community but don’t know how to get started. That’s why I am really excited about this new protocol and toolkit as I think it will help all parties work and move forward together.
This Protocol is the first in what will become a series of Land Rights and Responsibilities Protocols on different subjects that we will produce over the coming years to encourage practical implementation of the principles set out in the Scottish Government’s Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement (LRRS).
The Protocols will be short, clear, practical and fair to all parties, setting out clear expectations of what ought to happen in normal circumstances and provide guidance and practical advice to land owners, land managers and communities, to make more of Scotland’s land.
One initiative that illustrates good practice in terms of the principles of community engagement is the East Neuk Community Action Plan (ENCAP) Steering Group in Fife, which has successfully brought together landowners, community groups and others in to community-led planning. Partners include the East Neuk Estates Group which forged strong relationships with community groups, responded to the priorities they identified and integrated these into their own estate and land-use plans.