Farm Incubators – Learning from France

Our Policy Officer James MacKessack-Leitch shares his experience of visiting farm incubators in France and draws parallels for the Scottish sector: 

At the end of October I joined a NEWBIE delegation on a trip to northern France to learn more about farm incubators. This is part of the Scottish Land Commission’s work to help increase access tJames FINALo land for those who want to farm and reduce barriers to new entrants. NEWBIE is a European-funded initiative with the goal of increasing innovation, entrepreneurship, and resilience in the European farming sector.

France, like Scotland, has an ageing farming population so it is looking for ways to encourage new entrants into agriculture and one of the ways they are doing this is through farm incubators. We are looking at farm incubators as a potential route to increase access to land for agriculture, and they also featured as an option to investigate in our report into Increasing the Availability of Farmland for New Entrants to Agriculture in Scotland, published in May 2018.

Our hosts for the exchange visit were the French RENETA network, who bring together a range of organisations across the country, collectively supporting around 50 operational incubators units, with over a dozen more in development. Farm incubators are still a relatively new innovation – the first having been established in 2007 – and RENETA itself only formed in 2012, but the demand for, and success of, the model is clearly driving growth.

For RENETA, a farm incubator is defined as a coordinated system offering the conditions necessary to implement a trial farming period, with the provision of:

  • A legal framework to enable each candidate to carry out their farm business in autonomy
  • Productions facilities – land, as well as buildings and fixed equipment, potentially some machinery and tools
  • A multifaceted support and mentoring system adapted to the needs of each candidate.
RENETA T&Cs
A presentation from RENETA with info on their terms and roles of farm incubators

There was a lot to learn from the trip and it’s worth acknowledging that the French approach to agriculture is very different to ours on a cultural and political level: it’s clear that that approach is the core foundation supporting the activities of the public authorities, the third sector, and farm businesses.

This is perhaps best demonstrated through the actions of the Lille Metropole (MEL) – our first stop on the exchange. MEL is a group of 90 Communes (Local Authorities) centred around Lille and working together to address common issues. Recognising agriculture as a major asset for the development of the local economy, MEL has invested almost €3 million on one 35ha site to provide farmland and fixed equipment for early career farmers: although not an incubator itself, it is a destination for new entrants who have come through the incubators and are seeking to grow their business.

The public sector is being proactive in ensuring that early career farmers have a rung on the ladder after incubation, and that they are willing to make substantial investment to do so.

This proactive approach was also shared at our next stop, with Douaisis Agglo (CAD) – a smaller group of 35 communes – who also provide funding and other support to local agriculture projects. One example was acquiring land to add to existing public land to create a viable agricultural unit, installing a new entrant tenant, providing a €12,000 grant to get the business up and running, and assisting with marketing and access to networks.

Another example was of a municipal incubator providing additional, indirect, support to a new entrant involved in horticulture by ensuring that the local primary school was one of the main customers – demonstrating the power of joined-up public procurement, as well as realising the benefits of a short supply chain.

Potirons
Squash and pumpkins destined for lunch at the local primary school

In all cases, while the public sector often takes the leading role, they work closely with a wide range of partner organisations, across the public sector, private interests, and charitable bodies. Strikingly, it appears quite normal to have multiple partners actively involved and working effectively together in single projects: at a regional level it may involve 60 or more organisations collaborating, agreeing, and acting on a strategic vision for agriculture.

Involving such a large number and breadth of interests in decision making may sound like a recipe for chaos, but in practice the ability and willingness to collaborate is so well-established, and the recognition that everyone is aiming towards common goals is so accepted, it means that getting round the table (admittedly a very big table), agreeing a course of action and then acting on it is reasonably straightforward.

Of course, much of the ability of local government to play a leading and proactive role in supporting agriculture relies on the fact that it has the powers, finance, and personnel to do so – for which there is no Scottish parallel, and no short-term likelihood of change.

Cabbages

There are lessons that are eminently transferrable. The willingness of the public sector to take a leadership role, facilitate discussion and action need not be not resource-intensive, nor requires significant changes to policy or legislation.

 

Likewise the commitment to collaborate is something the wider agriculture sector here could learn from – if we’re all genuinely acting in the interests of the industry as a whole, then we all share the same ultimate goals. It’s hard to emphasise this enough, but seeing the willingness to collaborate first-hand makes it clear why French agriculture is sustainable and resilient. The creation of farm incubators, giving a start to new entrants, and then success in retaining that next generation of farmers is a clear demonstration of that commitment to innovation and collaboration.


To hear more about farm incubators and my experience in France, come along to the free NEWBIE seminar at Agriscot on 20 November:
https://agriscot.co.uk/newbie-farming-incubators-at-agriscot/

 

Action on Blight

In our latest blog, Policy Officer Kathie Pollard explores how a new framework can help decision-makers assess the impact of vacant and derelict land (VDL) sites on their local communities.

“This land can have a profound effect on the wellbeing of locals:” Darren McGarvey – recording artist, social commentator and filmmaker – is standing near a cluster of derelict sites in Glasgow and talking about how such eyesores affect the lives of communities inKathie Pollard a documentary on inequalities and poverty in Scotland.

100% of Possilpark’s population lives within 500m of a derelict site, 96% within 250m and 68% within 100m. The figures are striking and the viewing compelling.

This supports the findings of a recent report[1] which says that potential harms of vacant and derelict sites can impact on health, the environment, economy and community, depending on the scale, former use and local context of the site. The Scottish Land Commission commissioned this research to help understand the harm that long-term vacancy and dereliction can cause to communities to properly reflect these in policy decisions.

Previous research and blogs have described the problems, barriers and impacts of living near derelict sites. We’ve committed to tackling this issue together with other organisations through the Vacant and Derelict Land Taskforce which has set out a bold, multi-faceted approach.

How can decision-makers, community groups and others use all of this information when faced with a feasibility study, funding application, discussing interventions for neglected sites or pulling together plans for a place? Our report aims to add a useful tool to help you to turn the blight into a productive site.

Measuring the impacts of dereliction framework

Understanding and assessing the impacts of blight on those living near to derelict land provides a powerful evidence base to help communities and decision makers to find the right mechanism to intervene in harmful sites: this is currently a layer of evidence missing and not considered by any formal mechanism when making decisions about vacant and derelict sites, particularly those smaller sites under 0.1 hectares. Current approaches tend to focus more on the financial returns on bringing a site back in to use and may undervalue wider long-term benefits to society and the environment. A new framework can help assess the impacts and help people articulate and evidence the harm that these sites may cause to communities, which can then be used to access funding or other interventions.

The framework guides the user through a step-by-step assessment of a site by following several steps:

  • Data collection including statistics on crime, quality and views on green infrastructure and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation; this will help to characterise the local community to provide a basis for intervention. The purpose of this step is to identify sites within the local authority area which are considered most likely to be actively harming communities.
  • Impact this allows additional information to be added about the types of harms and may include the Place Standard tool, community workshops and knowledge sharing between different local authority teams.
  • Ranking – provides a way to rank the sites by how ‘harmful’ they might be based on the information gathered.

We are hoping this tool will be used by local authorities and other bodies to evaluate the extent to which VDL effects a community within a designated area, such as a neighbourhood, a town or local authority area. We will be working with a range of stakeholders to investigate how the framework could be used to help community groups make the case for investment in local sites, and how it could be used to help public bodies to prioritise investment in vacant and derelict land.

Funding Sources

There is a fair amount of funding both specifically for vacant and derelict land as well as for its end uses, as a review of funding sources has found[2]. This includes all sizes and types of project with a whole range of organisations being eligible – ranging from local authorities to community groups. However, often multiple income streams are required to reduce risk to funders and some funds may seem extensive but have strict requirements and may be very competitive. As all experienced funders know, research and preparation are key to seeing projects come into fruition.

To help you wade through the funding options, the findings from the review of funding sources and a handy table are on our website.[3]

Vacant and derelict land is contributing nothing to Scotland’s wellbeing, economy or environment. Echoing Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, at the Commission’s conference last month – “we have to do better.”

Hopefully these tools will help to support action on the ground.

 

We would love to hear from you if you have or are interested in using the framework. Please email katherine.pollard@landcommission.gov.scot for more information.

 

[1] Peter Brett Associates & SLC (2019) Vacant and Derelict Land in Scotland Assessing the Impact of Vacant and Derelict Land on Communities

https://landcommission.gov.scot/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/VDL-Final-Report-200919-FINAL.pdf

[2] Ryden (2019) Funding Sources for Bringing Vacant and Derelict Land Back in to Use https://landcommission.gov.scot/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Understanding-funding-sources-for-VDL-20191008-FINAL.pdf

[3] These are an overview of current funding sources and may need revising in future.

Guest Blog: Taskforce Work Shadow

In this blog, Sophie, a high school student from Perthshire, talks about her work shadow experience with the Scottish Land Commission where she attended a meeting of the Vacant and Derelict Taskforce.

Sophie blog
Sophie (left) with Shona Glenn, Head of Research and Policy

My name is Sophie and I am a high school student from Perthshire, hoping to study Geography at university. I am interested in urban regeneration and am researching the ‘Guggenheim effect’ that the new V&A museum has had in Dundee for my Extended Project Qualification (EPQ).

As part of the research for my EPQ, I attended a Holyrood Policy event on Urban Transformation and Regeneration – that’s where I first met two representatives of the Scottish Land Commission and learned about their work. I then contacted the Commission to ask if there might be an opportunity for me to take part in work-shadowing in order to learn more about Scotland’s land, and I was invited to a meeting of the Vacant and Derelict Land Taskforce in Edinburgh.

In the meeting, we reviewed a report, which property surveyors Ryden LLP had created, in order to better understand the problems which cause Scotland’s VDL. We then discussed the best approaches for improving the areas. I was particularly thrilled to be discussing possible solutions to real life problems with people who could actually affect change in a meaningful way rather than hurry off to their next lesson and forget all about it!

I really enjoyed the meeting and having the opportunity to talk to many professionals in a field that fascinates me. Much of what I learnt has benefited my EPQ project as the Dundee Waterfront was largely VDL and therefore intensely relevant. The Scottish Land Commission are doing important work in engaging with local communities to ensure that Scotland’s beautiful and precious land is used as effectively as possible for its inhabitants and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be involved.

Regional Land Use Partnerships

The Scottish Government has asked the Land Commission to advise on the establishment of regional land use partnerships, a commitment in the 2019 Programme for Government. Here, Chief Executive Hamish Trench looks at what we’ll need to consider.

The Scottish Land Commission is shaping a coherent programme of land reform spanning urban and rural land to improve the productivity, diversity and accountability of the way Scotland’s land is owned and used. The way we own and use land is central to big public polHamish - portrait 003icy challenges including climate action, productivity, and a fair economy. Reforms to both land ownership and use are needed to unlock opportunities for inclusive growth and to make the most of our land for common good. Our conference last month highlighted some of the strong connections between land, climate and a fair economy.

In addition to our ongoing work, the Scottish Government has asked the Land Commission to advise on the establishment of regional land use partnerships to maximise the potential of Scotland’s land in taking action on climate change.

Scotland’s land resource is the reason our climate target for net zero emissions is set ahead of the rest of the UK. That we have the technical ability to make a major contribution to climate action through land use is not in doubt. Our challenge and opportunity is to deliver this and to do it in a fair and productive way. The Scottish Government wants to establish regional land use partnerships and frameworks to drive this action.

Scotland’s Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement and the Land Use Strategy both remind us that delivering public value from our land is as much about governance, participation and accountability, as it is about technical management practices.

So as we look at how best regional land use partnerships could be established, we should all challenge ourselves on what kind of structures and powers are needed, both to deliver the scale and pace of action required, and also to widen participation, empowerment and benefit in decisions about land. We will need to be clear about the purpose of partnerships and the governance arrangements that follow.

Regional and place-based leadership is increasingly at the heart of Scotland’s wider approach to inclusive economic growth, for example through Regional Economic Partnerships. The recent Planning Act also requires the development of Regional Spatial Strategies. It seems natural that we should connect wider land use choices and opportunities into this regional context.

The new partnerships bring opportunities to ensure people are more engaged in decisions about land use change, helping unlock the economic, social and environmental opportunities for communities and land managers, and supporting local action.

We know many people and organisations have supported the idea of regional land use partnerships for some time. Now we have an opportunity to move forward and put in place partnerships that will have real influence and impact.

The Land Commission intends to report to Ministers with proposals in mid-2020 and will publish a scoping paper early in the new year seeking views and engagement. We will welcome wide engagement to make the most of this opportunity for reform, so that we can develop proposals that are sufficiently ambitious, practical and effective.

We are currently recruiting for a fixed term project manager to lead on this work – find out more.

National Student Award winner shares her experience

Winner of our first student award, Alison Martin, a PhD student at Inverness College UHI, used the funding to attend and speak at this year’s Royal Geographical Society International Conference.

In our latest blog, Alison – who is investigating the governance and ownership of rural land in Scotland, focusing on decision-making around rewilding initiatives and species reintroductions – talks about her experience of using the student award funding and the difference that it has made to her academic career.  

In August 2019 I was able to attend the Royal Geographical Society International Conference in London and give a talk about my PhD research – all thanks to the Student Award from the Scottish Land Commission.

The conference spanned three days, over 300 sessions, and was attended by over 1,800 delegates. I was a speaker in one of two sessions organised to explore ‘Trust in Rural Land Governance. I presented findings from a literature review and exploratory interviews and discussed the role of trust and legitimacy in the governance of rewilding in Scotland, folloA Martin Awardwed by a Q&A session.

Rewilding is a very contemporary issue and associated activities – especially species reintroduction – are a significant development in land use, land management and conservation.

Currently in Scotland a range of initiatives are underway which to a greater or lesser extent constitute rewilding but we currently lack a clear structure for how rewilding decisions are made and implemented – and by whom.

This all sits within the very unique context of Scottish land ownership, the Land Reform agenda and a push for greater community involvement based on underlying principles around human rights and land use for common good.

The student award was crucial in allowing me to take this opportunity, not only to attend, but to develop my thinking on a key aspect of rural governance and work on my practical presentation skills. It gave me my first experience of a large international conference and I gained invaluable first-hand experience of talking to an audience about my research, a key stage in my academic development. It also gave me exposure to current research and ideas in rural governance and the chance to meet others working in the field. I was also able to bring back what I learned and feed this into the work of the Land Commission.

————————————————————————————————————————

Research underpins the Land Commission’s work so that decisions and recommendations are thoroughly evidence based, and we use a wide academic network to provide research on key land reform issues. To encourage involvement in land reform we have launched the Scottish Land Commission National Student Award. Any student studying at a Scottish academic institution who undertakes a land reform-related piece of research is eligible to apply for the £1,000 prize.

Speaking about the award, our CEO Hamish Trench said: “We want to develop new approaches to make the most of Scotland’s land and help to build future research capacity to support land reform. We first offered an award last year through the University of the Highlands and Islands it is great that we can now extend the award nationally so that any students interested in land reform can take the opportunity to work with us and explore issues, gather evidence and spark debate and understanding.”

To apply for the award, a single grant of £1000, students are asked to outline their project and show how it connects to a Scottish Land Commission workstream as well as detailing how it will benefit the applicant’s student experience. Find out more and apply now.

Tenants’ Amnesty – Last Opportunity Beckons

The clock is ticking on the tenants’ improvements amnesty in his latest blog, Tenant Farming Commissioner Bob McIntosh highlights the importance of starting the process now. Bob - portrait NEW

Time is fast running out for those who wish to make use of the amnesty on tenants’ improvements by registering as eligible for compensation at waygo, improvements which may have been carried out without the correct procedures having been followed. Given that the amnesty period expires next June, and that it can take up to nine months to agree a claim, tenants who have not yet begun the process are urged to do so as soon as possible. This is a one-off opportunity to claim eligible improvements where the tenant may not have followed the correct procedure, such as notifying the landlord. The background to the amnesty and the procedures to be followed are set out in the Tenant Farming Commissioner’s Code of Practice.

As well as enabling tenants to maximise their waygo entitlements, agreeing a list of tenants’ improvements now will mean that you are well prepared for the introduction next year of the new rent system. Like the previous system, it is built on the basis that a landlord can only charge rent on fixed equipment provided by him/her so establishing the split of ownership of fixed equipment will be a necessary first step in the new rent system.

The Code of Practice emphasises the importance of a site meeting. Once tenant and landlord have assembled, and shared, information pertaining to the origin and eligibility of claimed improvements, experience has shown that a site meeting is the best way to see and discuss any disputed items and to reach agreement without the need for endless back and forward correspondence. Improvements which were implemented at shared cost can be difficult to resolve if poor records exist as to the relative contributions of landlord and tenant and sensible, pragmatic solutions such as agreeing on a 50:50 split are to be encouraged. It is desirable that all disputed items are resolved but it remains an option, as a last resort, to record the item as a tenant’s improvement but defer the issue of apportionment of ‘ownership’ until waygo takes place.

If you haven’t started the process, please do so as soon as possible or you may lose the valuable opportunity this amnesty provides.

For more information click here.

Urban land and communities – Shaping the future

In this blog, Good Practice Manager Gemma Campbell looks at community engagement in an urban context and sets out what the Commission is doing to support this.

We recently published two reports on community engagement in urban areas, ‘Land and Communities: Beyond the Echo Chambers’ – delivered in partnership with SURF, Scotland’s Regeneration Forum – and a second report delivered in partnership with Young Scot. These reports highlight some of the Gemma Campbell-002challenges faced in urban areas when it comes to getting involved in decisions made about land and considered how we could better understand the specific challenges and identify opportunities for practical change.

The ‘Beyond the Echo Chambers’ report was based on findings from three facilitated stakeholder events, held in Govan, Kirkcaldy and Rothesay, following SURF’s ‘Food for Thought’ model. The research focussed on ‘less well heard’ urban communities – disempowered through poverty, inequality and exclusion – and looked at how to enable them to contribute to land use decision making. Meanwhile, the Young Scot report focussed on the experiences of young people and explored their understanding of, and relationship with, urban land in their communities.

We found similarities in both sets of work, with participants identifying a sense of powerlessness and distrust when it comes to land issues, and many feeling they lacked understanding of who owned land and how decisions were made. This was compounded by a perceived lack of transparency and a sense that there were insufficient resources available to support urban communities to participate. There was, however, a willingness to get involved and a desire from communities to influence what happens in the spaces around them.

The people involved in the studies identified asset maps – seeing what is actually available for community control or ownership, improved transparency, enhanced post-acquisition support and better understanding and promotion of the value of genuine engagement with the community as ways to improve the current situation. They want to know who owns which assets and what their plans are, how those plans will impact their community, and what the opportunities are for getting involved and for making use of or taking on assets.

So, what can we do to support this?

We introduced our first protocol, on Engaging Communities in Decisions Relating to Land, in January this year, and we continue to promote it across the country. It is the first part of our good practice programme, which will be an integral part in effecting the culture change that is required to make the most of Scotland’s land. The protocol sets out practical advice on how landowners, land managers and communities can work together to make better – and fairer – decisions about land use in both rural and urban Scotland. We continue to develop this programme and will be tackling issues around responsible land re-use, transparency in relation to ownership and decision making, and early stage (pre-planning) engagement through the development of further protocols and guidance, and providing training and raising awareness of good practice and the benefits it brings to landowners and communities.

We will be working with communities to get involved in land-use decision making processes at an early stage and we will be encouraging landowners to engage earlier and involve communities in decision making processes.

This approach is reflected in national policy, where there is a focus on the ‘place principle,’ which means that those who are responsible for services and assets in a place should be planning and making decisions in collaboration with the local community. It promotes shared understanding and participative processes to ensure that resources, services and assets are directed and used in ways that best serve the needs of the community. This approach offers a great opportunity for communities to get involved and have their say.

Our urban engagement work links closely to the work of the Vacant and Derelict Taskforce. We have learned from the SURF and Young Scot reports that care needs to be taken to ensure that policies intended to empower communities do not inadvertently increase existing inequalities. In 2018, 58% of people in the most deprived SIMD areas, many of them urban, were estimated to live within 500 metres of vacant and derelict land (compared to 11% of people in the least deprived areas). Our recent work on vacant and derelict land explores the impact of derelict land on communities and proposes a tool for measuring this. We will be working with key urban partners and communities to test and refine this tool.

Ultimately, what is needed is a collaborative approach, backed up by a co-ordinated programme of information and support and effective and open communication from all parties. This will be key to ensuring that urban land is used in a way that is fair, inclusive and productive, and that helps communities to realise their opportunities and ambitions.

We look forward to working closely with key stakeholders, including SURF, Development Trust Associations Scotland and Community Land Scotland, to ensure a co-ordinated approach to engagement in our urban spaces.

Learning from International Experience

James MacKessack-Leitch, Policy Officer, looks at what Scotland can learn from international experience of land use in our latest blog.

At the Scottish Land Commission Conference, Scotland’s Land and Economy, I spoke about some of the international research we’ve done over the past couple of years looking at various land reform issues, and how other countries organise systems of land use, management, and ownership.

My aim was to get the audience – and now you – to think about some of these big issues, and pose some challenging questions about what Scotland can learn and where we should be going on our land reform journey.

There are three elements that shape our relationship with land regardless of country or jurisdiction: use, management, and ownership. Each has its own distinct features and role to play, but all three are intimately linked.

However, looking outwith Scotland, it quickly becomes clear how different patterns of land use, management, and ownership can be. As everyone is doing it differently, there’s no such thing as normal – or perhaps even radical – land reform; it’s a matter of perspective.

Across the breadth of our international research there are three key themes that consistently arise where there is the greatest difference with the Scottish context: governance (ownership) structures; local governance; and land use and planning. From these areas we have, perhaps, the most to learn.

In Scotland there is a tendency to think of land and property ownership as either private, public, or community – and treat each one differently. Elsewhere, however, there are a range of governance models that exist demonstrating a broad spectrum of ownership models that don’t fit neatly into any of these descriptions. Hybrid governance and ownership models are quite common outside of Scotland, and act to bring various parties together in decision making around land use and management – and crucially give them each a stake in the rights and responsibilities. This hybrid approach also tends to increase transparency and accountability in decision making.

Similarly, where a landowner in Scotland would normally expect to own all the rights to resources attached to the land, elsewhere the separation of usage rights and rights to resources is common. This allows multiple parties to benefit from the full scope of what the land can offer, implicitly recognising that it is the ownership of resources, rather than title, and fostering governance arrangements that are more inclusive and productive.

With regard to local governance, unlike in Scotland, the presence of municipalities of a much smaller scale – both in population and geographic terms – is ubiquitous. These local government structures play a key role in local land use, management, and often ownership, and are empowered with tools from taxation to planning to take a leading role in all local land matters.

For a wide range of land reform objectives it is clear that the presence of these types of local governance structures makes achieving change that much easier – which is perhaps somewhat at odds with the prevailing top-down approach in Scotland.

The final common theme is around land use and planning. The vast majority of countries explored take a zoned approach to planning, and will regularly have much more detailed – and often legally enforceable – land use plans.

This allows much greater clarity around development and ensures that the benefits of development are more widely spread. More in-depth land use planning also provides greater clarity for landowners, decision makers, and the public, and can act as an agreed expression of the public interest in land in the local area.

Taking all that on board, there are then three big questions we need to answer.

Firstly, is there a local governance gap? The role of empowered municipalities across the breadth of the research is clear. As it stands, Scotland doesn’t really have a direct equivalent, or any compensating mechanisms. Taking this question a step further, across the country we see pressure on landowners to engage and take responsibility for inclusive decision making. At the same time landowners of all types are often working to provide public goods as diverse as infrastructure and affordable housing to environmental protection. Is this gap being filled by landowners? Should it?

Secondly, is the Land Use Strategy the missing link? Clear land use planning (and a zoned approach) are prerequisites for many land reform objectives, but are useful tools in their own right. How do we make sure we’re making the right decisions, increase clarity for landowners and the public, and improve decision making?

Finally, what should be normal for Scotland?

 

 

 

Interventions to Manage Land Markets and Limit Ownership [bit.ly/2EoGwxp]

Increasing the Availability of Farmland for New Entrants to Agriculture [bit.ly/2oFZEVp]

Land Value Tax Policy Options for Scotland [bit.ly/2Enit6b]

Local authority land acquisition in Germany and the Netherlands: are there lessons for Scotland? [https://bit.ly/2Abizdo]

The Range, Nature and Applicability of Funding Models to Support Community Land Ownership [bit.ly/2Eu5Y7g]

Review of International Experience of Community, Communal and Municipal Ownership of Land (not yet published)

New land matching service to help new entrants into farming

In this blog, Tenant Farming Commissioner Bob McIntosh looks at the newly-introduced Land Matching Service. 

There are matchmakers for love and for business so why not for land and farming?

But how best to bring together those with land who no longer want to farm with those who want to farm but have no land?Bob - portrait NEW

For a long time, the problem has seemed intractable, though the need is clearly there.

New secure tenancies are few and far between because they are seen as low return and high risk by landowners. Meanwhile, fixed duration tenancies have encouraged landowners to let land, but generally on a relatively short-term basis, without the security of tenure which many tenants seek.

There is increased interest in exploring how other joint ventures such as contract farming, share farming and business partnerships can provide opportunities in all sectors of the industry. These joint venture opportunities also apply to people who are thinking about retirement and succession planning.

What seems clear is that we need to provide opportunities to bring landowners, farmers and new entrants together, with a central point of contact for initial guidance and impartial advice.

The Scottish Land Commission has been working alongside National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS), Scottish Land & Estates and the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs as part of the Scottish Government’s Farming Opportunities for New Entrants (FONE) group to create a new, dedicated land-matching service.

NFUS will host the service, as an expansion of their current Joint Venture Hub. The FONE group will provide guidance and the service will be supported by funding from the Scottish Land Commission.

The service will provide farmers and new entrants with a one stop shop for advice and guidance and to help initiate discussions between potential new entrants, land owners and farmers. The aim is to bring potential ‘matches’ together, working with them to select an agreement which best suits their needs. It will also appeal to landowners looking to set up a joint business venture with a new entrant.

This is a potentially very helpful initiative which the Land Commission is pleased to have supported and which will enable those seeking a tenancy to be linked up with those thinking of offering a tenancy. It will be important that the service is proactive, as well as reactive, by actively working with landlords and those wishing to farm to encourage and assist them in developing ways of working together to create opportunities that will benefit both parties and by publicising good examples as they occur.

Conventional tenancies is one route to bringing the parties together but a variety of other models such as joint ventures and business partnerships provide other opportunities which are worth exploring. While the focus may often be on identifying new opportunities for new entrants, there is potential to benefit existing secure tenants wishing to retire and who have no eligible successors. Agreements which enable them to bring another person into the business can be a good way of allowing the existing tenant to exit the business gradually and pass it on to the next generation.

The Commission is delighted to be involved in this new service helping to unlock land, increase productivity of farming, introduce new people to the industry and promote innovation, proving a win-win for farmers looking to retire or scale down and those looking to set up in farming.

Keep an eye on the Scottish Land Commission’s website to find out more.

Can Common Good assets deliver greater public benefit?

In this blog, policy officer, James MacKessack-Leitch, looks at the role Common Good James FINALLand has in Scotland today and how it can deliver land reform objectives.

Following the publication of the report looking at ‘Delivering Greater Benefit from Common Good Land and Buildings’ some key questions are posed in how to modernise Scotland’s Common Good land and property.

In many respects urban land reform – particularly community ownership – has proven more challenging to foster than its rural partner. There are, however, across Scotland, often significant portfolios of urban land and assets that represent arguably the oldest (if not original) form of community ownership – the Common Good of the Burghs.

This land and property – granted to, or acquired by the Burghs from the medieval period until their abolition in 1975 – was intended to help support the running of the Burgh, as well as provide amenity space for the citizens of the Burgh, and resources such as grazing land and woods.

However, by the 19th century many of these assets had been sold, appropriated, or simply lost from records, and by the time the Land Reform Review Group (LRRG) published their report in 2014, of the original 197 Burghs, 54 were recorded as having no Common Good assets at all.[1]

The abolition of Burghs, and subsequent local government reforms in the second half of the 20th century, further weakened links between Common Good assets and local governance and management. This has led to a confusing picture where in many cases it’s not clear when an asset is part of the Common Good.

Nevertheless, many of the remaining assets are cherished by local residents, and are often of significant heritage value. This leads us to our first question. Few, if any, residents of former burghs will be grazing livestock in their local park, and with modern local government reform there’s little call for using former burgh chambers for their intended purpose – so what is the 21st century purpose for such assets?

In reality if we’re looking at Common Good through the lens of community ownership, then the answer lies with the community. But drawing on our review of community ownership from last year we can expect that “whether intended to deliver employment, housing, education, recreation or amenity, asset ownership is typically a means to an end: addressing community decline and furthering sustainable development.”[2]

Fundamentally, the Common Good is a portfolio of land and property in our cities, towns and villages that is held for the benefit of the community, but this can be hard to see after centuries of mixed perceptions and legal interventions. For example, some of the thorny legal issues that cause confusion are: alienability (whether an asset can be disposed of – i.e. sold or leased long term); whether an asset is alienable or inalienable; what is Common Good; what are the rights and responsibilities of the custodians (Local Authorities); and what involvement the community has in day-to-day management or any decision making. Which takes us to the next question, how do we strip away the confusing legal framework?

Perhaps the simple answer is with new legislation. Only a new legal framework can cut through the existing morass of legislation and case law, and address some of the most problematic issues, like alienability. This view was also shared by the Land Reform Review Group who recommended, “a new statutory framework should be developed to modernise the arrangements governing Common Good property.[3]

Taking the concept of alienability as an example, with the rise of community empowerment and participative democratic engagement, alienability can look increasingly archaic and unfit for purpose. In the 21st century it may make more sense to empower the local community to help govern, manage, and ultimately decide the future of their Common Good assets, than rely on legal precedents set decades or centuries earlier.

This is also where things get very interesting. If it is agreed that new legislation is required, then there’s also an opportunity to look beyond the technical fixes, to a vision of a modern 21st century Common Good – not least by extending the concept beyond the former Burghs.

As the last Royal Burgh Charter was granted in 1700 there are a number of substantial Scottish towns with no Common Good assets – settlements that developed during the industrial revolution, and the five post-war New Towns, have no Common Good despite being some of the largest population centres in the country.

However, they do all have property that could, or would, be considered Common Good had they been Burghs – town halls, council chambers or other civic buildings, parks and greenspace. It’s difficult to see why such cherished and communal assets should not receive the same sort of status afforded to Common Good elsewhere, and allow the residents a measure of influence over what is, and certainly will become, their local heritage.

Creating new Common Good – also enabling former Burghs to rebuild and expand their Common Good portfolios – would require new legislation. But if done carefully and with a view to sustainability and long term prosperity, it could facilitate the preservation of built heritage and greenspace, and cultivate a flourishing of community led development throughout urban Scotland.

Like rural community owned estates, which are at heart a portfolio of assets, a modernised Common Good could cross subsidise activities and investment, take a lead on local housing and infrastructure, and become a champion of sustainable development.

This leads to the final question (for the moment), and perhaps the question with most options as answers – how should Common Good be governed?

Given the scale of some Common Good portfolios, and the fact they would serve populations of tens of thousands, or more, who makes the decisions, how and why, and with what level of scrutiny, transparency, and accountability, become very serious considerations.

One possibility might be to draw upon examples of hybrid governance models. One option, for example, might be a tripartite model where seats on the board are equally split between residents, service users (such as sports clubs and community groups), and the local public authorities (the council, but also perhaps enterprise agencies or others). Such models are used in similar settings outwith Scotland, and if managed well they allow every voice to be heard – and give every party a real stake.

To explore the potential opportunities to achieve greater benefit from the Common Good land and buildings we will be investigate three areas over the coming months:

  • the purpose of Common Good, and whether the concept could or should be applied beyond historic burghs
  • whether there is a need for new legislation, and if so, what other opportunities this option presents
  • the development of a protocol to help promote understanding of, and good practice in Common Good management.

Fundamentally, Common Good represents an extensive property portfolio from which it should be possible to derive significant community, local economic, and environmental benefit, with the right governance and legal framework. It could also be a game changer for urban land reform and community development, and a catalyst to deliver the benefits of community empowerment and ownership in urban areas that have so far been unrealised.

 

To find out more about this work, read the latest Land Focus and visit our website.

[1] https://www.gov.scot/publications/land-reform-review-group-final-report-land-scotland-common-good/pages/36/

[2] https://landcommission.gov.scot/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/1-Community-Ownership-Mechanisms-SRUC-Final-Report-For-Publication.pdf

[3] https://www.gov.scot/publications/land-reform-review-group-final-report-land-scotland-common-good/pages/36/