Time for action on making use of our land

Chief Executive Hamish Trench talks about the recent work done by the Vacant and Derelict Land Taskforce. Hamish - portrait 003

POLICY, funding and regulations all need to be joined up – at a national level across Scotland – if we want to tackle the persistent challenge of vacant and derelict land, to bring it back into productive use.

While local initiatives are to be welcomed, the scale of the task is such that we need a national, coordinated approach where priorities for action, finance and support is all aligned.

This week Vacant and Derelict Land Taskforce published a Statement of Intent that challenges all sectors in Scotland to play their part . This includes using the rich data Scotland has about vacant and derelict sites to promote opportunities for re- use of land and learning – through demonstration – what changes are needed in our regulatory, policy and finance systems to deliver change. Importantly also, we need to embed an
ethos of social responsibility into our corporate culture, to prevent future sites being abandoned.

The Statement of Intent has been informed by a report and analysis of the different types of sites on the vacant and derelict land register and the challenges of bringing them back into use. Our report highlights some recent – inspiring – examples of derelict and vacant land being regenerated and shows how local authorities and other public agencies have helped drive these projects forward.

We’ve also sought to understand the factors behind a core of so- called “stuck sites” – usually older , larger and derelict sites, some of which have been on the register for decades with a majority in either current or former public sector ownership.

According to the Scottish Vacant and Derelict Land Survey 2017, at least 60 per cent of sites and 66 per cent of vacant or derelict land on the register , is in current or former public sector (now privatised) ownership. It is these “persistently problematic” sites that we most want to tackle could be used to build new homes to limit urban sprawl, provide new allotments and city farms, create new parks and green spaces and generate renewable energy. There’s a real risk if we carry on “business as usual” of further sites being abandoned, in the future.

A key aim of the Taskforce going forward will be to embed a responsible approach to land reuse in corporate culture, so that it ’s increasingly seen as unacceptable to leave land and buildings vacant . We’re determined to promote action.

This means that relevant policies, regulations and funding opportunities must all be joined up, to unlock the opportunity that this unused land represents. And communities must be at the heart of land re- use, through community- led regeneration. This needs a national effort – by Government and other partners – to create the focus so that we make more of Scot land’s land, for more people.

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TFC Blog: Less than one year left under amnesty for agricultural tenants

Tenant farmers across Scotland have less than a year left to consider if they have improvements to notify their landlord about, under the waygo amnesty. Bob - portrait NEW

The amnesty, introduced by the Land Reform Act (Scotland) 2016 runs until June 2020 and

  • allows tenants to rectify any outstanding issues around past improvements that should qualify for waygo, despite missing notices or consents
  • does not apply where the landlord objected to the original improvement notice or the improvement is significantly different from the original notice
  • may be essential when it comes to rent reviews and relinquishment of 1991 Act tenancies

The definition of an improvement is broad and includes any buildings including houses and cottages. It also includes improvements to land such as ditches, drainage, removal of stones; field boundaries and access improvements

With only one year remaining of the amnesty, I urge all tenants to decide promptly whether to use it – or not.

It can take a bit of time to pull together all the evidence you may need to submit through an amnesty notice, so it’s best not to leave it too late.

The amnesty is a one-off opportunity for tenants to ensure that past improvements are eligible for compensation at waygo. In a nutshell, tenants must

  1. submit a list of claimed improvements which are within the scope of the eligibility rules
  2. meet with your landlord on the farm to review the list
  3. assemble as much evidence as you can to resolve any disputed items
  4. record your agreement to the final list

A leaflet that explains the process with useful case studies can be found on our website at www.landcommission.gov.scot/tenant-farming where you’ll also find the Code of Practice,  guidance and templates.

TFC blog: Regulations on private water – queries tackled

Private water regulations now apply to a far wider range of properties than previously: all farms with residential property subject to agricultural tenancies and all directly let residential properties, are now covered.Bob - portrait NEW

Introduced in 2017, the Regulations set out the duty of local authorities to protect public health and to take samples of water from both tenanted and tied properties.
Consequently, local authorities are contacting many more agricultural landlords and tenants, who have been asking us to help them.

I thought it would be helpful to cover some of the questions we’re being asked most often, to help clarify things.

Firstly, the new regulations apply only to the old ‘Type A supplies’, which are now referred to as ‘Regulated Supplies’ and do not impact on exempt supplies, known as ‘Type B supplies’ in earlier legislation.

Exempt supplies are those which supply less than 10m3 of water per day (2200 gallons) or serve fewer than 50 people.

It’s difficult to imagine many farms using 2200 gallons of water a day, when the average domestic consumption is about 80 gallons a day.

So for most simple cases where the water supply serves a single farm and perhaps a couple of cottages, the only action required as a result of the new Regulation is to make sure that anyone using an exempt supply, is informed about this and also about how they can protect their health from any potential contamination of the supply.

However, if the water is supplied to any premise used for a commercial or public activity, such as holiday lets, the exemption does not apply and a Relevant Person must be identified.

In most agricultural situations there will be more than one Relevant Person and the guidance recommends they get together to agree on what action might be needed and how any costs should be shared. If the parties cannot agree on who the Relevant Person is, the Local Authority will decide.
The following examples might help to illustrate:

• A landowner on whose land the water source is situated, supplies water to two let and two owner-occupied cottages. The landowner is the Relevant Person for the let cottages, but the owners of the other cottages are also Relevant Persons.

• A tenanted farm has a private supply, the source of which is located on land within the tenancy but the supply infrastructure is part of the fixed equipment supplied by the landlord. Both the landlord and tenant are Relevant Persons. The tenant bears the primary responsibility for maintaining the quality of the water because they control the land around the water source.

• A tenanted farm has a private supply, the source of which is located on land owned by the landlord. Both landlord and tenant would be designated as Relevant Persons but as the landlord controls the land around the water source the primary responsibility for maintaining the quality of the water might rest with the landlord.

While there will be complex cases, the principle is that anyone who owns, controls or manages any part of the water supply infrastructure or the land from which the water comes, is likely to be a Relevant Person so a shared responsibility is to be the norm.
The Scotland’s Drinking Water Quality Regulator guidance is useful to read.

Sharing Land Values – there is no quick fix!

After the publication of ‘Advice to Scottish Ministers on Options for Land Value Uplift Capture’ to Scottish Ministers, Shona Glenn, Head of Policy and Research, discusses how a Shona - portrait 001 - compressedmore collaborative approach to land development, in which the public and private sectors share risks and reward, should be a long-term aim. 

The value of land depends on where it is and what you can do with it – and what you can do with it is largely determined by the planning system. That is why, when planning permission is granted – or there is an expectation that it might be granted in the future – the value of land tends to increase. As this value is publicly created, there is a strong argument that it should be used to pay for the infrastructure needed to develop the kinds of places people want to live.

When the Scottish Land Commission was created one of the first things the Government asked us to do was to investigate how this could be achieved. This week we published some suggestions.

Our first suggestion is that we need to stop looking for quick fixes – they don’t exist! History has shown that poorly designed solutions don’t last long and tend to provoke conflict and resistance while they do last. Such an approach will not help to increase the supply of new homes.

Proposals to simply exclude hope value from the compensation local authorities pay to landowners when exercising compulsory purchase powers risk falling into this category. But the ambition to use this value for common benefit seems entirely right.

Commentators often point to Germany as an exemplar to follow so we looked at the German system to see what we could learn. What we found was that, while planning authorities in Germany can acquire land at existing use value, it is fundamental differences in their planning system that allow this to happen – not different compensation rules.

At the heart of this is a trade off between certainty and flexibility.

Planning in Germany is a very systematic affair with a formal hierarchy of plans and large public investments in the implementation of those plans. There is a lot of legal certainty about what kind of development will be permitted at an early stage so land values tend to be determined very early on. This means there is relatively little scope for hope value to arise and market value tends to be much closer to existing use value.

Scotland could move toward a more plan-led, German style, planning system – but it will take more than a simply changing compensation rules to achieve that.

Part of what we need to do is get better at using the planning system to actively shape land values – over the long-term this should help to reduce the gap between market value and existing use value.

A step toward this would be more clarity and consistency in the use and application of developer contributions across the country (the Land Commission has recommended a national review). The Infrastructure Levy proposed in the Planning Bill would be a further step in the right direction.

But this will only take us so far. If we want to move to a more plan-led system in which decisions about what to develop, where and when are driven more by the public interest than market forces then we need to take a serious look at how land is allocated for development. Over the next year the Land Commission will be working with stakeholders to do just this.

Planning policies can be an effective tool for shaping land values but this approach is likely to be most effective in areas where there is significant value to capture. In many parts of Scotland this is not the case. That is why we also need to recognise the need for the public sector to take a more proactive role in initiating and driving forward major development in Scotland and to accept the risks – and associated costs – of doing so.

Moving toward a more plan-led system will also take time – but the housing crisis is happening right now – so what can we do?

We believe that the Masterplan Consent Areas (MCAs) contained in the Planning Bill could be part of the solution. To do this they would need to be designed to provide a framework for collaboration that would allow the risks and rewards of development to be shared more equitably between the public and private sector. (Land value sharing anyone?)

This would be very different to our current approach, that tends to see large-scale development as a zero-sum game in which the public interest can be achieved only at the expense of commercial interests. What we are proposing is based on the principle that a more proactive involvement by the public sector should enable additional value to be created that would not otherwise exist. We believe that creating a framework that would enable landowners and developers to share in this value should make it possible to harness their own rational self-interest in pursuit of the common good.

A framework for delivering this approach that is consistent with the existing provisions for MCAs contained within the Planning Bill already exists. Over the next few months we will be working with stakeholders to look at how it could be made to work in practice.

Today’s recommendations to Scottish Government are informed by 18 months of research, including a joint report from the Scottish Land Commission and Scottish Futures Trust, Funding Scotland’s Infrastructure published today:

The Commission started by looking at lessons we could learn from the past. Last year we published a research report looking at historic attempts to capture land value uplift in the UK.  We have also published discussion papers on Public Interest-led development in Scotland; on local authority land acquisition in Europe and the lessons for Scotland.

TFC blog: Discussions and Advice Vital for Diversification

Tenant Farming Commissioner, Bob McIntosh, gives an update on the latest his latest Guide to Tree Planting on Tenanted Agricultural Holdings. Bob - portrait NEW

With the current economic uncertainty surrounding agriculture, and increased pressure on business margins, more farm operations are looking to diversify into a range of different non-agricultural activities for future security.

This, along with a focus by Scottish Government on increasing woodland in Scotland, is causing more farmers and landowners to consider the pros and cons of woodland creation.

This new Guide outlines the rights of both tenants and landlords to plant trees and provides information on applying for permission to plant.

Importantly, a tenant of a secure tenancy or a limited duration tenancy wishing to use the land for a non-agricultural purpose such as tree planting can now do so provided they obtain written consent for diversification activity.

Before 2003 a tenant had no right to plant trees on the holding or, if they did, had no right to harvest them.

The guide also provides information about ‘waygo’ compensation.

This determines whether a tenant or landowner might be entitled to compensation depending on whether the planting has increased or decreased value of the land.

A tenant is entitled to compensation when the value of the trees is more than the loss of rent to the landlord in retaining the trees until their likely date of cropping plus the cost to the landlord of returning the land to agricultural use.

If the assessed value of the trees is less than this, the landlord will be entitled to compensation from the tenant to the value of the difference.

The trees should be valued on the basis of their worth to a willing purchaser for future cropping.

This is an important and potentially decisive issues affecting a tenant’s willingness to plant trees.

If a tenant were to quit the holdings when the trees are still pre-harvesting age, and given that the cost of returning the land to agriculture could be significant, the tenant may find that they have to pay compensation to the landlord so it is important that all aspects and implications are carefully considered at the outset.

As with most forms of diversification, a tenant needs to ensure correct procedures are followed and that any necessary consents are obtained.

Since tree planting is a long-term business that will affect the land use and associated costs and incomes well into the future, tenants are advised to discuss their plans at an early stage with their landlord so that discussions can take place around the best way to achieve the most favourable outcome for both parties.

Similarly, landlords who would like to see more woodland on their land have the opportunity to discuss a variety of business arrangements with the tenant in order to achieve this.

 

TFC blog: Guide Designed to Help Farmers and Landlords

Tenant Farming Commissioner, Bob McIntosh, writes about his work to improve relations with tenants and landlords.Bob - portrait NEW

I’ve recently published a new code of practice, designed to avoid the sort of issues that sometimes hit the headlines when tenant farmers and landlords have different aims and aspirations.

The new code of practice for agreeing and managing agricultural leases is designed to ensure there are robust procedures in place to avoid misunderstandings when a lease is being entered into, disagreements when changes are made during the term of the lease and disappointment when a fixed duration lease is ended.

The code sets out some simple principles that both tenants and landlords can follow.

This includes taking the time to fully understand the lease. An agricultural lease comes with responsibilities and liabilities.

Both parties, but particularly tenants, ought to take time to question and understand the terms of any lease they are signing and seek professional advice if they’re unsure.

Another principle in the new code is to record agreements in writing.

In any tenancy, agreements may be reached which alter the rights and responsibilities of both parties.

It could be a relatively simple matter such as the tenant notifying the landlord of an intention to construct a new shed. Whatever the issue, it is important that neither party relies solely on verbal or unwritten agreements.

Memories are short and personalities change, so to avoid future disagreements and misunderstanding both parties should ensure that agreements that impact on the rights and obligations of either party, are properly recorded in writing with both parties retaining a copy of the record. The new code also suggests holding regular reviews.

I recommend that tenants and landlords periodically review progress to check their initial understanding about the duration of the tenancy and the impact of any subsequent changes.

If either party changes their plans, I recommend that they tell the other party promptly.

Another principle in the code is discussing the end of the lease – in good time.

With tenancies of fixed duration, it’s best if discussions about the aspirations and intentions of both parties at the end of the lease start in good time, to minimise uncertainty and allow both parties to prepare for a change in circumstances.

The full code of practice can be found here.

This is the sixth code of practice I have issued as Tenant Farming Commissioner to help shape positive relationships between landlords and tenants.

 

TFC blog: Agreeing and Managing Agricultural Leases

Tenant Farming Commissioner, Bob McIntosh, summarises the latest Code of Practice on Agreeing and Managing Agricultural Leases. Bob - portrait NEW

A decision to sign up to an agricultural lease is one which results in responsibilities and liabilities and should not be taken lightly and without understanding the full consequences and implications.  Understanding the terms of the lease at the outset is the first important step but thereafter it is essential that any agreements affecting the responsibilities set out in the lease are properly recorded. There needs to be a full understanding by both landlord and tenant of the nature and implications of a fixed duration lease.

There are some important principles which if followed will help to ensure that misunderstandings and disagreements don’t occur during the term of the lease.

1. Understanding the terms of the lease

A desire to secure a lease can sometimes lead to tenants signing up without fully understanding the implications. Landlords should always allow time for the tenant to understand, and if appropriate, negotiate the terms of the lease. This is particularly important in the case of the Modern Limited Duration Tenancy (MLDT) because the law allows some flexibility in agreeing such issues as the rent review mechanism and the responsibility for replacement and renewal of the fixed equipment. Not every MLDT will therefore contain the same terms and tenants are advised to take professional advice if they are uncertain about any of the implications of the draft lease provided by the landlord. Once the lease is signed it will be legally binding and changes can only be made with the agreement of both landlord and tenant.

Most new agricultural leases will now be for a fixed term and can only be renewed by agreement. It is important that, at the beginning of a fixed term lease, landlord and tenant have a discussion about what might happen at the end of the term, and the aspirations of both parties should be recorded so that there is no misunderstanding at the end of the term about what was agreed at the start. It is understandable that either of both parties may be unable to say what their attitude to continuation will be when the time comes and if that is the case it should be recorded. The aim is to avoid reaching the end of the term with different expectations about what will happen next. Unless an agreement has been reached to the contrary, tenants should never assume other than that a fixed term lease will terminate at the end of the term.

 2. Recording changes and agreements

During the term of the lease there are likely to be occasions when something occurs which might affect the rights and responsibilities of one or both parties. A common example would be the need for a tenant to seek consent for, or give notification of, a tenant’s improvement that might qualify for compensation at waygo. Too often this is subject to a verbal agreement between the tenant and the landlord or landlord’s agent. This is fine at the time but memories are short and personalities change and the end result is disagreement about what may or may not have been agreed. It is imperative that any such agreements and notifications are properly recorded in writing. In many cases a simple exchange of letters or emails (with a printed copy retained) will suffice but in the case of a more complex issue it may be necessary to have a proper legal agreement drawn up. Tenants and landlords are advised to take professional advice about the best way forward if there is any doubt about the most appropriate action to take.

 3. Actions towards the end of the lease

If a fixed duration tenancy has been in place for a reasonable length of time (and many are of 15 years or more duration) it is understandable that the tenant may have invested emotionally and financially in the holding and will be disappointed by a decision by the landlord not to renew. The law ensures that tenants of LDTs and MLDTs must be given reasonable notice of a decision to end the lease at the expiry of its term but this will not always be enough to prevent public and political opinion from seeing this as an ‘unfair eviction’ as has happened in one recent case. It will be helpful therefore if a conversation is held between landlord and tenant well in advance of the end date to explore the aspirations of both parties and to consider what options may be available. Much will depend on the landlord’s intentions towards the land but discussions might include consideration of-

·      the tenants age and the possibility of extending the lease to enable the tenant to reach pension age.

·      whether there might be an option of the tenant retaining the house if this is not needed

·      the impact on the tenant’s business if this is the only or main income source

·      whether another holding in the landlord’s ownership might be available.

 Tenants must accept that a fixed duration tenancy is just that and that it may not be possible for the landlord to provide any of the above, but landlords should be aware that a decision to terminate a fixed duration tenancy will be more supportable if it is preceded by such discussions.

Read the full Code of Practice.

Understanding International Experiences of Community, Communal and Municipal Ownership of Land: a knowledge exchange webinar

Guest bloggers Annie McKee (The James Hutton Institute) and Jane Atterton (SRUC) look at understanding international experiences of community ownership of land for an upcoming knowledge exchange webinar.   This is part of a review commissioned by the Scottish Land Commission of international experience of community, communal and municipal land ownership.  The project will explore relevant forms of community, communal and municipal land ownership outside Scotland, particularly focusing on the interaction between governance structures, management objectives, the distribution of land rights and cultural perceptions. Lessons for Scotland will be provided from this international experience.  

The community ownership of land in Scotland represents an important and currently active agenda. In many countries around the world, community engagement and involvement in landownership and management is well established. Critically, legal ownership is often not the defining characteristic of what can be loosely termed communal, municipal or community ownership at a global level. Reviewing indigenous rights and communal ownership also highlights the importance of specific rights over resources, which may be separate to ownership, and which may represent key aspects of community development and self-determination. Bundles of land rights and/or strong local governance structures can result in a community-led approach to land management and decision-making related to land, despite the outright ownership of the land lying with another body (e.g. a State-owned company or local municipality administration).

Other institutions (including the public and private sector organisations) can play important roles in delivering asset-based community development in some contexts (for example, community land trusts in the United States).  Reviewing indigenous rights and communal ownership also highlights the importance of specific rights over resources, which may be separate to ownership and can represent key aspects of community development and self-determination. Critically, due to the complexity of ownership formats internationally and the varying emphasis of the importance of property ownership, understanding community ownership in an international context requires consideration of governance structures for managing land and associated rights (as opposed to who ‘owns the land’ in a legal sense) as well as the historical evolution of community-based ownership.

In Scotland, what constitutes ‘community landownership’ is arguably reasonably well agreed upon i.e. ownership (legal title and exclusive right of possession) of land and/or assets by a community body that is locally-led and linked to a defined geographic community (Scottish Government, 2017). Community ownership in Scotland is therefore predominantly ‘place-based’ and based on the acquisition of ‘full’ property rights (although it is recognised that various partnership and lease arrangements exist between communities and landowners). In this sense, ‘community ownership’ in Scotland is a relatively distinct form of landownership and generally seen as distinct from public ownership of land (e.g. by Forestry Commission Scotland, a state agency and the largest single landowning entity in Scotland). In contrast, the interpretation and conceptualisation of ‘community’ or ‘communal’ ownership of land varies considerably across Europe and further afield and is often less clearly distinguished from ‘public ownership’. Understanding these global perspectives

A webinar will be held on 5th March from 1.30-3.30pm to discuss emerging findings from ongoing research commissioned by the Scottish Land Commission, led by Dr Jane Atterton at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) that seeks to understand international experiences of community, communal and municipal ownership of land. The webinar will connect people with knowledge and expertise in the field of community land ownership internationally, to build new understandings and identify key themes relevant to the ongoing research.

The research team (including researchers from SRUC, the James Hutton Institute, and Universities of Aberdeen and Sheffield) will outline the main themes from the desk-based evidence review and in-depth international case studies during this webinar, which will be chaired by Malcolm Combe, Senior Lecturer in Rural Law from the University of Aberdeen. The international case studies to be discussed include and exploration of state and community-owned common land management in Norway, the community land trust model as developed in the United States, common forest management and ‘access to land’ initiatives in France, amongst others.

The focus of the webinar discussion will be to identify the key lessons relevant to the ongoing processes of changing landownership in Scotland. This online meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss the research findings and the emerging lessons with an expert group of international academics, practitioners, stakeholders, and interested members of the public (although places are limited). In summary, the webinar aims to:

  • Draw out implications for Scotland from international experiences of community, communal and municipal land ownership.
  • Interrogate international project advisors, representatives of case studies, and key informants to incorporate their knowledge and experience of other contexts, e.g. regarding the potential barriers/challenges experienced elsewhere.
  • Link practitioners and researchers working on community, communal and municipal ownership of land internationally, for the purposes of transdisciplinary knowledge exchange.

Participants in the webinar will include the Scottish Land Commission staff and Commissioners, relevant Scottish stakeholders (including representatives from the Scottish Government, Community Land Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates, and others), the international advisers to the ongoing research project, and representatives from the case studies featured in the project. The webinar will be recorded and subject to participants’ agreement, will be made publicly available. The webinar report will form part of the research report to be submitted to the Scottish Land Commission in mid-March 2019. The report will collate the webinar messages and present lessons that Scotland could learn from international experiences, as it seeks to develop and support the model of community land ownership.

Any interested individuals who wish to participate in the webinar are requested to contact either Jane Atterton (SRUC) or Annie McKee (The James Hutton Institute) by 5pm on 4th March, to request a space and joining instructions (although please note that spaces are limited). The webinar recording will be uploaded to the project webpage shortly after the event, and the final project report is anticipated for publication by the Scottish Land Commission in late Spring/early Summer 2019.

Community Engagement in decisions relating to land

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.

Land Commission board portraits

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.

That’s why we, at the Scottish Land Commission have this week launched a new Protocol and toolkit about community engagement in decisions about land.

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.

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Scotland’s proposed new Rights Act and land reform

Land Commissioner Megan MacInnes looks at the proposed new Rights Act.

At the end of last year – and possibly lost amidst political headlines and the pre-Christmas rush – First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a seismic shift for human rights in Scotland, which could have profound impacts for land reform.Land Commission board portraits

The 10th December is International Human Rights Day and in 2018 marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. It was also the day on which the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership published its recommendations for how Scotland can become an international human rights leader. The recommendations focus on the adoption and implementation of a new Rights Act; a statutory framework for human rights which for the first time would include economic, social and cultural rights, as well as environmental rights.

It is these economic, social and cultural rights which are the human rights most closely associated with land. Therefore, the fact that the First Minister has set up a task force to take the recommendations forward, could mean big changes for progressive land reform and the work of the Scottish Land Commission.

Until recently conversations about human rights and land reform in Scotland focused on how the protection of private property rights were hindering land reform. However, with the consideration of economic, social and cultural rights included first within the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act in 2015 and then the Land Reform (Scotland) Act in 2016, this relationship has been rebalanced.

As described in the Land Lines discussion paper published by the Commission: “the human rights focus shifted from avoiding human rights violations to actively pursuing positive human rights impacts. This … envisages using, and in some cases unlocking, land in pursuit of the progressive evolution of human rights, particularly ESC [economic, social and cultural] rights.”

Within the economic, social and cultural rights it is the rights to food and adequate housing which are most closely dependent on individuals, families and communities having access to and secure tenure over land, and thus the progress of land reform. Other rights associated with land include the right to physical and mental health, right to education and right to take part in cultural life.

But what does this mean in practice? Referring to human rights can strengthen a communities’ case for improvements in services – the Leith housing project involved tenants becoming aware of and exercising their right to adequate housing as a means to improve their housing conditions. Human rights can also help identify connections between land and wider social, cultural and economic trends. The community acquisition of 17,000 acres of land on the Isle of Harris by the West Harris Trust in 2010 reversed trends of depopulation and seasonal, unsustainable housing and employment opportunities, thereby having a positive impact on economic, social and cultural rights. Conversley, the negative impacts of long-term derelict land on individuals and communities are well documented, restricting their ability to meet important needs – rights – such as affordable housing or cultural facilities.

As a result of this rebalancing of human rights and land reform, human rights support rather than hinder progress. The right to property is recognised as not being absolute and can be limited in pursuit of the public interest and balanced against other human rights. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 requires Minsters to have regard for economic, social and cultural rights in preparing the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement and Guidance on Community Engagement, as well as in decisions relating to the community right to buy for sustainable development.

The Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, published in September 2017 by the Scottish Government, articulates for the first time that along with rights to land come responsibilities; to your neighbours, your community and the wider public. The Statement adopts a human rights approach to land rights and responsibilities with the intention of improving the connection between land (in rural and urban areas) and the Government’s wider objectives of inclusive and sustainable economic growth and social justice.

The Rights Act can bring in to statute the protection and respect for economic, social and cultural rights which currently exist only in policy. What is being proposed is not just a technical but practical and most importantly accountable; it creates a new task force, provides capacity building and introduces human rights-based indicators for our National Performance Framework. This highlights the importance of human rights in Scotland’s future and enables public bodies like the Land Commission to place them at the heart of our programme of work.

Like the Advisory Group, I will end by handing over to Eleanor Roosevelt, the key architect of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights; “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home ….. so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works.” What can be closer to home than the rights to having food on the table and a roof over our head? And land is critical to both.