International Perspectives Pose Questions for Scottish Land Reform

Land Commissioner, Megan MacInnes, reflects on last week’s Macaulay Development

Land Commission board portraits
Megan MacInnes, Scottish Land Commissioner

Trust workshop on Scottish land reform in a global context held at James Hutton Institute with participants from the US, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Slovakia, the Netherlands, Ireland, South Africa, as well as the UK.

As a self-confessed land reform geek, getting to spend two days sitting down with people who are researching and working on land reform from around the world sounds pretty perfect. Last week was such an opportunity, with the James Hutton Institute bringing practitioners and scholars from more than ten countries together, to discuss how Scotland’s efforts at land reform fit within the global context.

From initially focusing on our own model of community land ownership and how it compares to community, communal and municipal land ownership in other countries during the initial webinar, the presentations and conversations became more wide ranging over the course of the workshop.

Some topics were all too familiar: the challenges for young people wanting to get into farming; the ways in which community land trusts and other community groups are improving access to affordable housing in urban areas; and the extent to which land reform, in any context, is connected to a wider range of needs – soft and hard infrastructure, economic development, access to finance and unfavourable policy environments.

Others were radically different: how local communities are responding to large-scale land grabbing for agribusiness in the Philippines; how first nation communities in Canada were using land and property codes to gain greater autonomy over their own reserves; and the challenges of campaigning for and implementing land reform where there are long-term conflicts and internal displacement such as Myanmar faces.

Much bigger-picture questions the group tried to grapple with were the need for a new conceptualisation of land rights and responsibilities within land reform, away from the traditional focus of private property rights, and on this Scotland has a lot to share. Likewise, whether the future trajectory of land reform is radical, based on social justice, or whether it is steady, evolving through existing structures and frameworks is something that is still up for debate.

My personal reflections throughout were on community land ownership – what could Scotland learn from other countries, and what do we have to show in return? From my own experience working on land reform in Asia and internationally (particularly around strengthening community land rights) the direct comparisons are tantalisingly close, yet elusive. This is because the historical and contemporary context of community land ownership in Scotland is so very different from community and customary land ownership in much of the world. In fact, the most obvious comparison between arrangements for community and customary land and natural resource governance internationally is our crofting system, but even then significant differences are clear.

What is clear though is that like in Scotland, models of community land and natural resource ownership have a clear and prominent role in achieving future sustainable development and delivering broad public benefits.

Where I think there can be lessons learnt are around the governance structures enabling community-based models of land ownership. This includes how ownership models can be transparent and accountable, how to overcome the challenges of limited capacity and high burn-out of community members, and how to ensure governance models are forward-looking and not just reflecting the past. If we are going to truly normalise community land ownership in Scotland then I think there is much to be learnt from international experiences of hybrid and joint ownership models between community groups, the public and private sectors.

Where Scotland is already demonstrating leadership in community land ownership globally is our focus on legal title (rather than just recognising access or user rights) and the explicit and positive connection between land reform and the economic, social and cultural human rights.

We ended the conference with suggestions for ongoing research, discussions and more gatherings – so I am sure we shall have plenty of opportunities to continue the conversations.

The international experience and discussions from the webinar will be incorporated in to the review of ‘International experience of community, communal and municipal land ownership’ we have commissioned and the final report from SRUC, in cooperation with the James Hutton Institute, the University of the Highlands and Islands, the University of Aberdeen and Ting Xu, will be published in the coming months.

Featured Image – James Hutton Institute

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Addressing Scale and Concentration of Land Ownership in Scotland

Land Commission board portraitsScottish Land Commissioner, Dr Sally Reynolds, looks at scale and concentration of land ownership in Scotland:

 

The issue of scale and concentration in land ownership has been an underlying theme and driver of the land reform debate in Scotland for decades. Scotland has an unusually concentrated pattern of land ownership with relatively little public regulation by international comparison.

That these issues remain a public concern is reflected in the current Programme for Government which sets out the expectation for the Scottish Land Commission to ‘review the unusually concentrated pattern of land ownership in Scotland, including the potential risk of localised monopolies in some situations, and its potential impact on the public interest’.

To begin this work we are publishing a discussion paper and research report. The Land Lines discussion paper, independently written by Peter Peacock, asks some challenging questions about fairness, economic opportunity and the risk of localised monopoly situations. It recognises the complex relationship between scale, accountability and productivity and suggests a number of potential interventions.

The research report by the University of the Highlands and Islands and University of Aberdeen, commissioned by the Land Commission, provides a rigorous review of international examples of the way in which countries regulate the scale and concentration of ownership. It considers a range of measures that are commonly used and explores the drivers behind these approaches and what we can learn from them.

For the Land Commission, it is important we get behind the headlines and land ownership statistics to understand the implications and issues that people associate with scale and concentration of ownership. It is not a simple relationship and there is unlikely to be a single answer. But it is directly relevant to our objectives to increase the productivity, diversity and accountability of the way land is owned and managed in Scotland.

Addressing these questions is core to modernising our system of land ownership in a way that people feel comfortable reflects Scotland’s current needs and ambitions. We know this is a topic that provokes strong views and feelings from different perspectives. That is why we want to address it straight-forwardly and openly.

The Land Commission is opening a call for people to submit evidence and experience on the issues associated with concentration of ownership. This is an open opportunity and we want people from all perspectives to submit experience and evidence including individuals, community groups, land owners and managers. We want to understand both the good and bad experiences and examples of issues associated with concentrated land ownership.

The Commission will then use this information to inform its consideration of the issues and also how they can best be addressed. We intend to publish an interim report of our findings towards the end of 2018.

Making more of Scotland’s land

Hamish Trench, Chief Executive, Scottish Land CommissionHamish - portrait 003

At our conference on 28 September we published our first Strategic Plan for the Scottish Land Commission: ‘Making More of Scotland’s Land’.

In this we set out a clear vision: a fair, inclusive and productive system of land ownership, management and use that delivers greater benefits for all the people of Scotland.

Our plan reflects the broad reach and relevance of land reform. We want to open up debate and change in the way we make the most of our land; and ask fundamental questions about the role land plays in delivering things that matter to people across Scotland.

We want to shape change on the ground that makes it easier to deliver housing, to create high quality places for people to live, for communities to shape the way the land and buildings around them are used and for people to be able to access the land needed to develop new enterprises, grow businesses and the economy.

Our work will be as much about Scotland’s urban centres as it is about rural communities and it will be about both land ownership and land use.

To start delivering against this in the coming three years, our work will be framed by three long term objectives: Productivity, Diversity and Accountability. We see improved productivity as being central to land reform. By this we mean we want land to be productive in economic, social and cultural ways. This is essentially about ensuring the way we structure land ownership and use helps grow our economy, our communities, our natural capital, our well-being.

Diversity of land ownership and the benefits of land use are also fundamental to our approach. We want to encourage a more diverse pattern of ownership, but also ensure the benefits from land are shared more widely and inclusively.

Accountability is critical to public confidence in any system where decisions of a few potentially impact the decisions of many, whether those decisions are made by private individuals, public agencies, community or charitable bodies.

We will be taking forward work in four priority areas:

  • Land for Housing and Development
  • Land Ownership
  • Land use Decision Making
  • Agricultural Tenure

In each of these we will be looking at potential changes to legislation and policy, but as important will be the cultural and practical changes we can help shape and prompt. Much progress can be made through changes in practice and approach.

While land reform has developed in Scotland in a rural context, it is as relevant to some of the major challenges we face in our towns and urban centres. For example, the way land markets function has a significant influence on the delivery of housing and infrastructure. Ownership and tenure constraints are key factors in looking at the re-use of vacant and derelict land and land supply for housing. We will be looking at what is needed to bring vacant and derelict land into more productive use, the impacts of land banking on housing land supply, land assembly for development and options for land value capture that would help unlock development.

We will also be addressing some of the fundamental questions about diversity and equity of land ownership. We want to understand the implications of scale and concentration of land ownership, to examine the role of charitable land ownership status and review the effectiveness of community right to buy mechanisms.

Land reform is of course not just about ownership, but the use of land and even more fundamentally, our connection to land. We will be exploring how the accountability of land use decision making can be improved, considering how and when communities and a broader range of interests can be engaged in decision making. The quality of decision making is also likely to be improved through policy alignment and clear articulations of the public interest in land use, all things Scotland’s Land Use Strategy seeks to help.

Agricultural tenure is our fourth priority, specifically in relation to the functions of the Tenant Farming Commissioner but it is also integral to our wider vision. The central theme here is seeking to improve relationships between agricultural landlords and tenants and looking at what is needed to stimulate the tenanted agricultural sector, improving investment and productivity. More widely we will be looking at what further action can be taken to improve access to land for new entrants, to help create a resilient and dynamic farming sector.

Taken together this is an ambitious programme of work for the coming three years and we will need to work with many organisations across sectors to make progress. We are determined that our work should deliver benefits on the ground in the short-term as well as leading to recommendations for changes to legislation and policy.

Engagement and communications is as important to us as research and evidence. We will be looking for opportunities to work with others in stimulating awareness of new approaches, promoting best practice and case studies, providing guidance where it is needed and influencing change on the ground.

We do not underestimate the diverse range of views and expectations across the scope of work we are setting out. But we have a straight-forward approach. We will work with all interests and listen to everyone, we will challenge and test assumptions, we will be thoroughly evidence-based and above all we will be open, transparent and outward looking, willing to learn from ideas and experience wherever we find it.

This is an exciting time for the Scottish Land Commission and we look forward to working with all interests to make more of Scotland’s land. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to share ideas and experience.

This short animation summarises the work ahead for the Scottish Land Commission: ‘Making more of Scotland’s land’

Welcome to the Scottish Land Commission’s Blog!

We will be blogging about key issues affecting both urban and rural land in Scotland today and topical debates surrounding land reform.

There will be regular features by the Scottish Land Commissioners, the Tenant Farming Commissioner, staff and guest bloggers from partner organisations and those with an interest in land reform.