A LAND rush by communities to take control of estates, woodland, empty plots and buildings is under way as ordinary people across Scotland join a new community buyout revolution.

At least 160 bids are currently being made to buy land for the benefit of local people, with a surge in would-be buyouts in the central belt and other urban areas. If they all went ahead it would almost double the number of community buyouts helped by the Scottish Land Fund (SLF) – the principle grant-giving agency for buyouts – since 2001.

The current wave of proposals has been sparked by the third and latest version of the SLF, launched in April, which has £10 million of Government cash to spend every year from now until 2020, and crucially has been extended to include urban communities. At the same time rights to buy land have been extended under the Community Empowerment Act of 2015 to include urban areas.

Of current buyout bids 34 are from towns and cities. A total of 190,000 more acres could come into community ownership, including the estates in the Highlands owned by minerals giant Rio Tinto, which at 125,000 acres would be the biggest-ever Scottish community buyout.

At present communities have a pre-emptive right to buy land if it is put on the market. Further waves of buyouts are expected as new laws giving communities greater powers come into force in the next two years.

Community land advocates say the buyouts empower Scottish communities and give them a new entrepreneurial spirit as they take control of assets which until now have been controlled by private landlords or remote organisations.

The fund is being administered for the whole of Scotland by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). Ailsa Raeburn, who heads up HIE’s team dealing with the fund, said: “Since SLF3 opened we have seen a huge amount of interest from a whole variety of different sorts of projects and groups ... There is no lack of ambition from communities wanting to take control of assets and make the most of them.

“We expect this level of interest to carry on, and with the new Community Empowerment Act when people will be able to request public authorities to transfer assets it will grow a lot more.”

The Scottish Land Fund was first set up with National Lottery cash in 2001. A second version, SLF 2, with a £9m tranche of Scottish Government money ran from 2012 to 2016. Between them they helped 173 communities to buy tracts of land and buildings.

Some of the SLF’s 160 current referrals – groups applying or likely to apply for cash for a buyout – were carried over from SLF 2, but around 100 have come in in the past six months alone, a rate administrators say marks a step-change in the level of interest.

Previously communities had to be of fewer than 10,000 people to qualify; now any community can apply and the first grant from SLF 3 was given the Barmulloch Community Development Company (BCDC) in Glasgow. It received £85,000 to buy old church buildings that now house a boxing gym, money advice centre and meeting rooms, and will now expand and develop the facilities.

A £202,8000 grant has gone to the Greener Kirkcaldy group to buy the old Central Area Library HQ near the town centre to become a community food hub offering training, employment, work experience and volunteering opportunities around food production and preparation.

Raeburn added: “Community land is about empowering people and communities, whether that’s on estates of 35,000 acres or half an acre at the end of the street that has been neglected and could be turned into housing. For us the distinction between urban and rural does not exist.”

Raeburn forecast another surge in buyout proposals when new rules come into force next year allowing communities to force the sale of land that is abandoned or neglected, and another in 2018, when communities can require land to be sold where they can find a better use for them for sustainable development.

Research for the buyout umbrella group Community Land Scotland (CLS) into 12 buyout estates showed big increases in the value of land bought under community ownership. The 12 trusts taking over estates created about 80 new jobs, and hundreds of houses were built and renovated.


SH Land story news lead II

A COMMUNITY land buyout group has levered an offer of around 1400 acres from Scotland’s biggest landowner in the first round of the battle for local people to take control of the area around them.

Wanlockhead Community Trust (WCT) is trying to get more than ten times as much ground – 14,600 acres – from the Duke of Buccleuch’s estates, to develop green energy plans, tourism facilities and a ski centre.

And though there is disappointment the offer at a meeting with Buccleuch staff this week is not bigger, the Trust hopes it is a first step to a much bigger buyout, and offers “more than a glimmer of hope.”

WCT chairman Lincoln Richford said: “This is a beginning, not an ending. The duke has a great opportunity to do something really special here.”

At 467m above sea level Wanlockhead is Scotland’s highest village. The former mining community is hemmed in by the heather-clad Lowther Hills, topped by 732m Green Lowther with its golf-ball-like radar tracking station.

The village is a patchwork of grassed-over former mineworking areas and cottages, and the open areas around and between privately-owned homes are what Buccleuch has offered to sell.

The area they want to buy can be seen from the top of Green Lowther, where huge views stretch north to the Highlands and down to the Solway Firth and the edge of Cumbria.

Part of the buyout target is the dramatic Mennock Pass to the west, where steep-sided hills and lush turf provide attractive roadside camping and picnic spots.

The full buyout plan would stop a wind farm planned for the hills by the Buccleuch estate, which faces strong local opposition, although Trust members say fewer, smaller and better placed turbines could generate cash for the community.

Their plans include tapping energy from underground heat in the area’s network of old mines, creating the country’s only ski resort outside the Highlands, developing other tourism facilities and businesses, and forestry.

At this week’s meeting Buccleuch also offered to work with the community over other areas of land, possibly offering lease deals, including the ski area development.

But Richford, a retired salesman, says this misses the point of community control: “He has already said to us that we don’t need to buy all of this land, that he can facilitate many of the things we want to do without us buying the land, but of course what we’re doing is explaining to him that this is about community empowerment, that the community want to make those decision for themselves.”

The Wanlockhead team now says the pressure of their bid and of recent legal changes making buyouts easier have prompted progress, bringing the duke to the negotiating table with offers of help to the community.

John Glen, chief executive of Buccleuch Estates, said the organisation was happy to talk about the sale of land in and around the village, and added: "We also made clear there are other areas of land where we could enter into agreements with the community that would help facilitate their ambitions. There is, however, a large area of land where transfer of ownership would conflict with existing farming operations of tenant farmers and our own farming operations. The existing tenant farmers – some of whom have farmed the same land for generations – have made clear they do not wish to see a change of ownership."

SH Land story 3

THE community buyouts spreading like wildfire across Scotland are just one part of the major changes needed to make Scotland’s land system work for urban communities, says Professor David Adams.

Adams is the Glasgow University urban development expert who advised the panel behind the ideas in the current Scottish Government land reform programme.

From April this year the legislation, and the Scottish Land Fund’s grant-giving powers, have applied to bigger towns and cities not just rural areas.

Adams came up with the controversial idea of Compulsory Sale Orders (CSOs), to force people who hold on to vacant development sites for years to auction them off, and the Scottish Government plans to introduce legislation for them in this parliament.

Adams says CSOs could help deal with the 12,500 hectares of empty and derelict land in Scotland – an area almost twice the size of Dundee, enough for 380,000 new homes. Much of it has been held by the owners for more than 20 years, blocking development and blighting urban areas.

“Part of sorting out towns and cities is bringing in new players with a completely different mindset or way of thinking, whether it’s the community, a housing association or a small local industrialist building workshops – but changing the owner is the key to the regeneration.”

The measure is likely to face opposition. The Government expects heated debate around the introduction of CSOs and property professionals have warned Adams investors could be driven away by the prospect of forced sales.