By Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Land Reform

LAST year was a landmark year for Scotland’s land reform agenda. Our progressive community land ownership policies have delivered huge benefits to communities across the country, and have set us on an ambitious process to transform the relationship between the land and the people of Scotland. Community right to buy, which we expanded through the Community Empowerment Act in 2015 and Land Reform legislation in 2016, has unlocked potential in our urban, rural and island communities giving people a say in their future. Communities now have the right to be involved in community planning and participation requests, and our urban communities have the same rights to buy land as rural communities have enjoyed for the previous 14 years.

The introduction of Asset Transfer Requests gave communities the right to request that they use, manage or even own assets owned by public bodies, and not just those that are surplus to requirements.

The Scottish Land Commission has become fully operational in the last year, demonstrating our commitment to long-term land reform. Under its three-year Strategic Plan, the commission will examine options for the future of land reform, including reviewing the concentration of land ownership and whether better use could be made of common-good land.

We have committed to funding the Scottish Land Fund to 2020 and will provide £10 million of funding to community groups to purchase land in 2018. In the last year, 57 groups received awards worth £4 million and there are more than 200 groups who have contacted the fund to begin the application process.

We are ambitious for the future and by 2020, we want to see one million acres under community ownership. Since 1990, the amount of land in community ownership has seen a five-fold increase. At June 2017 there were 562,230 acres in community ownership – 2.9 per cent of the total land area of Scotland.

There are now more than 400 community groups who own land across the country, with ownership concentrated in Nah Eileanan Siar and the Highlands, which equates to 93.7 per cent (527,252 acres) of the total land in community ownership. This year, there have been 10 new registrations of interest in land and another two in the process bringing the total to over 230. In October, we granted consent to The North West Mull Community Woodland Company to register its interest in purchasing the Isle of Ulva – the first time permission had been granted to register interest in buying a Scottish island under this legislation.

However, there is still more work to be done. In 2018, we will see the new Community Right to Buy for Abandoned, Neglected or Detrimental Land. This is a compulsory right which has the potential to be a major shift in the community ownership landscape. We published the world’s first Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement in September which will help shape the thinking on land issues over the coming years.

Among the important work I have asked the Scottish Land Commission to undertake is a review of the right to buy mechanisms and to make recommendations on simplifying and improving the process to make it easier for community groups to achieve a successful outcome.

This year we will lay draft regulations on the Register of Controlling Interests and will publish guidance on engaging communities in decisions relating to land. All of these reforms will continue to lay the groundwork for communities to take control of assets that matter to them in 2018, and I look forward to a time when community ownership becomes the norm, not the exception.