RACCE Committee’s Stage 1 Report on the Community Right to Buy Land

The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee published its Stage 1 Report on the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill yesterday. At 245 pages it’s a hefty tome. Most of the interest from a land reform perspective centres on Annex 1 containing the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (RACCE) Committee’s report on Part 4 of the Bill, focusing on changes to the current Community Right to Buy (CRtB) in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Although important, the existing Community Right to Buy is viewed as complex and cumbersome for communities to use in practice. Part 4 of the Community Empowerment Bill is therefore supposed to simplify and streamline the CRtB’s implementation, whilst simultaneously extending its geographical coverage to include urban as well as rural areas and enabling communities to buy land in certain circumstances when there is not a willing seller.

The RACCE Committee’s report endorses the broad thrust of the provisions in Part 4 of the Bill. Extending the CRtB to include urban communities is welcomed as is a Government commitment to consider Stage 2 amendments to extend the types of community bodies eligible to use that right. The report also endorses the idea that ‘place’ rather than ‘interest’ should take precedence in rooting definitions of community in relation to the legislation. Unsurprisingly, the Committee agrees that mapping requirements when using the CRtB should be simplified and is supportive of the requirement that communities register their interest if they wish to use that right to purchase land (albeit while advocating a less administratively onerous ‘right-lite’ approach in the first instance). It also favours communities’ re-registering their interest in land every five years after initial registration. Helpfully, the Committee also advocates removing the requirement for communities to either show good reason or demonstrate relevant work if they make a late registration (i.e. register their interest in land after it has been put on the market); requirements that don’t apply to communities making timeous registrations of interest.

The above recommendations are not especially eye-catching. However, if adopted, they are likely make implementation of the CRtB more effective in practice. Continue reading

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Land Reform in 2015

2015 is shaping up to be a significant year for land reform in Scotland. The Scottish Government is consulting on the contents of a new Land Reform Act to be introduced in the current Parliamentary session. That legislation is envisaged as forming part of a Land Rights and Responsibilities Policy to fill the land reform policy vacuum that has existed in Government for a decade.

Judging by proposals in the consultation paper the policy will encompass institutional change (a new Scottish Land Reform Commission to oversee policy progress); greater transparency and accountability of land ownership (more information on who owns what land and limits to legal entities that can take future ownership of land); scope for Ministerial intervention in land ownership and management (where the scale or pattern of landownership in an area or the conduct of a landowner act as barriers to sustainable development); and specific measures to manage land and land rights for the common good (including a duty of community engagement on charitable trusts regarding land-based decision-making and an end to business rates exemptions for shooting and deerstalking businesses). Continue reading