The Scottish Land Commission ("SLC") have announced that they are working with Crown Estate Scotland ("CES") to design and pilot a new Community Land Accelerator Pilot Project ("the Project"). The aim of the Project is to explore how CES can assist and empower community bodies in the purchase of local property.
What is a community body?
A "community body" is defined by legislation as a legal entity that can own land on behalf of a defined community. The body must be either a Scottish Incorporated Organisation, a company limited by guarantee or a community benefit society. It also must be compliant with certain statutory provisions, such as being defined geographically and being controlled by members of its defined community, and its main purpose must be consistent with furthering the achievement of sustainable development.
Community Ownership Framework in Scotland
Since 2003, community bodies have been able to buy areas of land and/or buildings through a variety of statutory mechanisms. The latest figures issued by the Scottish Government state that 711 assets were owned by 484 community groups as of December 2021.
The first community right to buy ("CRtB") was introduced in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 as an opportunity for community bodies to register an "interest" in land with a view to purchase it. An "interest" is registered against the property as a pre-emptive right to buy. It operates as a right of first refusal should the owner of the land decide to sell. It is not, however, an automatic or compulsory right to buy and requires the Scottish Ministers' approval before it can be registered against a property.
Subsequent legislation introduced compulsory CRtB for abandoned and neglected land, and also for land for sustainable development. The compulsory CRtB applications only apply where the community body has attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate a purchase of the land from the landowner.
Community Land Accelerator Pilot Project ("the Project")
The SLC and CES have recognised that a hurdle for exercising CRtB is that community bodies find themselves unable to raise the required finance. This is of particular concern when the right must be exercised within statutory timeframes when properties come on the market.
The Project has been proposed as a way of CES stepping in to acquire property on behalf of community bodies. An acquisition by CES on behalf of a community body would be on an interim basis with the aim of then selling the land or assets to the community body at market value once finance has been raised. The Project is planned out in three phases:
- The first phase is for the initial design and development of the Project and engaging with stakeholders. If the feedback is positive, the aim is to move to the second phase in 2024.
- The second phase will be to devise a pilot scheme and identify a suitable community body to undertake a trial run. If the results are successful, the next phase will commence in 2025.
- The aim is for the Project to be rolled out as an ongoing project in 2025.
The Project is an attempt by the SLC and CES to address the perceived inequalities of land ownership and promote its diversification. Whilst the type and scale of property that might be involved in the operation of the Project is not yet clear, and with progress inevitably being dependent on the funding available for CES, the introduction of the Project shows the Scottish Government's ambition for widespread community land acquisition.