The Scottish Land Commission (SLC) has published a Protocol and toolkit to set out practical guidance on how landowners, land managers and communities can work together to achieve fairer and better decisions about land use.

Launched on 31 January 2019, the Protocol is the first in a series to be produced by the SLC as part of a programme encouraging practical implementation of the Scottish Government's Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement. It supports the Scottish Government's Guidance on Engaging Communities in Relation to Decisions about Land, which we looked at in this blog post last year.

The thinking behind the Protocol is that "there should be greater collaboration and community engagement in decisions about land". It is hoped that this may be achieved if decisions are made in the spirit of mutual respect and understanding, and by ensuring that legitimate concerns are considered in a fair and reasonable way. Landowners and those with significant control over land are expected to engage positively with local communities where management decisions about land and buildings are likely to impact on a community.

Toolkit Resources

Alongside the Protocol, the SLC has produced a toolkit of resources to support land owners in engaging with communities, including a 'decision map' detailing engagement methods and what is expected of land owners and managers in a range of different situations.

A key recommendation is for landowners to prepare an Engagement Plan (and there is further guidance on how to do so) to identify if their decisions will have a moderate or significant impact on the community.

In situations where there is a perceived moderate impact, the landowner can proceed on the basis of informal engagement with the community. Examples of informal engagements would be to produce a newsletter, blog or putting a notice on a community notice board.

However, in situations where this is likely to be a significant impact, a much more formal approach is required. This could take the form of local meetings with the community, site visits, ballots and consultation documentation.

SLC Role and Guiding Principles

The SLC's aim is that communities will have the opportunity to engage, understand and influence potential change, whilst the benefits for landowners are that open engagement can help to reduce potential disputes, increase business resilience and promote innovation. The SLC considers their main role will be to support implementation of good practice and ensure problems are addressed, with this, in turn, informing future policy, protocols and guidance.

The Protocol is underpinned by four general principles, stemming from the Scottish Government guidance:-

Communities can reasonably expect to be engaged in decisions about the use and management of land where the outcome is likely to have an impact on the community;

Engagement should be a genuine exercise in collaboration, and community views should be considered to aim to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes;

Engagement and communication should be open-ended to encourage positive working relationships and communication between communities, land owners and managers; and

Engagement should be proportionate to the resources available to all parties and the impact that the decision may have on the community.

It is fair to say that, for many landowners and land managers, the Protocol will already reflect the good practice they operate. However, the SLC are interested to receive details and supporting evidence from those who have experienced a situation significantly different from the principles summarised above. The SLC also intends to share examples of good working relationships, and would like to hear of particular success stories, with a view to raising the profile of those successes and assist landowners, land managers and community organisations to learn from the experiences of others.

For further information please see the SLC's community engagement website or contact your usual Land and Rural Business contact.