The first Bill in the Scottish Government’s programme on Land Reform is introduced to Parliament - The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill.
The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill was introduced in the Parliament by John Swinney MSP on 11 June 2014. The policy objectives of this bill are to:
1. Empower community bodies through the ownership of land and buildings and strengthening their voices in the decisions that matter to them; and
2. Support an increase in the pace and scale of Public Service Reform by cementing the focus on achieving outcomes and improving the process of community planning.
The bill proposes extending the community right to buy to all land across Scotland, irrespective of the size of settlement in which that land is located or whether the land is in an urban or rural area. Currently, the right only applies to those in rural settlements with 10,000 residents or fewer. As at present, the right would only arise when the landowner wished to sell the property and communities would not be able to force landowners to sell.
Once in force, a community group with a registered interest in the property would be given the right to buy the property when the landowner wishes to sell ahead of any commercial arrangements that the landowner wishes to enter into. Community groups would be able to register an interest in the land with the Scottish ministers. In its current form, the bill contains some safeguards which would prevent the community from registering an interest in the land if the landowner has already entered into a contract to sell the property or has granted an option to buy to a third party.
The bill would also give community groups the right to buy abandoned or neglected land for the purposes of sustainable development. This right would apply where a willing seller cannot be located. The Scottish government is yet to set out the factors that it will take into account when deciding whether land is neglected or abandoned for the purposes of the new right.
The new right allowing community groups to take over public sector land and buildings could apply to groups looking for land to grow their own food, develop play facilities for young people or spaces for older people to meet and socialise, according to the Scottish government. The bill would also simplify the rules governing local authority allotment sites and strengthen the duty on councils to provide sites triggered by actual demand, as well as protecting allotment sites from closure.
The Bill can be accessed at: www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/77926.aspx
It is expected that this will proceed through the parliamentary process during the later part of 2014 with enactment following.
Contact a member of the Land & Rural Business team for more information.