Make land right-to-buy routine in Scotland, ministers told

Community purchases of land and farms in Scotland should become a more normal and routine process, according to a report by the Scottish Land Commission.

The report prepared for Scottish ministers followed a review of existing right-to-buy mechanisms and community ownership in Scotland.

The right-to-buy subject has been controversial north of the border because it has been driven harder in recent years by a political will to see more land in the hands of the public rather than large acreages held by estates.

See also: Scottish Crown Estate reforms hand more power to communities

In effect, a community right-to-buy trumps that of a single investor or tenant who may want to buy the land they farm.

The sale of the isle of Ulva, off Mull, was one of the most significant since greater powers were introduced under the Land Reforms Act.

The community invoked its right-to-buy after bids from purchasers had already begun.

The island sale was stopped even though the community could only offer £37,000, raised through crowdfunding.

The offer was subsequently bolstered by a further £4.2m of public money through the Scottish Land Fund – an initiative created to support community purchases.  

At the time, land agent Knight Frank said that when there was a possibility of community interest, all parties had to engage earlier to make the process run more smoothly.

And the SLC report echoes that call, suggesting existing community purchases were unco-ordinated and reactive once land had come on to the market.

Instead, it recommends greater planning and community purchases becoming a routine consideration.

Report recommendations

  • Make community acquisition planned and proactive instead of being driven either by specific problems or a reaction to land coming on to the market
  • Have a clear vision for how community ownership can become a mainstream way to deliver development and regeneration in urban and rural communities
  • Embed community land and asset ownership into local place planning
  • Ensure that targets for community ownership reflect the outcomes sought in both rural and urban communities
  • Ensure support for community ownership transfers is provided across the whole geography of Scotland
  • Consider longer-term sources of financial support for both capital costs and post-acquisition development
  • Support negotiated transfer of land being the norm, while streamlining right-to-buy processes

The SLC will now work with Scottish government to bring interested stakeholders together to shape the policy tools and specific interventions needed.

Land reform secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “Community ownership, when done properly, has been shown time and time again to deliver real benefits to communities, providing a long-term sustainable future for the land and assets acquired.

“It has been great to see such an increase in community ownership in recent years, thanks to the success of some amazing local groups working with the Scottish government.”

In response, Scottish Land & Estates, which represents landowners and farmers, agreed with the report’s recommendations.

Sarah Jane Laing, SLE executive director said: “Sitting alongside private and public sector ownership, community ownership should be seen as a means of delivering social and economic progress, rather than an end itself.

“We agree that community involvement and ownership should be part of longer-term planning, rather than a reaction to events and circumstances.”