Black’s Blog: ‘You cannot own the land… the land owns you’
Scottish Housing News Podcast co-host Jimmy Black shares his thoughts on the discussion with Community Land Scotland chair Ailsa Raeburn, the community buy out on the Isle of Gigha and the parallels with community-based housing associations.
Folk singer Dougie McLean sings of the mystical bond between people who live and work on the land, something deeply felt by Scotland’s rural communities. The problem is that living on the land is becoming impossible for many who cannot find rented homes and whose incomes do not permit the purchase of houses at inflated prices.
In the absence of the radical reform of land ownership, Community Land Scotland (CLS) is searching for positive solutions to the decline of rural communities. They provide support to local community enterprises such as the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust which recently celebrated 20 years of owning and managing their own island.
Our ninth episode of The Scottish Housing News Podcast features the chair of CLS, Ailsa Raeburn, an outspoken advocate of community enterprise. It’s not just about housing for CLS; it’s about supporting local people to make their own decisions about the creation of businesses and jobs. Participation is essential, just as it still is in community-based housing associations who also took control of their land and rebuilt their urban communities.
On Gigha, the Trust has created a diverse housing market. Fyne Homes Housing Association has developed homes for social rent; the Trust itself lets several properties and there are occasional private lets too. The Trust sells building plots for private residential homes. As a result of this and the new businesses created by the islanders, the population has nearly doubled.
There must be even greater scope for housing associations, with all their expertise and solid financial management, to co-operate with community enterprises to repopulate some of the vast empty areas in the Highlands and Islands.
While there is a romantic attraction to the idea of communities throwing off the shackles of their landlords and creating utopian rural idylls, the reality has to be much more hard-headed than that. The Gigha Heritage Trust struggled with debts and had serious disagreements about selling community assets to pay them. Community democracy can be a bruising process and people fall out; there is no guarantee of success and their survival depends on the decisions they make.
Community buyouts can receive large dollops of government money. They are landlords and exercise considerable power and influence. Interestingly, there is no equivalent of the Scottish Housing Regulator to scrutinise their every move and take them over if they transgress, just OSCR, which provides a very different level of regulation.
They are still in that happy age of innocence that housing associations experienced in the 1980s. Long may that last!
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