Lorne MacLeod: Community Land Leadership Group - 2023 and beyond
Scottish Land Commissioner Lorne MacLeod reflects on the first meeting of the newly re-established Community Land Leadership Group and its aims for the future of community land ownership in Scotland.
Community land ownership has long been central to Scotland’s land reform journey. The growing number of community landowners – and their impact – is a powerful signal of change and of what is possible.
There is strong backing to continue expanding community land ownership, with a political commitment to doubling the Scottish Land Fund in this Parliament, and support available through membership organisations including Community Land Scotland and Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS), as well as public agencies such as Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and South of Scotland Enterprise (SoSE).
Even with this support in place, the current land market makes it challenging for communities to be able to acquire land through normal market negotiations. The Scottish Land Commission’s forthcoming report on the rural land market shows that not only do prices remain high, but the fast pace of the market makes it difficult for communities, as well as other individuals, to be able to respond and act when land comes to the market.
This means that as well as the commitment to the Scottish Land Fund, we need to be deliberate, joined-up, and imaginative in the ways that community land ownership develops further. That is why, earlier this month, we convened the first meeting of a newly-formed Community Land Leadership Group, to provide a focal point for collaboration, alignment and fresh thinking.
The Group will share thinking on barriers and opportunities facing community land ownership, including finance, governance, support and capacity. It will help join up some of what is currently happening and think ahead to what can be done differently.
At the first meeting, we heard from Community Shares Scotland about their work on the Democratic Finance programme. This project aims to increase knowledge and use of democratic finance models that will result in more money circulating within communities for greater public benefit. This approach captures well the kind of creativity, flexibility and alignment that will be needed to make the most of different sources of finance that can support community land ownership alongside the Scottish Land Fund.
Our discussion also raised the opportunity to consider other governance options alongside finance. We see increasing opportunities for a range of governance approaches that secure a meaningful community stake in ownership combined with other public, private or NGO interests. This shared ownership approach is of course not entirely new to Scotland but has potential to develop much more. This is something the group will focus on more at our next meeting.
Another current example of innovation is the Scottish Land Commission’s partnership with Crown Estate Scotland, in which Crown Estate Scotland will pilot a process to acquire land with the specific intention of selling it on to community ownership in an agreed time period. This is intended to help address the fast pace of the market, so that where there is a clear opportunity for community ownership, time can be created to put together the finance needed to acquire it. We think public land owners have an important role to play in enabling community ownership in this way and hope to learn from this pilot to inform what others can do.
The Community Land Leadership Group will be working in a very open way. It brings together Scottish Government, public bodies and membership organisations and will seek to draw on the experience and knowledge of a wide range of organisations as it focuses on different topics over an initial two-year programme ahead. We will share notes of the Group’s meetings on our website and I hope it will help simulate wider collaborations and ideas so that community land ownership continues to develop as a core part of modernising the ways we own and use land in Scotland.
Finally, I will be representing the Scottish Land Commission at the forthcoming Community Land Scotland conference at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in the Isle of Skye on 2-3 June. Anyone attending the conference who would like to discuss or suggest any issues to raise at the Community Land Leadership Group programme of meetings, please let me know. I can also be contacted direct at firstname.lastname@example.org.