Land reform issues are moving up the agenda with the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 about to come into force. The act will help empower communities through the ownership of land and buildings – strengthening their voices in the decisions that matter to them. In a guest blog Linsay Chalmers, Development Manager at Community Land Scotland highlights the differences community ownership can make.
More and more communities across Scotland are taking control of the places where they live through community landownership, creating benefits not just for existing residents but also for the many generations to come.
Research by Community Land Scotland shows that, when communities buy their land, they can reap a number of benefits – including the reversal of population growth, the creation of jobs and the ability to make money that can be invested back in the community. People living on community-owned land also report that they feel more in control of local decision-making and more connected with their local area.
The Western Isles is a place that has really led the way in terms of showing what community landownership can achieve, with a staggering 70% of people living on community-owned land.
West Harris Trust is a great example of a small community using land ownership to drive positive change. Due to its stunning location, which includes the world-famous Luskentyre beach, the area is a popular spot for holiday homes, making it a challenge for locals or new residents to access affordable housing.
When the Trust bought out its land from the Scottish Government in 2010, it set itself three aims: to add to its population of 120 people; create environmentally sustainable energy for the community and conserve and increase understanding of their natural and cultural heritage.
The Trust recognised that, if it is to attract more people to the area, it needs to provide a place for them to work. It is now in the middle of building a 5,000 square foot community enterprise centre that will house a café, business hub and venue, which has breath-taking views out onto the island of Taransay. A couple of years ago it bought the old primary school and has plans to convert it into business space while hosting campervans in the grounds.
A 50kw wind turbine is already in place, a 100kw wind turbine will power the community enterprise centre and work is expected to start shortly on a 100kw hydro scheme and work is underway for a hydro scheme.
The Trust has made a number of house plots available for self-builders who will live permanently in the area. It is also working with a local Housing Association to build six affordable houses for rent, which may be heated through a district heating scheme if a current funding application is successful. Population has risen to over 130 and is heading for the target set by the Trust of 170 people by 2020.
A resident of West Harris commented: “It has given hope for the future that the local community will be something more than a holiday home resort in 20 years time. For the first time the community is shaping its own future.”
Communities across Scotland, from the Scottish Borders to Cape Wrath, are starting to see the benefits that buying their land could bring – and the Scottish Land Fund will continue to help many communities to realise their dream of landownership.
Community Land Scotland helps raise awareness of community landownership across Scotland and supports the sharing of information and best practice across community landowners. www.communitylandscotland.org.uk