06 February 2014
On 6 November 2013 Derek Mackay, Minister for Local Government and Planning, launched a consultation on detailed proposals for the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill. The consultation takes forward proposals that were supported within the previous exploratory consultation in 2012.
The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill is intended to enshrine the Scottish Government’s policy of supporting community led action to provide improved outcomes for all of Scotland. A key element of the Government’s plans to empower communities is through the ownership of land. Community ownership is claimed to have provided benefits such as increased populations, the development of private enterprise, investment in land and assets, affordable housing for rent and purchase, infrastructure developments, renewable energy schemes and on-going and improved estate management.
Over the past ten years, half a million acres of land in rural areas has been transferred into community ownership and the First Minister has announced a target of having one million acres of land in community ownership by 2020. In order to achieve this, the Bill seeks to make it easier for communities to take ownership of land and buildings.
The principal proposal to realise the transfer of land into community ownership is the improvement and extension of the Community Right to Buy under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, and the Scottish Government has established four priorities for the future of the community right to buy:
- An extension of the right to buy to all of Scotland where it is in the public interest, including to those areas currently excluded such as urban areas and settlements with a population of 10,000 or more.
- A compulsory right to buy for communities. Currently, communities can benefit from a pre-emptive right to buy land in which they have registered an interest, but this is dependent upon the land being offered for sale. Proposals seek to provide a compulsory right to buy neglected or abandoned land under certain circumstances. The consultation is open to a discussion as to what the circumstances should be, but community survival may be one such criteria.
- Streamlining legislation after the first decade of its use.
- Improving the process of the community right to buy in order to remove barriers and increase opportunities.
In addition to proposals to facilitate the transfer of land into community ownership, the consultation proposes measures to make greater use of existing land and buildings.
Under the Buildings (Scotland) Act 2003, local authorities have powers to deal with buildings that become dangerous or defective and they are entitled to recover the costs from the owner of the building, but many are discouraged from doing so due to the difficulties associated with the normal debt recovery methods. The Bill proposes to allow for a “notice of liability for expenses” to be registered in the appropriate property register in relation to a building on which work has been done. On sale the new owner and previous owner will become severally liable for the debt. The aim is to encourage local authorities to take action in the knowledge that they will have greater powers to recover their expenses and there is a suggestion that this could be extended to cover compliance with building regulations and enforcement notices.
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