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A Year of Good Practice

Sally Reynolds

Land Commissioner Sally Reynolds reflects on the first year of our Good Practice Programme and introduces the latest Land Rights and Responsibilities Protocol on Common Good Land.

A year ago, we launched our Land Rights and Responsibilities Good Practice Programme to promote and support change and good practice in the way land is owned used in rural and urban Scotland. It has been an incredibly productive and collaborative twelve months. As our first year of the programme ends, we see the publication of our eighth Land Rights and Responsibilities Protocol, on Common Good Land. The Protocols help explain how to put the Scottish Government’s Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement (LRRS) into practice. The protocols form one part of our Good Practice Programme alongside guidance, toolkits and a range of training through webinars, workshops and one-to-one advice and help provided by our Good Practice Team.
This programme wouldn’t work without the input, collaboration and support of stakeholders so we would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Community Land Scotland, Development Trusts Association Scotland, National Farmers’ Union Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates, Scottish Property Federation and Scottish Environment Link who contribute so vitally to this work through the Good Practice Advisory Group

The Good Practice Programme was developed by drawing on the successful experience of the Tenant Farming Commissioner in seeking to influence behaviour, culture and practice with straightforward and practical advice. The first LRRS protocol on Community Engagement in Decisions Relating to Land outlines how genuine engagement benefits both landowners and communities. Tools include a ‘route map’ detailing engagement methods and what is expected of landowners, managers and communities. The Transparency of Ownership and Land Use Decision-Making protocol sets out clear expectations around sharing information about who owns and controls land and how they can be contacted. Sharing information in this way is critical. It not only provides the foundation for open and transparent decision-making but can also enable participation. Improved information about who controls land in Scotland will help to empower people, including community groups, and give them the opportunity to understand who is in control of land.

The two protocols Land Ownership by Charities and Land Ownership by Private Trusts set out expectations on trustees and land managers to manage land in a way that is fair and considers the needs and priorities of the local community. Specific expectations set out in both protocols include simple steps such as ensuring there is up to date, publicly available information about who the trustees are and a ready contact for the landholding. When appointing trustees, consideration should be given to the skills and expertise required and, where possible trustees, should be appointed from the local area where the land is held so that local communities are actively involved in decisions on the use and management of land in their area.

The next two protocols, Diversification of Ownership and Tenure and Negotiating Transfer of Land to Communities, set out clear expectations for regularly reviewing opportunities to sell, lease or make available land for other productive purposes, and engaging proactively where community ownership is an option. Our protocol on Good Stewardship of Land aims to promote good stewardship and high standards of land management across Scotland. We know there are many good examples of this, and we hope this protocol has practical recommendations to provide more. 

Today sees the launch of our protocol on Common Good Land which provides clear expectations on the management of Common Good Land by local authorities to make the most of this unique form of community ownership. Local authorities have the duty to manage Common Good assets in the interests of the local community but the lack of definition and the varying ways in which this is carried out across Scotland causes confusion – and often frustration – both for local authorities and residents alike. Our latest protocol addresses this real need, providing clarity and guidance to help local authorities navigate this unique area of community ownership. 

There are lots of good examples of responsible land ownership and we have been gathering this information over the last twelve months – please learn more by having a look at our 35 case studies that demonstrate good practice in action. These case studies also help show how land rights and responsibilities are woven through other areas of the Commission’s work including vacant and derelict land and land for housing

Looking to the next twelve months and beyond, the way our land is owned, managed and used will have a major role to play in the post COVID-19 recovery and contributing to the country’s economic and environmental goals. I look forward to seeing our Good Practice Programme continue to adapt and grow as it helps to ensure Scotland’s land is owned, managed and used in a fair way that benefits everyone.