Buccleuch Langholm Moor Sale - Creating opportunities through community engagement
Buccleuch is a land-based business operating in central and southern Scotland, and Northamptonshire. Its core business interests lie in farming, forestry, property, hospitality, and energy.
In 2016, Buccleuch undertook a review of its assets, and a strategic decision was taken to reduce the organisation’s landholdings over the coming years in line with the aim of reducing Buccleuch’s footprint, while enabling reinvestment in high priority projects. Through the process of identifying land that could be sold, Buccleuch became increasingly aware of the impact land-use decisions can have on nearby communities.
As part of the reduction in landholdings, Buccleuch decided to investigate the sale of 25,000 acres of land on Borders Estate, including Langholm Moor. The Estate is mindful that community engagement is an important aspect of land use decision making and the publication earlier in 2019 of the Commission's Protocol on Engaging Communities in Decisions Relating to Land and the accompanying Route Map provided a framework that could be used in their approach. Buccleuch felt that it was important to understand the views of those who could be directly affected and take these into consideration when planning next steps, while also ensuring that their strategic decisions could be explained and understood.
The first stage for Buccleuch was to hold meetings with local community councils to let them know of the proposed sale and explore the community’s ambitions in relation to the land. The next phase of engagement involved publicising their intention to sell and having an open call for feedback, which could be submitted online, by post, or in person at local community hubs. It became clear that there was an appetite for community ownership, with two local community bodies expressing an interest in purchasing land. The Estate took these views into account in their decision making and entered a period of exclusivity with the two communities to allow them time to explore their options.
Benefits and Lessons Learned
Buccleuch have found the experience to be very positive and have valued the time spent developing relationships and mutual understanding with the community bodies. All parties were able to develop an appreciation of each other’s aspirations and drivers and have mapped a route that they hope will see the communities and Buccleuch achieve their respective aims. By involving the communities from the outset, the team at Buccleuch were able to establish a good foundation for ongoing negotiations.
The experience highlighted several points of learning for Buccleuch. Although the response to the questionnaire was positive, moving forward, Buccleuch will consider additional communication routes to ensure a broader cross-section of the community is reached.
Buccleuch’s land sale and associated negotiations are ongoing, with both community bodies involved receiving support from various organisations to investigate their options, refine their plans and receiving funding to undertake feasibility studies.
Buccleuch is committed to establishing a proactive Community Engagement Plan and will work with the Commission to put this in place across its business. The Commission will also use lessons learned from this case to inform future guidance on community engagement in relation to land sales.