Community groups face land purchase obstacle
Executive’s interpretation of Land Reform Act ‘may impede buy-outs’.
Holmhill Development Trust in Dunblane has been refused permission by the Scottish Executive for a late registration of interest to purchase land. As Angus Hardie points out in the attached letter this interpretation of Scotland’s Land Reform Act has very serious implications for community groups – who by their nature, will often be forming to react to a land owners decision to sell. Holmhill have decided to challenge this decision in court and are looking for help to pay the ‘brief’
(Letter from Angus Hardy, CEO, Development Trusts Association Scotland)
To the Board of DTA Scotland
You may have seen this in last week’s Senscot bulletin
‘Land reform specialist, Andy Wightman, has offered his support to Dunblane community group, Holmehill Ltd, as they try to purchase a historic woodland in their town centre. Although the Executive allows groups to obtain registration after the land is put on sale, Holmehill Ltd have been denied this opportunity. After seeking advice, they are now set to take the Executive to court. The outcome of the court case will have implications for community buy-outs across Scotland. Any support, either financial or legal, would be greatly appreciated. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org‘
Holmehill Ltd was set up by Dunblane Development Trust to register the community’s interest in the purchase of an area of local land on behalf of the community. They had to make a late registration for a variety of reasons and they have recently heard that their application has been refused.
It appears that the Scottish Executive has decided that the specific provision within the Act that allows communities to make late registrations should not be an ever present, and that this provision was only included to facilitate registrations in the early phase of the Act’s implementation. This seems very strange (as there is nothing in the Act to support this view) and potentially highly detrimental interpretation of this part of the Act and really needs to be challenged.
The Dunblane folk have a friendly (and cheap!) QC who is going to act for them but it is not free. They have raised a couple of thousand pounds to meet the costs of their appeal but will probably need more – particularly if they were to lose the appeal and costs were awarded against them. The implications of losing the right to make a late registration are very serious for communities because it will only be the very small minority of communities across Scotland who get themselves so organised that they register their interest timeously.
It is inevitable that most registrations will be as a reaction to a landowner deciding to sell land and as such the ability to make late registrations provision will always be critical. As this case has very significant implications for development trusts across Scotland I feel it is important that DTAS is seen to be active in support of the Dunblane folk and I have already spoken to Andy Wightman about how we might do this. It may be that DTAS will be asked to be an ‘expert’ witness in court.
But there is also the question of finance. I propose we donate £500 from our unrestricted funds and offer to pledge a further £500 to underwrite any losses that they face if the community have to meet the costs of the appeal. Holmehill Ltd have few resources as it stands and their directors are currently asking local people to pledge support should the need arise. I intend to circulate the Senscot bulletin around full members and have asked them to consider whether any of them might be able to commit some resources to underwrite any possible losses Dunblane might face by taking this action.