Give communities their rightful land
Laurence Demarco, Regeneration & Renewal
16 December 2005
Research from the lottery-funded Scottish Land Fund and other sources shows that nothing galvanises local community action as effectively as acquiring land or buildings.
Community-based regeneration network the Development Trusts Association, which has pioneered this approach for over a decade, confirms that support is growing.
A significant convert to this movement is communities and local government minister David Miliband. He has made clear his intention to offer poorer communities the opportunity to take over underused council assets at less than market value.
This strategy aims to foster an independent layer of common ownership and governance below the level of the municipality. In continental Europe this is the norm. Ordinary citizens at village level elect a mayor, and have identity, rights and responsibilities distinct from ‘the council’.
The need to restore this tier is illustrated by a recent report from charity the Caledonia Centre for Social Development.
The report claims that land, given over centuries to the people of Scotland, has been sold or neglected as a result of council mismanagement. Common Good Land, either the former assets of royal burghs or donated by philanthropists to the people, was subsumed within the local government reforms of 1975 and 1996. But local councils do not own this land – they are merely its stewards and the report claims that in many cases property has been lost, corruptly and illegally alienated, neglected or forgotten about.
This highlights the disregard councils have for the identity and autonomy of communities. In order to get their land back, or to acquire new assets, communities need to create a robust and independent development vehicle, under their own control. The Home Office introduced this issue in its report Firm Foundations with the concept of ‘Anchor Organisations.’ Meanwhile, Scotland has successfully imported the development trust model. In less than two years, DTA Scotland has 70 full members, and field workers estimate that around 300 property/land owning trusts are taking shape.
In Scotland, particularly in our major cities, Labour councillors continue to oppose any relaxation of municipal control. But their resistance is increasingly seen as being against the common good.