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02/01/2014

Scotland bill helps communities take control of public land

Scottish Parliament chamber

New law means Scots will be able to “fully determine their own futures”

A new law will make it easier for communities in Scotland to take over public sector land and buildings to “determine their own futures”.
The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill will allow community bodies to ask for ownership of any public sector land or buildings by submitting an asset transfer request setting out their plans for the property.
New ownership will be granted if the applicant can prove its benefit to the wider community. 
It is another step towards community participation and entrepreneurship, said local government and planning minister, Derek Mackay. “Scotland’s people are its greatest asset and it is only with the confidence that comes with independence that people will be able to fully determine their own futures,” he said.
The bill also proposes to build community right to buy for both urban and rural communities. Over the past ten years, half a million acres of land in rural areas have been transferred to community ownership and the government’s ambition is to reach one million acres by 2020.
However, to put the community empowerment debate in perspective, it must be recognised that empowering legislation in itself does not necessarily achieve the desired objective, said Margaret Mitchell MSP. 
“According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, although that legislation has been beneficial, the take-up of the powers has been relatively low,” she said. “The major deterring factors include the complexity of the process, the resource-intensive administrative requirements and a lack of available funding. The clear message is that empowering legislation will not be effective without funding to accompany it.” 
Nevertheless, the Scottish government is being explicit in its commitment to local democracy, said Convention of Scottish Local Authorities president (COSLA) David O’Neill.
“To this end, COSLA will be arguing that the European Charter for Local Self-Government, mentioned in the consultation, should be enacted as part of the bill, thus guaranteeing the political, administrative and financial independence of local authorities,” he added.
Legislation will also be amended to support local authorities’ provision and management of allotments, to include new powers to help councils deal with defective and dangerous buildings, and to provide local relief schemes on business rates.
The government is inviting written responses to this consultation by 24 January 2014.
 
Respond to the consultation at bit.ly/1b5JaWi

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