Birnam Workshop Session 5: Demonstrating commitment to effectively manage land and rights in land for the common good
(Italics = discussion summarised from memory, giving context to what has been written into fuller sentences from group agreed flipchart notes – photos archived)
It is up to all to demonstrate commitment to effectively manage land and rights in land for the common good. The challenge is taking into account current inequalities versus the sense that nothing can change.
Current land ownership stifling land use innovation (e.g. managing redundant woodland)
- Care-taking role – rights & responsibilities
- Permission / barriers to engagement: Individuals / communities were put off from undertaking stewardship / seeking rights of use of land that appears redundant / neglected by need to ‘seek permission’ from hostile or unknown landowners or face potential legal ramifications; connected to intentional obfuscation of land ownership in order to discourage engagement re: land use
- People in communities with ideas (plans / aspirations) for (more) effective land management (described by group as ‘doers’) versus scale or approachability of land-owning folk (group felt the larger the scale of land-ownership the greater the barriers to the land being managed effectively for the public good and the less approachable / amenable landowners were to change; discussion of situations in which land was owned primarily as a financial holding asset with very little or no interest in its management)
(potential) Mechanisms of encouraging / forcing landowners to improve access to land use:
- Information availability – greater transparency It was felt that greater transparency on land ownership is important for being able to enter into dialogue about use and potential use / future ownership of land
- Independent commissioner (working from a set of principles enshrined by parliament) (reference to linking to (?) current proposals...) – binding arbitration for example in relation to Community Right to Buy under suggested extended conditions (see below)
What can we do to encourage landowners (to demonstrate commitment) to effectively manage land and rights in land for the common good?
Challenge of balancing how to tax ‘underused’ / absentee estate owners without prohibitively taxing those who are using / want to use land productively. It was felt that current systems of taxing land rental values were ineffective as a disincentive for large / wealthy landholdings as they were ‘small change’ in relation to the land values themselves as investment and subsidies they may pull down.
General consensus that one solution could be (punitive) taxation to encourage those who are not managing land to public good to sell it to those who will.
It was highlighted that the distinction between land use for the common good (e.g. community benefit) and the stricter definition of ‘common good land’ should be noted. Discussion of how local knowledge of the latter is being / might be lost, the benefits of intergenerational knowledge sharing in relation to maintaining access to common good land, and how ‘forgotten’ common good land is / has been subsumed into privately owned property. There should be further reimagining of what common good land could mean in the future.
Another proposed and generally agreed solution was Scottish Government encouraging or compelling landowners to lease or sell land to those (in community) who have a specific purpose for it (potentially bolt-on to Community Right to Buy (CRTB) legislation).
We want to emphasise that CRTB as it currently stands is not working. We propose other ‘triggers’ for CRTB coming into action beyond the landowner choosing to sell the land. These extended triggers include: viable proposals for use of the land to the community benefit (proposals in the common good, but not specifically common good land, e.g. such as woodlots, smallholdings, community gardens, community woodlands; land can also be sub-divided within this e.g. proposed use of space for forest school in woodlands would not preclude forest school permitting further use to community benefit), inclusive of proposals for community stewardship rights; misuse of land grants by landowners (i.e. not put to specified use). We wish to see incorporation of wellbeing considerations into evaluation of any proposal’s viability, not just based on gross financial considerations (cf. Bhutan’s ‘Gross National Happiness’ and Oxfam’s Humankind Index). It was also discussed as to whether rural housing issues might be improved under increased CRTB accessibility, as an increase in small-scale land-based rural businesses could result in increased housing planning permission being granted as being related to legitimate rural business / farming need. Discussion was inconclusive on this point.
Re: Q22: We did not formulate a definition of “community”.
Promotion / integration of citizen rights & responsibilities into education – both rural and urban (re: land and environment) and cultivation of intergenerational knowledge re: local spaces / common good land use and ownership
Although we embrace radicalism, and there was discussion of torches and pitchforks, we seemed to in general be advocating pragmatism of democratising land via arguments of use / purpose / management
How do we support ‘can-do-ness’?
- Report back and encourage local communities, almost ‘give permission’ to think radically
- Publicise good examples – inspire what could happen
- Symbolic legislation or at least something that signs to commitment toideological / cultural shift towards right stewardship
- Build capacity of communities (including access to information provision) to challenge land ownership / use