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Why planners should be interested in Land Reform

26 June 2014

The report just published by the Scottish Land Reform Review Group (LRRG) is a hefty tome running at 260 pages, but advances many of the implementation aspects of planning which the profession has forgotten or abandoned to others. For a concise examination of the politics behind the report see Calum Macleod’s recent coverage in the West Highland Free Press

To those planners who think that land ownership is someone else’s headache, please read on. Here are my ten reasons…..

1. Land Reform has been defined by the LRRG as “measures that modify or change the arrangements governing the possession and use of the land in Scotland in the public interest”

This includes Town and Country Planning.

2. Land reform covers more than just the Highlands and Islands.

The remit from Scottish Government asked that the LRRG identify how land reform will “enable more people in rural and urban Scotland to have a stake in the ownership, governance, management and use of land, which will lead to a greater diversity of land ownership and ownership types in Scotland”.

3. Land reform covers Land Development and Housing and makes significant recommendations for change.

The LRRG recognised that there is a housing crisis in Scotland, the resolution of which could be assisted through land reform. The LRRG see this essentially supply side issue as a three dimensional problem: Accessing land (how land is made or becomes available for housing); the price of land for housing development (and the way that impacts upon affordability); and the operation of the planning system (which tends to work in a reactive manner, rather than perform a more proactive enabling role).

4. Land reform covers Urban Renewal and Regeneration

The LRRG recognised the imperfections of the urban land and property markets – they are not efficient. The planning system has evolved as one of the interventions into that market but at present we ask whether we are part of the problem or part of the solution. Specific ownership failures and constraints have been addressed in relation to vacant and derelict land; compulsory purchase and land assembly revamps have been put forward. All designed to advance the public interest.

5. Land reform looks at revisiting some of the good examples from the past and exemplars from Europe.

“Public Interest Led Development” clearly has to have a greater role if the ambitions of Scottish Government (for instance housing requirements) are going to be met. Housebuilders have acknowledged that they will not be able to meet present targets with the system as it is presently configured. Partnership approaches will be required.

6. Land reform has included looking at institutional frameworks designed to deliver rather than impede development.

The LRRG has recommended the creation of a Housing Land Corporation, a new national body charged with the acquisition and development of sufficient land to achieve the government’s objectives. It is clear that Local Authorities need a great deal of help in delivering housing numbers. Land assembly, masterplanning and infrastructure provision prior to partnering house builders makes a great deal of sense. But the lack of experience and risk averse nature of Local Authorities necessitates the need for a strategic body to advance this effort.

7. Land reform has prioritised land registration and this is essential to move all the other measures forward.

Despite best efforts of 2 Acts of Parliament (in 1979 and 2012) progress in detailing who owns Scotland has been painstakingly slow. After 30 years of the Land Registry only 57% of Scotland’s estimate 2.2million title units are now recorded. The LRRG believes that the ownership map is fundamental and an urgent priority.

8. Land reform has examined the issues of compulsory purchase and has concluded that overhaul and simplification is required (in line with the Scottish Law Commission’s recommendations). In addition a statutory right of pre-emption should exist where it would be in the public interest.

In the last 6 years an average of 6 CPOs per annum have been carried forward in Scotland. CPOs are one of the fundamental tools of planning but are hardly used in spite of Government encouragement. We have forgotten how to do them (with one or two valiant and venerable exceptions where the expertise and experience still remain).

9. Land reform succeeded last time around in resolving access issues where voluntary agreements and complex legal rights of ways procedures failed.

Planning authorities have been to the fore in writing, drafting and implementing 34 Core Path Plans in Scotland delivering over 16,000km of Core Paths which are a vital national resource. Considering there were only 95km of fully asserted rights of way in 2003 – this is a major achievement. And vital to the future walking and cycling strategies we will need to take forward.

The Minister for the Environment and Climate Change states, that “we have the opportunity to build a better Scotland for future generations by ensuring that we optimise the use of Scotland’s wealth of natural resources, not least our land and seas, to promote the wellbeing of Scotland and her people”

10. Land reform starts from the premise, as the Minister for the Environment and Climate Change states, that “we have the opportunity to build a better Scotland for future generations by ensuring that we optimise the use of Scotland’s wealth of natural resources, not least our land and seas, to promote the wellbeing of Scotland and her people”


Bob Reid was an advisor to the LRRG. He was actively involved in the 2003 LRAS and became the first elected Convenor of Scotland’s National Access Forum. He’s a Past Convenor RTPI Scotland and Director of Planning and Halliday Fraser Munro

©Bob Reid 2/6/2014