Scottish Ministers have issued guidance on Engaging Communities in Decisions Relating to Land. Many people with control over land will already be engaging with their local communities and will have built positive relationships. The guidance is intended to help build on good practice, and help those with control over land to communicate with their local communities in an open and effective way.
The guidance is not law, but is intended to sit alongside existing legislation. Some of the recommendations in the guidance will be met by complying with existing legislation, such as planning law.
The intention is to provide a broad model for community engagement that would become the norm. The overarching emphasis is on sustainable development of land – collective engagement on decisions relating to land is likely to lead to changes that are beneficial for a greater number of people.
The guidance is part of the Scottish Government’s land reform agenda. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 includes an obligation to produce this guidance. It also provides for a three-year review of the effectiveness of the guidance. The Scottish Land Commission will assist in making the review, and also making sector-specific additions to it.
Who is it for?
Anyone – individual or body corporate, public or private, owner or tenant – with control over rural or urban land.
When to engage?
The guidance includes a flow chart – diagram A – setting out when to engage. The key concept is whether there will be “significant impact” on the community. Significant impact can be cumulative: an example given is piecemeal removal of rental properties from a rural area. The removal of one property may not constitute significant impact, but the removal of several over a period might do.
Where emergency action was taken, the suggested engagement is retrospective: letting the community know what happened and what decisions were made as a result.
Who to engage?
Effectively, anyone “who could be affected” by a decision. Beyond that, the guidance does not give specific persons, or types of person, but gives ideas on how to establish who to engage with if that information is not known, for example, by approaching community councils, local authorities, chambers of commerce, local farming associations, housing associations, Scottish Natural Heritage, SEPA, and others.
How to engage?
Three principles are given: proportionality (“proportionate to the impact that the decision may have on the community”; collaboration (early engagement is exhorted); ongoing in nature (including feeding back the final decision and the reasons for it to the community).
Diagram B in the guidance sets out three levels: being a good neighbour (applicable to most day-to-day activities), informal engagement (appropriate for short-term disruptive activities and changes to regular activities), and formal engagement (for long-term disruption or changes which will have significant impact). Broadly, the first requires no engagement, the second requires giving out information, and the third involves seeking formal conversations with the community.
The responsibility for the success of community engagement is stated to be both on those seeking to engage the community and the community itself.
Reference is made to a number of other documents. One of these is the National Standards for Community Engagement, which was updated in 2016, and may be a useful supplementary guide. Additionally, an annex to the Scottish Government guidance sets out considerations under Human Rights and Equalities laws.
This article is intended as a short introduction to the guidance, however, it is recommended that you read the guide in its entirety. The guidance is available here.