Archive | rural

Land Reform In One Easy SLUP

DSCF2680We’re working with Falkland Estate in Fife – home of the Centre for Stewardship – on estate visioning and master planning. Today we helped host a visit from the Scottish Government’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment committee (RACCE). The visit was part of the committee’s land reform fact-finding tour, which is working its way around the country. In a brief presentation, we explained the importance of long term spatial planning and visioning for estates and large land holdings or sites.

At Falkland, we’re effectively merging the PAN 83 urban master planning model we’ve applied for private estates at Bowmore, Inveraray and Forres recently, with the feasibility model for community land ownership studies at Culbokie, Lochmaddy and Great Bernera (working with Dr Calum MacLeod’s team).

The aim is to facilitate sustainable land management. The model works for both private and community land ownership. It’s as good an indication as any that the landowner is committed to  sustainable use of the land.

These days, there’s a statutory requirement for major planning applications to be accompanied by a Design Statement (see PAN 68). Quality of place is a high priority for the Scottish Government, with cross-party support. The requirement for a Design Statement reflects this. It’s still disappointing that many Design Statements are accepted by planning authorities despite being half-hearted box-ticking exercises, but that’s another blog….

Like quality of place, the Scottish Government has made land reform a priority. Again, there’s broad cross-party support (with the exception of the Conservatives, who take a more cautious position). One aspect of the current Land Reform (Scotland) Bill 2015, is the contentious matter of sustainable land use and the potential for communities to be granted rights to purchase land which is not being used sustainably.

At this stage, it’s unclear what that means. What mechanisms might the Scottish Government apply to define sustainable land use? How might land owners illustrate a commitment to sustainable use? If a Design Statement proves a commitment to quality place making, could an estate master plan or vision do the same for sustainable land use?

We think so.

A document similar to PAN 68 could set out advice on preparing a Sustainable Land Use Plan (SLUP!) and encourage land owners to follow best practice and prepare their own. The forthcoming Land Reform (Scotland) Act could explain the scenarios where the proposed Scottish Land Commission might request a SLUP as evidence of effective land management.

There’s an obvious resource issue in rolling out this kind of study but our experience suggests that it proves cost effective by unearthing investment opportunities, financial efficiencies and greatly enhanced relationships with stakeholders and communities. That applies to land in private or community ownership.

Land reform may be a polarising issue, but most people seem to agree that sustainable land use is a valid ambition. A tool like SLUP can add value across the spectrum. Why wouldn’t we use it?

Culbokie Update

We recently completed a Feasibility Study for the Culbokie Community Trust. The Glascairn Community Project seeks to provide much needed local services and facilities and create a new heart for the village. The Trust has applied to the Scottish Land Fund for assistance in buying the site, having successfully completed a local ballot which showed strong support for the project amongst local people.

The development proposals focus on a community cafe and shop fronting a new public square. Culbokie has no public realm or civic space to speak of and little prospect of ever getting any without this community intervention. Other communty buildings would provide rooms for local health services and a covered events space, with some housing meeting a need for smaller homes for local people and helping to fund the development.

SketchAerial copyCulbokie has become a commuter settlement in recent decades and with more housing estates to come it is in danger of becoming an all-out dormitory town, shipping workers in and out of Inverness every day. The market has failed to provide local services and even to meet local demand for smaller more affordable homes. Like many similar towns, house builders have built larger, expensive homes in recent times, partly as a response to rising land values.

Sadly, the planning profession has had no meaningful response to this issue. The land reform process is now addressing housing land. Market intervention to drive the delivery of housing which meets local need and responds to local character is overdue. Local Authorities are likely to have a key role, although most don’t use the powers they already have.

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This project is an excellent example of a community taking its future into its own hands. Community empowerment in action. The Trust has shown strong commitment to the task and provided leadership for a community which is realising that there is an alternative to declining local services and a diminishing sense of place. Culbokie is not alone – it’s part of a growing number of community-led projects which are slowly transforming Scotland’s communities for the better.

Our team partners were :

Hazel Allen, Athena Solutions; Amanda Bryan, Aigas Associates; Sam Foster, Sam Foster Architects.

The project was funded by the Big Lottery Fund, Highland Council and HIE.