ua-menu

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?

Lochmaddy Hospital Site, North Uist

DSCF3609

Last week we spent a few days in North Uist, where we’re working with a community steering group on a feasibility study for a potential buy out of the former Lochmaddy Hospital buildings and site. A former poor house constructed in 1883, the buildings ceased use as a hospital in 2001 and have lain empty ever since. The original stone building is an austere two storey structure which sits a little grimly out on the edge of Lochmaddy. However, it’s an important landmark with a local significance which stretches beyond its physical form.

We invited local people to walk around the site and have a look at the buildings. We wanted a first hand impression of how they’d react to getting back up close to this remote and neglected place. It was immediately clear that the site has a cultural and social history which is deeply embedded in the community. Many people were born in the former maternity wing. Others worked there – their names can still be seen on the old nurses lockers in the staff room. Some had elderly relatives who spent their final years as residents.

DSCF3554

Everyone recognises that the site will never host hospital services again. However, there’s an eagerness to find viable new uses for the site. Almost everyone agreed that the original stone building should be retained and refurbished, if at all possible. There are ideas for expanded higher education opportunities in Lochmaddy, building on the success of art courses run locally at Taigh Chearsabhagh.

There may be a need for student accommodation and other supporting services. Other opportunities exist for visitor and tourism related uses. It’s likely we’ll need a mix of uses given the size of the site and buildings. In any event, the project must ensure that broad community benefit is delivered if it is to truly succeed.

DSCF3853

We’re now working through options for the buildings and uses. We report back to the community on 19th May in Carinish Village Hall from 7pm.

Our team for this project includes :

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