Over recent years legislation and national policy in Scotland (such as the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and the joint Scottish Government/ COSLA Community Empowerment Action plan of 2009) has recognised the importance of, and been developed to support, strong, independent and resilient communities - empowered communities.
Community ownership of assets has been identified as having a role to play in this through inspiring people, creating opportunities and potentially transforming communities by helping them respond to these challenges by taking even greater control of land and buildings where they live. In communities across the country local people are concerned about losing locally valued assets and associated services - from inner-city community centres to parks, libraries and town halls. At the same time councils and other public bodies are facing intense financial pressure, resulting in the need to maximise the use of publicly-owned land and buildings, or dispose of them and the associated costs, wherever possible. Transferring an asset to a suitable community organisation can enable a redundant public building to thrive again or turn a marginal public service in to a viable community service.
The Disposal of Land by Local Authorities (Scotland) 2010 Regulations facilitated the drive for asset ownership. These regulations give discretionary powers to local authorities to dispose of land, buildings or associated rights such as sporting, riparian (land bordering a body of water) or mineral rights to community organisations at less than best financial consideration, without reference to the Minister, provided a local authority is satisfied that they are achieving “best value” through economic, regeneration, social, environmental or health benefits.
The Disposal of Land Regulations can still be used as an option to transfer assets to community groups without using legilsation under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015
The 2015 Act introduces a right for community bodies to make requests to all local authorities, Scottish Ministers and a wide-ranging list of public bodies (relevant authorites), for any land or buildings they feel they could make better use of. They can request ownership, lease or other rights, as they wish. The Act requires those public authorities to transparently assess requests against a specified list of criteria, and to agree the request unless there are reasonable grounds for refusal.