The community right to buy is to be extended to apply to all of Scotland with effect from 15 April 2016. This right to buy is a pre-emptive right, which can only be exercised if the landowner takes steps to sell the property. A community body must be set up, and register its interest in the land in question. The procedural steps to follow, including valuation of the land, and eligibility and criteria for registration are similar to the existing arrangements that have been available for rural land since 2004. Scottish ministers’ consent to the application is required, and the applicant must demonstrate that the intended acquisition would further the achievement of sustainable development.
Comprehensive guidance for community bodies, landowners, heritable creditors in possession, and third parties has been published by the Scottish Government: www.gov.scot/Publications/2016/03/8496/downloads
Further community rights to buy are also in prospect, which will apply even if the seller does not plan to sell, or is in fact unwilling, although before making any application the community must have tried, and failed, to reach agreement with the owner to buy the land from them.
The Scottish Government is currently consulting on a new right, introduced by the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, to buy land that is abandoned or neglected, or is being used or managed in such a way that harm is being caused to the environmental wellbeing of the local community.
The consultation, which runs until 20 June 2016, looks at proposed criteria that should be considered by Scottish ministers, when determining whether land qualifies for purchase: see www.gov.scot/Publications/2016/03/9764. Homes, and curtilage around a home, are to be specifically excluded from this right to buy.
Also in the pipeline is a non-pre-emptive right for communities to buy land to further sustainable development, introduced by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016.
For that right to be approved, it must be shown that the transfer of land is likely to further the achievement of sustainable development, that it is in the public interest, is likely to result in significant benefit to the community and is the only, or most practicable, way of achieving that benefit. It must also be shown that not consenting to the transfer is likely to result in significant harm to the community.
Although some way off, these non-pre-emptive rights will give significant power to communities, should they choose to exercise it, to tackle blight, improve the amenity of their community and reduce potential harm.