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Reflections on the first UK Community Land Summit

Hannah Gardiner

On December 12th 2018 we collaborated with Community Land Scotland to host the first ever Community Land Summit, with representatives from four nations; Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. 

Hannah Gardiner shares her thoughts about the event.

We had previously reflected on the difference in culture, history and policy between the nations and, although Scotland is often held up as the golden example of community land ownership, the sharing on the day showed each Scotland has progressed in different ways, and all face challenges with current legislation and context. For example, in Scotland, the introduction of ‘Communities of Interest’ into the legal definition of community has left a loophole that could mean local interest is not considered (this remains to be seen in practice), and crofting land faces ‘Right to Buy’ legislation that over time could erode this community resource.

This meant that, despite a common interest in community-controlled land, there were quite a lot of differences of perspective present on the day. A big discussion was about ownership versus management, with the question raised of whether fragmented community ownership really serves community development, where increased administrative loads could take away from other beneficial activities. Even the act of acquiring a community asset can be a huge drain on resource: the famous Isle of Ulva #community buy out reportedly required 1100 hours of #volunteer time to complete. With the current conception of ownership giving near-absolute rights over land it may seem like the only way, however;

“in reality property is best thought of as a complex of overlapping tenure rights - rights to enter, to pass over, use, use the fruits of, exclude others from, build on, pass on to inheritors, or sell land.” - Rethinking the economics of land and housing, 2017

Indeed, in some other countries, the conception of land ownership we have is unthinkable, at the summit Jenny Wong gave the example of Turkey where land is conceived to be owned by God, not individuals.

So is ownership the thing to be focusing on, or what rights are most important for the empowerment of communities? And should we be focusing on legal mechanisms or values and perceptions? The answer to these is a topic for further debate, but the current dialogue on land value capture is one entry point. Communities having control of land use, as well as the use of its economic gain certainly sounds empowering to me, and I believe participative economic democracy an important road forward.

The role of #localgovernment is a key one. Municipal ownership and partnership models may offer some answers for the #landjustice question.

However, as Jonathan Rosenberg said on the day, “democracy is not something that happens of its own accord; it needs nurturing.” Challenges of disempowered communities not engaging were common across the nations, with art cited as one way to try and get people involved. The change to bottom up approaches is an adjustment for everyone but necessary for communities to drive the changes they need. Untangling the matrix of rights and laws to tip the balance of power is also not simple. As mentioned above, even how you define community is crucial, how do you ensure people don’t get excluded? There is a need for vigilance of loopholes and prescendents being set with these emerging laws, especially where ownership is concerned, as once land falls out of community or public hands it is hard to get it back. near-absolute one speaker pointed out on the day, if you look back in history the land did once belong to the community, would we ever be bold enough to actually ‘reclaim’ it?.

These are certainly questions we will keep exploring at Shared Assets, along with our fellow travellers in the quest for land justice. You can see the live stream of the land stories shared by different nations on the day here, or search for #CommunityLandSummit on twitter. Below you can also clips of reflections from the day, and we will be sharing more dreams and suggestions of ways forward shared by participants from the summit on social media over the next few weeks.



Reflections from the first UK #CommunityLandSummit

Reflections from the first UK #CommunityLandSummit Shared Assets hosted with Community Land Scotland back in December; the similarities, the differences and what is important to focus on.

Posted by Shared Assets on Tuesday, 15 January 2019

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