Blog: Plot thickens on returning abandoned land to use
Kirsty Glennan, senior solicitor at Burness Paull, writes on impending changes to Scottish land law.
Every day on my way to work, I pass a bare and neglected plot of suburban land. It is unremarkable but for one feature: it has a sign bearing the name of a local housebuilder. In 15 years, it has not changed. I am curious. Does the builder own the plot? Why has it remained vacant and neglected? What do the people living in the houses nearby think? Developers often hold land until circumstances improve or opportunities arise. However, a change in the law means the present might be a good time to audit all those “land-banked” plots out there.
New rights created under land reform legislation come into force tomorrow. They provide for communities to acquire “abandoned, neglected or detrimental” land where to do so would benefit the community. In a departure from existing powers allowing community buy-outs, the new rights can be triggered at any time. The community does not need to wait for the landowner to sell.
New regulations set out broad criteria to establish if land is abandoned, neglected or detrimental and eligible for acquisition. The criteria fall into four main categories for the land: physical condition; designation or classification; use or management; and whether such use or management causes harm to the environmental well-being of the community.
Landowners will be able to challenge the proposed exercise of the community right to buy. It is expected they will focus on the fact that the legislation is not absolutely definitive on what is “abandoned, neglected or detrimental land”.
Human rights concerns over the removal of ownership of land will also come into contention while an individual’s home is not eligible for acquisition unless occupied by a tenant. So what does this mean for landowners and developers? Some points are worth considering.
I’ll be keeping an eye on that neglected plot of land as I walk to work, and using it as a barometer to measure the success of the Government’s latest change to land law.