Across Scotland, there are significant portfolios of land and assets that represent arguably the oldest (if not original) form of community ownership – the Common Good of the Burghs.
This land and property – granted to, or acquired by, former Royal Burghs from the medieval period until their abolition in 1975 – was intended to support the running of the burgh and provide amenity space and resources for its citizens. The abolition of burghs, and subsequent local government reforms, weakened links between Common Good assets and local governance and management, though many of the remaining assets – such as town halls and parks – are cherished by residents. These can have significant heritage value, and the income generated from Common Good assets is held in Common Good Funds which are often distributed to local causes or used to fund local events.
The Common Good Act 1491 – still in force today – provides legal status to Common Good and creates an obligation that assets be managed for the benefit of the citizens of (what was) the burgh. While modern local authorities now have the duty to manage Common Good assets in the interests of the local community, this is not well-defined: the way it is interpreted and conducted varies widely between local authorities. This can cause confusion and frustration, for local authorities and residents alike, so there is a real need to set out clear expectations for good practices to make the most of this unique form of ownership for communities.
The Community Empowerment Act (Scotland) 2015 introduced responsibilities for local authorities on registration, use and disposal of Common Good assets. The Scottish Government has since issued guidance on these duties – and this includes a requirement for local authorities to have regard to advice issued by the Scottish Land Commission.
Our Land Rights and Responsibilities Protocol on Common Good Land sets out clear expectations and behaviours for local authorities in managing Common Good land and buildings in line with their statutory duties – a big help for those struggling with clarity on this sometimes-complex issue.
The protocol also makes recommendations for local authorities to enhance transparency and improve community involvement in decision-making. It suggests that local authorities should:
- provide information on whether Common Good assets are being used, leased, or are vacant, and whether the status is alienable or inalienable (where known)
- provide a dedicated point of contact for Common Good matters
- encourage communities to engage in decision-making around Common Good assets
- consider whether alternative uses – or disposal – will continue to deliver public good and what impact it will have on the broader Common Good portfolio
- make information about how Common Good funds are used available.
To help with the development of the protocol we contacted all 32 local authorities. We are grateful to all who took part in a workshop or in one-to-one discussion providing feedback and contributing to the final expectations.
We hope that you and your teams who deal with Common Good land and assets will find this protocol useful and come back to us if you have any questions. We are keen to hear about positive examples of good working relationships and successful collaboration between local authorities and communities to inform case studies.
Local authorities can follow the protocol to realise the benefits of Common Good land for both the local authorities and the communities they serve. We will continue to engage closely with local authorities and other key stakeholders as we take our Common Good work forward. To find out more or get in touch, visit: https://www.landcommission.gov.scot/our-work/good-practice