“Getting the measure right is crucially important. If we measure the wrong thing, we will do the wrong thing. If our measures tell us everything is fine when it really isn’t, we will be complacent.” – Joseph Stiglitz (Economist)
Organisations and local and national governments around the world are rethinking how they measure economic success in a way to include social progress as well as productivity.
Fortunately, Scotland’s National Performance Framework (NPF) offers a practical way for agencies to work together to deliver on a set of national outcomes that paint a much wider picture of what success means for Scotland. It provides an ideal framework for considering the wider social benefits of reusing vacant and derelict land.
The Scottish Land Commission’s report and framework ‘Guidance on Assessing the Full Economic Benefits of the Productive Reuse of Land’ carried out by Biggar Economics, proposes a framework that places wellbeing at the centre of the decision-making processes. It suggests using Scotland’s national outcomes to help make a business case for regeneration projects. The framework is designed to:
- create a more successful country
- give opportunities to all people living in Scotland
- increase the wellbeing of people living in Scotland
- create sustainable and inclusive growth
- reduce inequalities and give equal importance to economic, environmental and social progress.
The Land Commission has provided a case for change for decision-makers and funders wanting to move beyond traditional approaches that focus on financial returns to the developer, and offers practical guidance for those at an operational level, undertaking project appraisals. For instance, local authority planners or those undertaking asset management or appraisals may see the added value such an approach can bring in articulating a much wider range of benefits.
Why do we need a new approach?
Established in 2017 as a result of the Land Reform (2016) Act, the Land Commission’s vision is a fair, inclusive and productive system of ownership, management and use of land that delivers greater beneﬁt for all the people of Scotland. The way in which land is owned, used, and managed matters hugely if we want to create a successful Scotland. The very nature of land reform brings into focus Scotland’s national outcomes which is why they are embedded in our Strategic Plan ‘Making More of Scotland’s Land’.
One of our aims is to transform Scotland’s approach to vacant and derelict land. We currently have 11,000 hectares recorded on the national register – that’s around twice the size of Dundee. The Vacant and Derelict Land Taskforce was set up to reimagine the way in which Scotland addresses this challenge and to substantially reduce the amount of long-term vacant and derelict land in Scotland.
Bringing derelict urban sites back into use could provide new homes, space for growing food in towns and cities, green spaces for people to enjoy the outdoors and an opportunity to improve biodiversity in urban areas. Some sites may even have the potential to generate renewable energy.
However, many of these sites sit in areas with the greatest poverty and deprivation with weak prospects for generating reuse. Low land values can mean that owners often wait in hope of a better future return and the sites become ‘stuck’. Anticipated financial returns to the owner are usually the most important consideration and when these numbers don’t stack up, nothing happens. So how can we progress if our measures are based on narrow financial returns?
Opportunities to bring sites into productive use need to be looked at in the broader economic, social, and environmental sense. We propose a new approach to assess the potential impact of bringing sites back into use that applies measures wide enough to capture a range of benefits. Thankfully, this is where National Performance Framework comes in.
How it works
The new guidance describes how the benefits of these regeneration projects can be identified and, where possible, quantified, using the themes within the National Performance Framework and indicators. Some of these will be quantifiable while others will be described qualitatively when making a business case for reuse. This will bring a more consistent approach led by the public interest to assessing site reuse than the range of assessment measures that currently exist.
Figure 1 illustrates how these indicators can be applied and further examples are provided to show how they deliver on their project or strategic objectives.
Local authorities can help lead the way
The guidance and case studies has excellent examples of where local authorities have taken the lead and offered a longer term view for land reuse and have focused on the benefits this can bring to the local area. The focus on Scotland’s National Outcomes encourages greater collaboration and a more long-term, holistic view of the potential of places.
Faced with global challenges such as the pandemic and climate change, the Land Commission believes that a similar approach can be extended to all decisions about land use, recognising the importance of land and its management to the health, wealth and overall wellbeing of the population. Local authorities can enable this new approach through their expertise, experience and leadership. We invite anyone interested in adopting this new approach and guidance to get in touch.
Find out more:
Get in touch: