Scotland Communities and society, Housing and planning

Re-use derelict land to support economic growth and wellbeing


Kathie Pollard, Policy Officer at the Scottish Land Commission blogs about the recent recommendations made by the Vacant and Derelict Land Taskforce.

The Vacant and Derelict Land Taskforce, created by Scottish Land Commission and SEPA in 2018, has made a series of recommendations to Scottish Government which aim to transform Scotland’s approach to tackling the legacy of derelict land and ensure that it is no longer acceptable to allow land to fall into long term disrepair.

Scotland’s legacy of derelict land reaches into all communities, but our research shows that it is areas of greatest economic disadvantage that have the greatest concentration. These sites could instead be assets for their communities, providing much-needed greenspace, growing space, community facilities, housing or businesses.

A new approach is now even more important as the Covid-19 response shifts the way city centres are used and businesses adapt to different working arrangements. The pandemic is laying bare the needs and demands for access to safe quality space in our neighbourhoods. With the very real threat of more buildings and spaces lying empty and in disrepair it is imperative that Scotland not only tackles a 30-year-old legacy of vacant and derelict land but prevents a new legacy from forming. The taskforce has made 13 recommendations that outline how land can be reused to help achieve Scotland’s targets for climate change, wellbeing and the economy.

The proposals call for a commitment from every level of government, as well as public and private organisations and landowners. The taskforce is asking for responsible practice by landowners as well as using planning guidelines, tax laws and other actions such as compulsory sales orders to halt the practice of leaving land unused. Urban land must be seen as a reusable resource, one that can be brought back into viable life to the betterment of local communities and the wider economy.

While investigating the scale and nature of the challenge that these sites pose, the taskforce has worked closely with many local authorities. Experts from councils across Scotland have shared their knowledge and experience through membership of the taskforce along with information and ideas shared at visits and face-to-face meetings. Scottish Land Commission, SEPA and the Green Action Trust have been extensively engaging with local authorities on behalf of the taskforce to further understand the specific constraints, status, and potential of these sites. This has helped to identify and map Scotland’s long term derelict urban sites. These are sites that have been registered as derelict since 2000 or longer. Several examples of local authority led approaches to the reuse of land are highlighted in the final report and recommendations.

Local authorities have an important role to play in driving forward the changes needed in Scotland’s approach to vacant and derelict land. For example, the taskforce proposed that regular audits of vacant and derelict land are carried out and priority sites should be identified for reuse, incorporating community needs and aspirations.

There is a need for innovative planning policies and an increase in funding opportunities to prioritise the reuse of vacant and derelict land.

To support this, the Land Commission has provided a range of resources and case studies including a new Community Impact Tool to help measure the impact of sites on local neighbourhoods. The results of which could be used in interventions or plans.

The recommendations encourage local authorities to adopt a wellbeing framework to appraise projects so that the wider benefit of bringing land back into use are accounted for in decisions, with a new framework developed to assess the wider economic benefits of the reuse of land. The taskforce also recommends that all public bodies should take a lead in responsible ownership and stewardship of land that considers productive reuse of land and on preventing a new legacy of vacant and derelict land from being created as part of its asset management strategy.

Scotland cannot afford to ignore this unused land any longer and as the recent pandemic changes the way people work, live and shop we cannot let it happen again. Local authorities play a crucial role in leading and delivering this change on the ground. We look forward to working together with local authorities, as landowners and in driving the cross-sector leadership needed to realise this ambitious programme.

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