I have been involved with the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill through my work as a member of the Rural Affairs and Climate Change Committee. The bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament last Wednesday. It will provide a stronger legislative framework that will empower community organisations through the ownership of land and buildings, improve the process of community planning, and enable communities to have increased access to, and have a stronger influence over, the decisions that really matter to them. I was particularly pleased that the representations made by the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society were acted on and that the problems created by the SNP Government’s first draft were sorted out when we amended the bill.
Scottish Labour strongly supports the principle that communities should be given more opportunities to work together to improve people’s lives. The bill is a huge opportunity to ensure that we tackle inequalities and that we look after our land and buildings. Scottish Labour therefore strongly supports the ambitions behind the bill. We see it as dealing with unfinished business from the Land Reform Act that we passed in 2003. For me the extension to urban Scotland is very important and will create new opportunities for communities in our towns and cities.
Yet, the bill itself leaves new unfinished business. Important issues were raised by the Land Reform Review Group, including those around compulsory purchase orders and compulsory sale orders, which will now be considered by the Scottish Law Commission. More work will need to be done. Crucially, we need to build capacity and support in our communities to ensure that we deliver the social justice and regeneration of communities that are at the heart of the bill.
I hope that a more constructive and positive set of relationships between landowners and communities will flow from the legislation. Its very existence will be good across the country, and it will raise people’s aspirations. The bill is about empowerment and opening up new opportunities for our communities, particularly those that are disadvantaged. It will create new opportunities, and as MSPs we need to ensure that our local communities will benefit from the changes.
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