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Making urban spaces work for everyone

Young people working together

Cities and towns benefit greatly when derelict and vacant land is brought back in to use, but genuine community engagement must work across all social groups to deliver improvements where they matter most, according to research by the Scottish Land Commission.

The Commission has been working with SURF – Scotland’s Regeneration Forum – to explore people’s understanding about land reuse in urban areas, how potential assets are identified and the challenges to development.

Urban environments often have a much wider and more complex range of interests to consider, which has implications for how sites are regenerated and who stands to benefit. The Commission’s programme of good practice in land use decision making is working to bring more voices into the process about how land is used.

An early concern, highlighted in the SURF report, is that well-meaning policy changes designed to enhance community empowerment are not readily accessed by disadvantaged communities. This runs the risk of increasing inequalities across urban areas. Engagement is a crucial element to inclusion and needs to be tailored to community needs and embedded within processes.

Commission chief executive Hamish Trench said:

“The way we use our land impacts on the wellbeing and social cohesion within communities and engagement must reach all groups for meaningful change to occur.

“Research has shown that a majority of derelict sites are located in disadvantaged areas within our cities, and we are looking into the effect these sites have on communities. It is important that effective engagement is part of bringing these sites back in to use.

“A collaborative approach by partners, backed up by a programme of information, support and effective engagement is key to ensuring that urban land is used in a way that is fair, inclusive and productive, helping communities to realise their opportunities and ambitions.”

In its report for the Commission, entitled Land and Communities: Beyond the Echo Chambers, SURF said that policy, resources and practical support should be directed towards communities which disproportionately suffer the greatest negative health, social and economic impacts of vacant and derelict land and buildings. The aspiration is that, with effective community engagement, local communities and those with decision making powers over land, become genuine partners in better land-based decision making.

SURF chief executive, Andy Milne said:

“The lead which the Scottish Land Commission have taken on this is timely and welcome. As the Cabinet Secretary for Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham has said, ‘land is vital to Scotland’s inclusive and sustainable economic growth and to social justice’. SURF’s cross sector members agree with that and we have appreciated the opportunity to help inform the best way of turning shared policy aspirations into effective practice.

“We found that while disadvantaged urban communities may not always be in a position to consider taking on ownership of vacant or derelict land, they are keen to know who owns it, what the plans for its improvement are and how they can make sure their local concerns, knowledge and aspirations can be central to the decision making process.”

Effective community engagement increases opportunities for local economic, social, cultural and environmental improvements. It supports sustainable development and creates opportunities for land owners and communities to develop mutually beneficial solutions to local issues.

As well as the SURF report, the Commission has also published today, a report with Young Scot gauging the views of young people to their local urban areas and engagement in land use decision making.