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Community Land Scotland Inaugural Meeting

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Eden Court Theatre in Inverness played host to the inaugural meeting of a new umbrella body set up to represent the interests of community groups involved with the management of land in Scotland. Originally intended as the first meeting of the directors, no rx viagra usa the launch became an opportunity for community representatives and other invited guests to find out more about the new group.

David Cameron from the North Harris Trust set the scene by explaining that at the time of the launch 17 community groups had become members of Community Land Scotland, representing around half a million acres of land in community ownership. The organisation, which has been set up as a company limited by guarantee, is open to community groups rather than individuals. It’s currently seeking charitable status.

The new organisation arose from a conference held in Harris in 2009 about the future of community ownership of land (see previous article), where a small steering group was set up to look into the options of better representation of Community Land Initiatives. This steering group commissioned a survey of community groups and a range of other interested parties, and developed a business plan for the formation of Community Land Scotland.

The survey, conducted by Aigas Consulting, invited 49 groups to participate and 33 responded. There was broad support from 24 of these (around two-thirds of respondents) but with caveats about the different needs and commonality of interests. Eighteen other organisations were also interviewed, with mixed opinions, although they were generally supportive of the concept.

David Cameron emphasised that Community Land Scotland is about land rather than more general community ownership of ‘assets’, which can be represented through other existing organisations such as the Development Trust Association Scotland or the Community Woodland Association.

Lorne MacLeod introduced the business plan: the steering group had investigated funding options for the organisation but had so far been unable to secure finance to recruit staff. As a result Community Land Scotland will rely on its seven directors to take forward ideas. A number of potential areas of activity were floated: networking between groups; providing a representative voice, and lobbying on behalf of the community land ownership agenda.

Angela Williams led the first discussion session, seeking feedback on perceived priorities for the organisation's activities. Comments from those attending suggested, amongst other things, that Community Land Scotland potentially has a role in promoting and showcasing the benefits of community ownership as well as raising the profile of the sector with politicians and policy-makers.  Some discussion focussed the difficulty of securing finance, with a suggestion that the community land sector should aspire to generate its own funding rather than rely on the public purse, and some thought that the sector needs to work out how to attract private investment.

One of the challenges acknowledged by the new directors is how to ensure that Community Land Scotland is a national organisation rather than purely for the Highlands and Islands – so far the membership is, understandably, strongly biased. There was also debate around how the organisation might work with other community groups, and whether it is appropriate to ‘proselytise’ with communities that have not yet been motivated to look at community ownership of land.

It was clear from the discussions that the networking aspect of Community Land Scotland was not seen as a high priority and that lobbying for support of community ownership, both in policy and practical terms is more important. A bug-bear at a grass-roots level appears to be the bureaucracy of land reform and the obstacles being put in the way of communities seeking to determine their own future.

We’ll add further updates on the progress of Community Land Scotland as we hear them.

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