Adding Compulsory Sales Orders to the Regeneration toolbox

Katherine Pollard, Policy Officer, Scottish Land Commission, explores the potential of Compulsory Sale Orders to be a powerful instrument to help tackle the blight of vacant and derelict sites in Scotland.

With around 11,600 hectares of vacant and derelict land in Scotland (an area almost twice the size of the City of Dundee) and more than 37,000 long-term empty homes in the country, vacant and derelict sites can present real challenges for communities across Scotland. Scottish Government figures estimate that a third of us live within 500 metres of a derelict site, this figure reaches 61% in Glasgow. Often smaller areas of vacant and derelict land or buildings can have a detrimental impact on a community, acting as magnets for crime and anti-social behaviour. Regeneration of such sites could be game-changing for the local economy and communities, especially where housing, urban green space or cultural facilities needs are great.

The Scottish Land Commission is working to create a Scotland where everybody benefits from the ownership, management and use of the nation’s land and buildings. As part of our work on land for housing and development we are focusing on ways to transform vacant and derelict land and bring it into a more productive and equitable use, delivering economic and social benefits.

The Scottish Land Commission has been taking some important steps in this area. We’ve launched the Vacant and Derelict Land Task Force  in partnership with Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). The Task Force is looking at innovative ways to transform and bring thousands of acres of long term vacant and derelict land back into productive use.

We also produced a proposal for a potential new power to help tackle the blight of vacant and derelict sites in Scotland- the Compulsory Sales Order (CSO). Working with a wide range of experts and organisations with extensive experience ranging from regeneration, housing, valuation and human rights, enabled us to create a detailed framework for how a CSO could work. The Scottish Land Commission submitted this proposal to the Scottish Government in August. It is intended to be a framework to inform any future work undertaken by Scottish Government on bringing forward CSO legislation.

Why a CSO? In the current regeneration toolbox, Scotland has mechanisms that allow planning authorities and communities to buy vacant and neglected sites. However, what happens when neither have a specific end use in mind for problematic sites? What if the authority or a community body does not have the capacity or resources to take on the site themselves? Seeing such sites being put into some kind of productive use that will benefit the local community is often desirable but the current tools available might not always be appropriate.

A CSO power would offer an additional route for planning authorities to deal with such eyesore sites. By enabling a transfer of ownership, these sites could be transformed. This is backed up by research evidence which suggests that a change in ownership that transfers a property from a passive to an active owner is often a necessary pre-condition for bringing vacant and derelict sites back into productive use.

A CSO would give a planning authority (on a case-by-case basis) the chance to:

  • firstly, investigate a site. This would be very important step because it provides an opportunity to bring about a mutually acceptable resolution between the authority and the owner. This step must be taken before a formal order could be issued, demanding the sale of the property via an auction. A CSO is not intended to be a punitive instrument it can help facilitate a constructive dialogue with owners of problematic sites, arguably one of its strengths.
  • provide a more reliable measure for valuing vacant and derelict urban sites. An auction is an efficient way for revealing the true market price of a site at any given point in time, especially when they are difficult to value or estimate as there may be no accurate comparisons.
  • commit a new owner to bringing the property into a productive use. Conditions attached to the sale would mean that new owners are required to complete the development and bring the site into a productive use within a fixed period of time.

We need to ensure that our built environment is making the most for people living there and for Scotland by delivering well planned, sustainable communities as part of the place-making agenda. A CSO has the potential to be a powerful additional instrument for urban renewal and to improve the quality of places, making more of Scotland’s land. Read the full proposal here.

Katherine Pollard

Policy Officer
Scottish Land Commission