Land Options

Land is essential for the development of housing but it can be challenging to acquire a suitable plot. There are often barriers to development such as ownership, planning, ground conditions, crofting tenure or infrastructure. However there are a number of ways of overcoming barriers and securing land for a community-led housing project. We can offer support to communities looking to secure land for affordable housing. On this page, we identify some of the options we can help you explore.

Land Reform

Over the last 20 years there have been a number of legislative changes which have sought to enable land reform and greater community ownership of land. Community owners now own over 560,000 acres of land across Scotland. Some of the greatest concentrations of community ownership are in the Western Isles where large estates were purchased through the Crofting Community Right to Buy.

  • Community Right to Buy: This is a bit of a misnomer: the ‘right to buy’ is in fact a right to register an interest in land and it gives an opportunity to buy the land should it come up for sale.
  • Right to Buy for Sustainable Development: This is a ‘right to buy’ which came into force in 2020 and community groups can apply to the Scottish Government for the right to buy land to further sustainable development. Sustainable development can include the need to secure land to provide affordable housing.

Land Rights and Responsibilities Protocols and Route Map

This is a series of protocols produced by the Scottish Land Commission which sets out practical advice on how land owners, land managers and communities can work together to make better – and fairer – decisions about land use. The protocols are intended to be used by everyone to improve the transparency, accountability and governance of our land.

Scottish Land and Estates and Community Land Scotland created a Protocol for Negotiated Sales to set out how communities and landowners could negotiate sales and increase dialogue and understanding.

Community Empowerment

Right to Buy Abandoned, Neglected or Detrimental Land gives communities the right to compulsorily purchase land which is abandoned or neglected or its current use is detrimental to the environmental wellbeing of the community.

The Community Empowerment Act gave communities the right to make requests to all local authorities, Scottish Ministers and a range of public bodies for any land or buildings which they might be able to use more effectively. The request could be to buy or lease.

Crofters have for decades decrofted land for a house site for family members or other members of their community. This land release has been important in helping local people access housing in their community. Grazings committees have also released land for house plots to individuals and to housing associations – although this remains an untapped source of land particularly for community-led housing where communities can give assurances to the Grazings Committee regarding local allocation of housing.

The Housing Land Audit is created by local authorities and sets out land identified within the local authority area sufficient to meet the anticipated housing requirements set out in the Local Housing Strategy for at least five years.

Land and Planning

The planning system sets out what land can be used and developed and for what purpose. Each local authority is asked to produce a Local Development Plan to plan land use within their area. Local Development Plans are the local interpretation and implementation route for the strategy and policy set out in the Scottish Government’s National Planning Framework and Scottish Planning Policy. The Local Development Plan will set out which land within settlements is to be used for housing, and when, or if, land in the countryside can be used for housing. The land highlighted in the Local Development Plan can be identified in a number of ways including a “Call for Sites” whereby local landowners (and communities) can put forward their ideas of what land should be used for housing or other purposes.

Importantly you don’t have to own the land to be able to make suggestions for land or put land forward in a “Call for Sites”. Recently Local Place Plans have been given a place within Scottish Planning Policy and these should influence the development of the Local Development Plan. Local Place Plans have the potential to be important routes whereby communities can promote land to meet housing need in their area.

Housing in the Countryside

Within Scottish Planning Policy there is a presumption against the development of housing in the countryside, the planning system directs housing development away from small villages and landward areas prioritising locations with good transport links and local service delivery. This is particularly true in more accessible rural areas. In more remote locations although land may not have been identified for housing it can be possible to secure planning permission.

In Argyll & Bute for example the Local Development Plan identifies ‘rural opportunity areas” in the countryside which have the “capacity to successfully absorb small scale housing development”. The orange areas in the plan above are Rural Opportunity Areas where housing development is permitted. The other areas are designated open countryside and any housing would not normally be permitted. The areas for development were identified through a Landscape Capacity Study and do not account for current use – some of the orange land identified above for example is prime agricultural land whilst the red land is scrub and rock but it is the orange land where development can take place.

Planning Gain

Planning gain is a way that local councils can secure additional public benefits from house builders from the granting of planning permission. Planning gain captures some of the uplift in land value which is generated by the granting of planning permission, and can involve financial contributions towards schools, roads, or transport, and the contribution of affordable housing. Typically the affordable housing contribution required is 25% of homes in any development should be developed as ‘affordable’ housing. This affordable housing requirement can be delivered onsite, a financial contribution levied where this is not possible or not required, in some instances, land at another location can be contributed.