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Community Land Summit 2018

Mark Walton

On 12th December in Manchester, we’ll be hosting the U.K.’s first Community Land Summit with Community Land Scotland. Mark Walton shares his excitement at the prospect.

Shared Assets and Community Land Scotland are co-hosting the first U.K. wide gathering of practitioners, support organisations and policy makers involved in community ownership and management of land in Manchester on 12th December, and it promises to be a rich, fascinating experience!

Community ownership and management of land is a growing movement across the U.K, but the forms it takes, and the historical, policy and legislative context it operates in, is quite different in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This is partly due to devolution which has resulted in a diverse range of policy drivers and institutions. In Scotland, land reform is underpinned by a recognition that access to, and ownership of, land is fundamental to community empowerment and local and national self determination, whilst in Wales the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act is informing a shift to longer term approaches to improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being that sit well with ideas about community control of land and assets.

From an English perspective we often look to Scotland with some degree of envy; they have a Land Reform Act, a strong community right to buy, a Scottish Land Fund and a Scottish Land Commission. They seem to have it sorted. However in Scotland community ownership has been a largely rural affair and focused on the community buy-out of privately owned estates. There is keen Scottish interest in the English experience of urban community land ownership, asset transfer, and in particular the model of community land trusts and community led housing.

And it’s not just modern devolution and new legislation that distinguishes the different approaches to community ownership and management of land. Land issues are steeped in long histories and arise from specific contexts. Whilst all of the U.K. shares a history of enclosures, concentrated land ownership, and loss of rights of use of common land, our more recent histories, and the drivers for community ownership, are more divergent. In Scotland there is a clear narrative of community empowerment, enabling communities to take control of their own destinies following long years of neglect from absentee private landlords with little interest in the economic and social futures of highland communities. In England and Wales the narrative is perhaps a little less clear and more contested, with community ownership largely being focused on public land and often seen as a response to austerity. Meanwhile in Northern Ireland community asset transfers and community land trusts take place in the context of a history of land reform that gave tenant farmers the rights to their smallholdings, and has left a legacy of small individual land holdings and a stronger sense of individual rather than community rights with respect to land. Layered over each of these contexts are further histories of colonialism, dispossession, displacement, migration and settlement, and the daily impacts of urbanisation, gentrification and the commodification of land. 

These different histories, contexts and policy objectives inform and shape different perceptions, experiences and models of community ownership and management. They can also lead to those of us working on these issues in each country to stay confined to our own national projects, programmes and networks. However it is precisely this diversity of experience and practice that promises to make December’s Community Land Summit so exciting.

Practitioners from across the U.K. will share their stories, we will discuss the pros and cons of ownership and management, and there will be opportunities to join workshops covering topics ranging from ‘Creating The Conditions for Change’ with respect to land policy, to the practicalities of ‘Community Land Trusts and Housing’. Perhaps most importantly there will be an opportunity to identify and network around shared issues, and build new connections and relationships that will enable us to take forward a shared agenda for increasing community ownership and management of land, wherever we are in the U.K.

So come and join us in Manchester on 12th December – and and share the excitement!

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