A Guide to the Community Right to Buy in Scotland

A Guide to the Community Right to Buy in Scotland

If you hadn’t previously heard of the Community Right to Buy, after STV’s recent series, Payback, it may well be on your radar. It’s a complex topic, so we’ve provided an overview of this right, its evolution, and the steps involved in exercising it.

What is the community right to buy?

In Scotland, communities have the power to shape their future through the Community Right to Buy, a legal framework established by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act of 2003.

The cornerstone of the Community Right to Buy is found in Part 2 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. This provision empowers local communities to form community bodies, allowing them to register an interest in acquiring local land. Once an interest is registered, the landowner is bound by the obligation to offer the land for sale to the community body before considering other potential buyers.

Over the years, this right has expanded. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 broadened the scope, granting communities the right to purchase land that has been abandoned, neglected, or is detrimental to the environmental wellbeing of the community.

The latest development, Part 5 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, establishes a right to buy land if a community body can demonstrate that the purchase aligns with the goal of sustainable development. Successful applications grant the community an absolute right to buy, even if the land is not actively for sale.

What land is affected by community right to buy?

Originally applicable to rural land, the right was extended to urban as well as rural properties by the 2015 Act.

What does the act mean by ‘A community body’?

A community body, as defined by the legislation, is an entity composed of members from a geographical community. It must be locally led, non-profit distributing, and exist to further sustainable development. Community membership should be open to all residents and can take various forms, such as a company limited by guarantee, SCIO Charity, or community benefit society.

Before applying, it is crucial to form an eligible community body and receive confirmation from the Scottish Ministers that the governing document complies with the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.

How do you register a community interest in land?

A compliant community body must complete a Community Right to Buy application form and demonstrate community support. The support of 1/10th or more of the represented population is generally regarded as sufficient, with exceptions in certain circumstances.

What is the impact of registering community interest in land?

Once a community interest in land is registered, it grants the community body the right to buy the land when the landowner wishes to sell it. This takes precedence over any commercial arrangements the landowner may seek with third parties. The landowner is prohibited from transferring or taking actions toward transferring the land without first offering it to the community body.

A community right to buy lasts for five years, and within six months before expiry, the community body can apply to have the right re-registered. Any transfer in breach of the right to buy is void, except for specific transactions.

How do communities exercise the right to buy?

The process to exercise the right to buy is intricate. Once a community interest in land is registered, the community body must identify interested parties, notify them, and allow time for representations. A community ballot seeking approval for the purchase is also required. It’s important to note that the right to buy is a last resort and attempts to negotiate with the landowner must have failed before applying.

If an application reaches the Scottish Ministers, approval is contingent on meeting specific criteria, including furthering sustainable development, being in the public interest, resulting in significant community benefit, and being the most practicable way to achieve that benefit. The Scottish Ministers must also be satisfied that not granting consent would result in harm to the community.

The property’s price can be agreed on or determined by an independent valuer if an agreement is not reached.

The Register of Community Interests in Land (RCIL) is publicly available for searching.

If you are a landowner or part of a community and have questions relating to any of the above, please contact Linsey Barclay-Smith or speak to your usual Anderson Strathern contact.

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