The Scottish Land Commission and Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) established the Scottish Vacant and Derelict Land Taskforce in 2018, with the aim of transforming the existing approach to bringing back productive use to underused and derelict land.
Scotland currently has 11,000 hectares of vacant and derelict urban land, with nearly a third of the population living within 500m of a derelict site. This rises to 55% of the population in the most deprived districts.
“Adverse physical environment” has been identified by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health as one of the major causes of Scotland’s poor life expectancy. The implications of dereliction in undermining health and wellbeing are significant.
The Scottish Land Commission and Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) established the Scottish Vacant and Derelict Land Taskforce in 2018, in the hope of transforming the existing approach to bringing back productive use to underused and derelict land.
It also sought to create the conditions to eradicate persistent dereliction, and to realise the social, economic and environmental benefits of returning derelict land to productive use.
The Taskforce brought together senior representatives from around 30 businesses, public bodies and third sector organisations. The overall aim of the Vacant and Derelict Land Taskforce was to achieve an overall and long-term reduction in the number of vacant and derelict land sites in Scotland by removing and challenging systematic challenges faced by sites to provide land use opportunities and to highlight productive opportunities for land. The Taskforce also aligned its work closely with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Following 18 months of meetings, research, and close consultation with local authorities, public bodies, community groups and private sector representatives, it produced a number of key recommendations, including:
Better use of data – through reforming the national register of vacant and derelict land, including more information to help bring sites back into use through the planning system. Sites should be made available on a publicly accessible online map.
Treating land as part of the circular economy – for example by making it easier to buy land for reuse, with new laws for compulsory sales orders and reviewing the current ways land is bought and sold by the public sector.
Stopping the flow of vacant and derelict sites – corporate social responsibility objectives should include the understanding that it is unacceptable to let land become derelict or left vacant indefinitely. Public funding should only be given to responsible landowners.
Creating plans to bring unused land back into use – landowners should identify buildings and sites that they might not need in the future and put plans in place to avoid the sites falling into disuse. To help with this, existing support for public sector asset disposal needs to be expanded.
Using the tax system to encourage landowners to repurpose empty commercial property – this will help prevent a new legacy of vacant and derelict land as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Establishing a national programme of investing in green infrastructure – to bring derelict land and buildings back into use in an environmentally friendly way that will support jobs and skills development and help rebuild community resilience. The programme should focus on urban green spaces, regeneration led by communities, low carbon housing and renewable energy, and it should be planned and funded over several years to attract long term investment. Local authorities should take responsibility for co-ordinating.
The Scottish Government should make a clear commitment to eradicating urban dereliction – put arrangements in place for keeping track of this goal and appoint a national co-ordinator to help achieve this.