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Allotment consultation needs early response

19 Apr 13

How many more consultations before we see some action?

by Malcolm Combe

Land use is an emotive issue in many jurisdictions. Scotland is no exception. The Scottish Parliament has set about tackling the “land question” in a number of ways since its inception.

One aspect of (urban) land use that is still largely governed by pre-Holyrood legislation is the regime surrounding allotments. This dates back to the Allotments (Scotland) Act 1892 (as amended), which describes itself as “An Act to facilitate the provision of allotments for the labouring classes in Scotland”.

Under that legislation, a local authority has certain powers and duties in relation to land that is to be made available to residents of that local authority for let. For completeness, it can also be noted that part 3 of the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003 confers a discretionary power on local authorities, enabling an authority to do “anything which it considers is likely to promote or improve the well-being of (a) its area and persons within that area; or (b) either of those”. That power might encompass actions relating to allotments.

The current Holyrood administration has returned to the land question. In fact, it has done so with surprising regularity. First, there came the exploratory consultation on the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill (see Combe, “Rural lessons for urban conveyancing” (Journal, August 2012, 32)). Embedded within the 50-page questionnaire and the consultation document, the word “allotment” featured 16 times. As non-controversial statements go, it seems plausible that vibrant and properly used allotments can be part of community empowerment and renewal, so it seems proper allotments are part of this. In all, 447 responses to that consultation were received.

Then there came the Land Reform Review Group. In its call for evidence, a degree of overlap with the above consultation was noted, as follows: “Where you have already made a relevant submission in connection with the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill consultation, you may wish to refer to these responses in your LRRG submissions and indeed copy your responses – with additional comments as appropriate – to LRRG.”

Basically, the LRRG is not restricted to rural land. Urban land also matters. That would include the use of allotments, so again there is a certain logic in the overlap.

Now, we have a new consultation, on The Legislative Framework Governing Allotments. This opened on 15 April 2013 and snaps shut six weeks later on 24 May 2013. The executive summary of the consultation notes: “As part of our vision for strengthening Scotland’s communities, the Scottish Government brought forward a consultation (summer 2012) that explored the possible content of a Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill (CERB). This consultation specifically sought views on whether, and how, current allotments legislation may need to be changed. A separate consultation is now being taken forward that is seeking to explore further the ways in which the legislation relating to allotments may be amended. Your views will help us define more clearly what shape any future legislation in this area may take.”

In this short note, there is no place to consider whether there might be such a thing as consultation fatigue. That said, it might be that the Scottish Government will need to consider that issue if (or when) they receive a low response rate, or some very familiar looking, rehashed responses to this specific allotment consultation. It might also be recalled that the original consultation was just an exploratory consultation on community empowerment and renewal. More consultation will follow.

Time will tell what comes of all this, but it would not be unfair to surmise that proponents of reform would prefer the focus to be moved from talking about doing things to actually doing them. Scotland’s communities await further developments with more than a passing interest.

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