A new Compulsory Sales Order (CSO) power could tackle the blight of abandoned buildings and parcels of vacant and derelict land in town centres and communities across Scotland, according to a report published by the Scottish Land Commission (SLC).
The proposed new power would provide planning authorities with a mechanism to bring sites and buildings that have been unoccupied and/or derelict for an undue period of time, and where this is having a detrimental impact on the surrounding community, back into productive use.
Communities and local authorities already have a number of policy instruments – including compulsory purchase orders – which can be used to help regeneration. However, these policies require a clear plan in place as to how the land or building in question would be used. In many cases, local authorities and communities do not have a specific end use in mind for problematic sites but simply wish to see them used for some productive purpose. Resource constraints may also deter local authorities from pursuing a compulsory purchase action.
Although recent right to buy legislation would provide a potential route for bringing sites back into productive use, restoring some sites would be complex and technically challenging and, often, there is no desire on the part of the local community to take on such a project (see our Real Estate’s team’s recent article).
Whilst the SLC’s suggestion is that CSOs could be part of a toolkit to bring unused land back into productive use, the report states that a CSO would be used as a power of last resort and that councils and land owners should work together to try and find solutions first. As a CSO would involve the state directly interfering with an individual’s property rights by forcing a sale of the relevant property, the public interest in doing so must clearly outweigh the cost to the individual. Examples of the types of sites that might be tackled using the new power include sites such as empty homes, abandoned shopping centres, derelict hotels, gap sites and abandoned or derelict commercial buildings.
The SLC suggests that the real strength of CSOs lies in the role they could play in facilitating constructive dialogue between local authorities and owners of problematic sites. Certainly, in some situations, the serving of a preliminary investigation notice in relation to a site could incentivise an owner to take action.
The Scottish Government has committed to bring forward CSOs during the course of the next parliament and the SLC report is intended to provide the Scottish Government with a robust framework to do so. Clearly, any mechanism which could facilitate the redevelopment of vacant or derelict brownfield sites is to be welcomed, but it remains to be seen how Scotland’s already under-resourced planning authorities would be able to deal with the new opportunities should the SLC proposals be introduced.