4. Findings from the workshops - 'Response'
Session B concentrated on the appropriate 'response' and in a similar way to Session A was split into two themes: 'Decision Makers' and 'Government Action'. The Decision Makers theme focused on who should be making decisions on land use and what role communities and different levels of government should have. The Government Action theme specifically looked at the role of government, the sorts of intervention government should be making and the methods by which government should seek to intervene in land use decisions.
Like section three, the analysis that follows is structured by theme and within each theme, by the questions that were asked of each group.
The discussions concerning our response to the changes that we face started by considering the issue of how we deal with change and who should be making decisions about land use. The information in the delegate pack that was provided to prompt discussion pointed to the way that land-use decisions are made at many levels and for a variety of reasons and that, while individuals often decide for themselves how to use and manage land, communities will often support or resist land use change, including built development. Participants were then asked to consider three questions and each is taken in turn:
- Who should be making decisions about land use?
- What voice do communities have in land-use decision-making?
- What sort of decisions might be better taken centrally?
Who should be making decisions about land use?
The discussions around this question appeared to be complex as different people seemed to be talking about different things. Some understood the question to be asking who should be making decisions about land management in the sense of the day-to-day, year-to-year management decisions. Others took a wider view and understood the question to be asking who should be making decisions about strategic land uses in the sense of land zoning for development. This ambiguity about 'land use' runs through the discussions as recorded by the facilitators.
The landowner/occupier should make decisions about land use but be constrained by regulation
For those that took a more focused view of the question and considered land management, the landowner or occupier was central. It was for the land manager to make decisions about land use. While these people recognised that it was not entirely for the land manager to decide on land use because their activities were circumscribed by regulation and governmental support regimes, they thought that it was ultimately for the landowner to make their decisions on the basis of their business choices.
"The landowner should make the decisions about their land, but be constrained by regulation, planning control, incentives etc. But every landowner should be responsible for the use to which he puts the land, taking credit (receiving subsidy) for the public benefits provided but also paying for the problems caused. This needs a proper way of measuring benefits and costs".
A preference for subsidiarity…
When the discussions referred to wider issues of land use, a common point made by participants was that decisions need to be made at as localised a level as possible. Many participants referred to the way that a one-size-fits-all approach to decision making would not work. There were many references to regionalised policy which tailored national policy to more local needs and there was reference to devolving powers to even more local levels.
However, several participants also tempered this local focus with an acknowledgement that, if all decisions were made locally, difficult decisions about unattractive developments might not be made. They acknowledged that national government has a key role.
…but acknowledging the need for input at different levels
Thus while there was a clear desire for local decision making, there was also a realistic acknowledgement that different interests at different scales have a legitimate concern. Many highlighted the need for some form of overarching framework that provides guidance on priorities, but which allows local flexibility. Others saw the need for national, regional and local interests in framing land use decisions. The recurrent issue, though, was a broad consensus about the need for some form of nested decision making with national government setting the framework for lower levels of governance:
"Decisions about land use should be taken at an appropriate scale - national, regional, local".
"Considered that a national framework with local flexibility and targeting could be effective. Two tier system was supported by many with some established targets to ensure delivery of biodiversity, climate mitigation measures etc. Should have some statutory basis. Need to be aware of local cultural sensitivities so local interpretation of national targets was important".
"A national strategic set of policies or a framework is required which will inform more detailed regional strategies or plans. These will in turn guide local decision making. Communities should have a voice in decision making - example given that locals can comment on a house extension but not on large scale forestry plantation"
It remains unclear, however, exactly what is being considered because this tiered approach to decision making could apply to both practical land management decisions and broader spatial or development strategies.
…and acknowledging the need for input from different interests
When the discussions referred to wider issues of land use, there was a consensus that many different people or actors have an interest in land use decisions ( e.g. landowners/occupiers, communities of place, communities of interest). One participant suggested that anyone that benefits should have a say in the way the land is managed and given that communities can benefit from tourism associated with particular landscapes, this opens up a broad array of interested parties.
A strong theme to emerge was that communities should have more influence in land use decision making:
"Communities should have a voice in decision making example given that locals can comment on a house extension but not on large scale forestry plantation".
People with appropriate knowledge should be making the decisions
A theme that emerged from several discussions was a sense of dissatisfaction with current decision makers. It was a sense of dissatisfaction born out of the practical experience of implementing decisions and a resultant feeling that the people making the decisions had no idea what the consequences of their decisions would be on the ground. From the comments captured in the discussion workshops, it is possible to suggest that many of the people that are actually managing the land feel that they are subject to decisions made by people without real knowledge of the practicalities of land management. There were, therefore, several comments suggesting that decisions should be made by those that live and work on the land i.e. the most knowledgeable according to the participants, and there were comments calling for decision makers to be better informed:
"Decisions should be made by those who live on the land".
"All decision makers should be appropriately and fully informed (scientifically, practically, in terms of consultation etc). If consultants are used for studies etc they should also be fully informed".
What voice do communities have in land-use decision-making?
The discussion about the role that communities have in planning resulted in a wide range of issues being raised. Most discussions seemed to move from the question about the voice that communities do have in land use decision making to the question about what voice communities should have in decision making.
Communities do have a voice in planning
Some participants responded by stating that if we are referring to the development process, communities do have a voice in planning. Community councils were given as an example of the way that communities can have a voice in decision-making. They stated that these councils provide a forum that the community can make use of, should it so wish. However, they also noted that while community councils have power, people do not necessarily participate. The ability to contribute in consultations on local plans was also highlighted as a way that people in local communities can exercise a degree of influence in decision making.
Communities have less of a voice in land management but this varies by sector
Others highlighted that the extent of community involvement in land use decisions relates to what sort of land use decision is being considered. While many pointed to the established processes through which local people can provide comment on and feed into development, it was recognised that communities have a much more limited role in land management decisions made by owners/occupiers.
"Communities have a massive voice in the local plan (wide consultation), in local access groups, etc. But little formal voice in land use, agriculture, etc. What is needed is an understanding between the community and the people who manage the land - and this is in place in Orkney".
Although, by way of caveat, it was pointed out by some that the degree of community involvement in land management decisions varied by sector. Forestry was frequently cited as a sector that allowed communities significant involvement in comparison to agriculture.
Communities should have a voice in land use decision making
A point made frequently and across all workshops was that communities have an interest in land use and should have a voice in decision making. It was felt that the nature of the land use in their local area can actually be extremely important to the future of some local communities and consequently it was only appropriate that land managers should work with or consult communities.
"Communities have an interest even if they don't work on the land. They have an opinion which can feed into the decision making process".
"Some land use decisions are fundamental to the survival of the local community and therefore it is essential that the community is engaged".
Connecting with the preference for subsidiarity, this desire to see greater local involvement stemmed, in part, from a feeling of distance from decision making centres and a feeling that particular places are simply subject to decisions made far away without local considerations in mind. Achieving greater community involvement was seen as a way of getting more local knowledge into the process and ultimately ensuring that decisions were appropriate for particular places:
"The main point was the importance of opening the decision-making arenas to local people and taking local knowledge into account. This argument was justified by the perception that local people (or more precisely people who work the land) have more practical knowledge and different interests and values than policy-makers or commercial parties. As primary users of the land, it was justified that they should have a voice in any decision taken in relation to land-use".
But this desire to see communities more thoroughly involved in land use decision making did not simply refer to having a greater degree of influence on local decision making. There was also strong support for the idea that communities should have a greater say in national policymaking with several participants implying a reshaping of the relations between communities and the state:
"There were strong views that local decision making would provide the best solutions for local people and that local people should have involvement in national policy development. The example of the district decision making in Norway was given as a system that worked well and that Scotland could perhaps follow this model. Each region had autonomy over their budget".
"The capacity of local communities needs to be built so that there can be a proper partnership between those at the top (who set out the principles and make decisions of national importance) and those at local level who need to be empowered to make decisions on the land relevant to them".
Concerns about community empowerment
At the same time as many participants were arguing for greater community involvement in decision making, others were raising concerns about how that might work. There were several different dimensions to these concerns.
The ambiguity of community
Some participants apparently struggled with the idea of greater community participation because of the slightly diffuse nature of communities. They asked the question: what counts as a community? This was not a reference to the familiar distinction between communities of place and communities of interest; rather, it was a difficulty of mapping the notion of community onto particular places in the real world. These participants were aware that lots of people living in the same place does not necessarily make a community and struggled to reconcile that knowledge with the implicit sense of togetherness and commonality captured in the term 'community'. They are aware that the groupings of people that we commonly refer to as 'communities' (thereby implicitly imposing coherence) are actually often highly fractured and do not speak with one voice. They therefore struggled to see how a greater role for communities in decision making would work.
A democracy deficit?
The question of who gets to represent the community was also raised many times. Some expressed concern that the people that had the time to get involved in community groups tended to be economically inactive and were therefore less likely to accept the need for development. Others pointed to the way that 'urban' people that are new to an area tended to get involved and that they did not necessarily understand land management. There was therefore a significant concern that community representatives were actually unrepresentative and that new ways had to be found for engaging communities. The following quotes are illustrative:
"While participants recognised the desirability of involving communities in (relevant) decisions, they had concerns about how to do it. Communities are too often mis-represented by particular interest groups - and it's too easy to overlook people who don't put themselves forward".
"Councillors in many rural areas are urban people. If decisions are being made about rural land use, they must be made by people who understand the land. People outside the industry don't understand the industry".
'Communities' are not necessarily connected to the land
Relating to the comments about who is knowledgeable enough to provide input into land use decision making, several participants were concerned that people living in rural communities were disconnected from the land and community representatives potentially lacked the appropriate knowledge to provide appropriate input.
"There are difficulties with local residents having an influence on decisions about land use because very few have sufficient interest or knowledge in local rural activity. Few work on the land. The farmer or land manager should be the primary driving force because they have the knowledge, interest and a financial stake".
What sort of decisions might be better taken centrally?
There was considerable consensus that central government should take the strategic decisions that provided people at regional and local levels with direction, guidance and potentially targets, but which allowed those people enough freedom to choose how to implement practical action on the ground. There were two strands to these comments: 1) central government should provide the strategy with regard to how we as a nation will address different issues; 2) central government should provide some form of spatial planning that provides coherence to development.
The strategic decisions should be taken centrally
Linking strongly with the preference for subsidiarity and community empowerment, there was a consensus that central government should provide the strategic framework leaving people at a regional or local level to determine the best forms of implementation:
The Government should steer and set the policy context, while devolving delivery to more local levels.
Central government should make a basic framework for land use, within which local communities have a say on local detail.
And in the context of previously expressed concerns about the lack of joined-up government, not least because of the confusion that can result from conflicting policy goals, participants saw a clear need for the government to provide strategic clarity. Participants want to see clarity about the goal and direction: what do we want to achieve? What is our objective? Where do we want to take Scotland as a country and how are we going to get there? They also want to see clarity about priorities: what issues are most important? Where will the Scottish Government be focusing its resources? If it comes to a choice between two priorities, which one takes precedence? The following two quotes illustrate these points:
Empower local people living and working with a central framework with outcomes and objectives. Leave land owners and managers to implement. Need both carrot and stick.
There is a need for an overall vision - at national and regional level - to which communities can contribute - a kind of rural master strategy which sets the outcomes that land uses should deliver on.
Government should provide spatial co-ordination
In addition to the general agreement that central government should set the strategic direction for land use and allow local implementation, many participants wanted to see central government playing more of a role in providing high-level spatial planning to guide land use at the local level. This desire to see central government playing a more active role in orchestrating land use (which could be seen as slightly contradicting the preference for subsidiarity) comes from two different directions. The first is a perceived need for a more planned approach to the development of renewable energy developments. The present system that effectively leaves development to the market, with the development control system acting as the governmental process through which inappropriate development is prevented, was seen as lacking national coherence. Several participants wanted to see an overview that identified appropriate sites or areas and directed development from the beginning. The second driver for wanting to see a more spatially coherent approach to land use is a recognition of the conflicts that arise because of the multiple uses to which land could be put. Should we value peatland because of its carbon storage role or as a potential forest? Several participants wanted to see central government providing guidance on the best uses for different sorts of land on the basis of what the land could best be used for. This was seen as a way of overcoming some of the conflicts that arise, such as between forestry and hill farming. These quotes from the workshops highlight some of these points:
"A feeling that renewables - in particular - wind power could be used 'smarter' - need to have some form of mapping which shows where resources are".
"We need some element of zoning. Certain areas are better suited to sheep, forestry etc - therefore zone them. That said, beware additional bureaucracy. People just need a steer on some issues: any degree of zoning should reflect the local need for it".
"Spatial element to the Strategy is crucial to avoiding and solving conflict, particularly given that certain types of land and their localities lend themselves better to certain uses".
4.2 Government Action
The Government Action theme was the last topic for discussion and it specifically asked participants to consider the role of government (no particular level of government was specified). The information in the delegate pack pointed to the fact that the Scottish Government has a strategic interest in land use and in ensuring the widest 'public benefits' from Scotland's land. It highlighted that the Government has a range of tools through which it can influence land use and the delivery of public benefits, but also that its use of these tools needs to evolve to meet continually changing circumstances. The participants were therefore asked to consider the specifics of how some of those tools might best be used through the following three questions:
- Should government continue to pay land managers to deliver public benefits?
- Are there more imaginative ways to encourage land managers to provide public benefits from their land?
- Are we seeking to deliver the 'correct' set of public benefits, or are there other benefits that we should consider adding to the 'basket'?
Should government continue to pay land managers to deliver public benefits?
Yes, government should continue to pay land managers to deliver public benefits
There was considerable consensus that the government should continue to pay land managers to deliver public benefits. The support for this position did, however, seem to come from two different motivations. Some participants were supportive of the government continuing to pay for the delivery of public benefits because they saw it as a legitimate role of government. In paying land managers to deliver public benefits the government is simply seeking to maximise the positive benefits of land use for the Scottish people. For others, though, their support related to a more pragmatic appreciation that without support some current land uses would not continue:
"The purpose of government action should be to secure public benefits required from the use of the land, and to target public support accordingly. There was a feeling that we need a clearer view (and more consensus) about what these public benefits should be".
"Government should continue to pay land managers to manage the land - some land owners would continue to provide public benefit but many others would not without incentive".
But we need a review of the current system to ensure public benefits are being delivered
While there was significant agreement across the workshops that the government should continue to pay for the delivery of public goods, several participants raised issues that suggest that, while they are happy to see the continuation of payments for public benefits in principle, there are specific issues that need to be resolved. One of these relates to a concern that while the government is currently paying a great deal of public money to farmers and other land managers, the Scottish people are not necessarily being delivered with a commensurate amount of benefit. Thus some participants wanted to see an evaluation of the current structure of support and a review of the cost-effectiveness of the system as a means of delivering public benefits:
"We need an honest and open evaluation of whether current government support, especially for agriculture, really does deliver what Scotland needs as a whole and is it a cost-effective way of delivering it".
Several participants referred to the nature of the current system and how it appeared to them to be geared towards the larger farms with higher numbers of livestock and not necessarily towards the delivery of public benefit.
Whatever shape the support regime takes, it needs to be simpler…
A strong theme that recurred across the workshops was the complexity and bureaucratic nature of the current support regime. Many participants felt that any future support, whether it be for public benefits or straightforwardly to support land management, should be simple to access and flexible in its implementation:
"Whatever systems of government support are used, they need to be much simpler than they are at present e.g.RDCs and they need to be more flexible - one size doesn't fit all".
"To support rural communities and help them resist the sorts of declines identified in Theme 1, simple, flexible mechanisms are essential".
"Key Feedback point: It will be significantly more expensive to deliver if we don't pay land managers to deliver public benefits. Need a system that is simple to operate and deliver - reviewed/monitored on a regular basis".
…And it needs to provide long-term stability
Echoing prior concerns about short-termism in decision making several participants highlighted their preference that, while any future support for land management and the delivery of public goods should be simple and flexible, it should also provide stability. There were several comments about the way that support structures chop and change with funding streams coming to an end after a few years and how this can hinder business planning:
"It is more important to achieve long term stability and continuity of payments/subsidy than to change the options available or tinker with the rates. Stability will ensure increased take up by land managers".
We also need to be clear about what we mean by 'public benefit'
Responses to the question about public benefits, as recorded by the facilitators, suggest that participants were adopting a range of interpretations about what 'public benefits' are. Some reached agreement that 'public benefits' are things that society wants but which the market does not provide and many participants referred to biodiversity, landscape and access. In this sense, 'public benefits' comes close to the formal definition of a 'public good'. But others took a wider view and referred to land uses that benefit the public such as food production, energy production and carbon management. For these participants, because food is a necessity, its production is a benefit to the people; food production is therefore a public benefit. In their view, the fact that food production is increasingly driven by the market is a technicality because the main point is that land is used to provide us with one of our key needs:
"Food is the most important public benefit derived from the land, the public should be educated to understand this. Other key benefits are: biodiversity, public access and landscape".
"What are the public benefits - carbon/energy/food production - food is much cheaper now that historically"
"Better definition of Public Benefit is needed".
Different people take differing views on public benefits. This is an important observation from the discussion workshops because it suggests that it will be important to be clear in the draft land use strategy about the nature of these benefits and the government's role in ensuring their delivery.
Are there more imaginative ways to encourage land managers to provide public benefits from their land?
In answer to this question a range of suggestions were made.
Investment, not subsidy
Several participants referred to the need for catalytic investments that could be used to help establish projects that could potentially go on to become self-funding. Some participants, especially in the Western and Northern Isles, argued that government had an important role to play in kick-starting initiatives. They said that the problem was that there is not the capital or confidence locally to make some of the big investments; they said that the islands do not want subsidy, they want funding to kick-start some of the opportunities, which can then be self-sustaining:
"Government's role is to help people take advantage of opportunities by providing start-up funding, sharing success stories, providing advice".
Others referred to "clever ways to fund with grants, incentives, matching funding and working together with joint resources" and reference was also made to private sector sponsorship, particularly with reference to recreational facilities (the example given was that of private sector sponsorship of a section of mountain bike track, featuring jumps etc.).
Connections across government departments into health and law and order were also made with reference to Care Farming Scotland. Land shares/banks were also mentioned as a means of connecting urban and rural communities.
Government could help create new markets
"Government can also develop markets where there are none, e.g. for carbon".
Some participants referred to the potential role that government can play in establishing novel approaches such as markets for 'commodities' that currently have no price. The main example in this suggestion referred to the possibility of developing carbon markets. By putting a price on carbon it might be possible for land managers that currently get a very limited return from their moorland or peatland, to achieve a better return. The value of the benefit they are delivering to society would become more apparent because it would be ascribed a monetary value.
We should learn from others
Some participants referred to examples that Scotland could look to for ideas about alternative approaches.
"A suggestion was made of following an Irish example of producing a five-year action plan with targets which each farm would produce and follow to access funding".
"A French model for agricultural spend was suggested as worth considering. There is a pot of money, distributed amongst French regions. They have to power to decide how it is used. The message was that it seemed to work there; could a similar model work here in Scotland"?
Government could develop new delivery mechanisms
A couple of participants referred to the possibility of reviewing the nature of the delivery mechanisms and specifically to the possibility of shifting from the current 'pay for activity' approach to a 'pay by results' approach:
Should government continue to pay land managers to deliver public benefits? Yes, although the reasons for payment need to be altered. Grants and subsidies paid for inputs, it was proposed that a shift to paying for outcomes or public benefits may help to deliver more.
Are we seeking to deliver the 'correct' set of public benefits, or are there other benefits that we should consider adding to the 'basket'?
Discussions around this question appeared to be quite diffuse with several participants referring to how public money should be directed towards developments or projects outwith the focus of the question and with only a few participants providing concrete suggestions of new public benefits that should be added to the funding 'basket'.
Many participants referred to the need to continue supporting farming and there were also wider calls for support for rural communities, training for farm workers, support for new entrants, infrastructure in rural areas, support for maintaining building standards, funds to maintain local piers, support for new cycle paths and support to develop new allotments.
Several participants mentioned the need to explicitly recognise the connection between land management and communities. This comment picks up on some of the arguments that have been put forward during debates about the decline in livestock numbers i.e. as numbers decline so communities are at risk. Hence some participants would argue that paying money to land managers, and thereby keeping them on the land, keeps people in rural communities and therefore provides a public benefit.
Specific suggestions of public benefits that should be added to the basket included:
- Climate change mitigation
- Protection against sea level rise
- Animal transport/animal welfare issues - should be able to process closer to production
- Ecosystem services
One topic that did receive several mentions was ecosystem services. Several participants specifically referred to the concept of ecosystem services and the possibility of putting a value on these services or at least paying for the delivery of this type of public benefit:
"The land use strategy should look at ways to pay for ecosystem services".
"We should aim to balance all land uses via ecosystem services (including food and people), and develop payment structures to achieve this balance".
"Ecosystem services should lead the subsidy - crossing land uses as opposed to being sectorally driven and therefore isolated".
4.3 Regional variation
It was not readily apparent from the data provided that people in any one part of the country thought differently about the issues in the 'Response' session to people elsewhere.
Each workshop encapsulated a degree of variability in the sense that a wide range of points were raised and opinions voiced. In any one particular workshop some would articulate a belief that community land ownership was the way forward, but others would counter with examples where community ownership has struggled. Some would argue for the devolution of power and decision making to the lowest possible level, but others would argue for the continued involvement of central government. Yet whilst each workshop exhibited this variability, there was not a huge amount of variability between the different workshops.
It is possible to point to some hints at regional variation-for example, in Kirkwall there appeared to be a stronger desire for more local decision making and in Oban there appeared to be an enthusiasm for community land ownership-but these were not over-riding concerns and thus it is not possible to claim on the basis of these data that people in Orkney, for example, are especially strong advocates of more regionalised policymaking.
The apparent lack of regional variation in the discussions about decision making and about the role of government could be due to the way that the discussions were framed. The questions that were asked-such as 'what sort of decisions might be better taken centrally' and 'should government continue to pay land managers to deliver public benefits'-were either quite specific, leaving little leeway for variation, or they referred to relatively abstract issues such as the nature of government and the appropriate level of decision making. The questions did not leave a great deal of room for variation and interpretation.