Here’s a chance to take control of your community

Marco Biagi. Picture: Julie Bull
Marco Biagi. Picture: Julie Bull
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Every community in Scotland is unique. A town in West Lothian has different needs, issues and priorities to a village in the Highlands.

The Scottish Government is committed to helping to address any inequalities and disadvantages communities face – but different areas need tailored solutions.

This week, the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill marks a major step in our drive to decentralise decisions and give people a stronger voice to take control of their future. The Bill, expected to be approved by Parliament on Wednesday, gives communities more opportunities to take direct ownership of land and buildings than ever before.

It builds on the appetite for engagement and participation we saw in the referendum.

There are many trailblazers already out there. Initiatives such as Cassiltoun Stables in Glasgow show community ownership can take the energy of a place to new levels, creating jobs and services – here, a community hub and childcare facility.

There are countless other examples, like Elgin’s Out of the Darkness Theatre Centre, in the process of taking over Moray Council’s former office, or in Galashiels where the community has come together to transform a derelict, but beautiful, church into an arts venue.

This bill will make it easier for others now to follow.

One key part of the bill is that local authorities and public bodies will have a statutory duty to weigh up the benefits of transferring their land and buildings to communities. Instead of waiting to be offered something, the community will gain the right to come forward proactively.

It means an old school or office that has been abandoned for years could be transformed into a sports hall, or a community shop, say.

Communities will also gain more rights to take over abandoned private land in both urban and rural areas. They could use these powers to transform a neglected wasteland from a dumping ground into a community garden, or they could bring empty shops back into use.

By giving communities the powers and confidence to shape their own futures, inequalities can be addressed by the people who best know the solutions. Consider the opportunities of this bill for your community.

Marco Biagi is Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment