Kate Forbes MSP says community land ownership is a means to reverse Highland depopulation

Community land ownership in the Highlands is a means to an end – enabling people to stay and attracting new residents – Kate Forbes MSP will say in a keynote address later this week.

Addressing delegates at the annual Community Land Scotland conference, which this year takes place at Sabhal Mor Ostaig on the Isle of Skye, the Highland MSP is expected to praise current initiatives to support community ownership but highlight that it is what communities do with their ownership that can really make the difference.

The constituency MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch will also say that land reform is well supported in terms of financial and legal powers but so often it is the same, few volunteers who spearhead changes in local communities and they need support, training and guidance too. 

Kate Forbes MSP is expected to say: “Land reform is a means to an end – an end where communities are in control of their own destinies. Time and time again I see examples of communities being thrown this way and that because they don’t have a stake in a significant local initiative, in local land or in other local assets. 

“But, equally, community ownership itself is never the final destination. It is about what you do with land reform or community ownership that really matters. To achieve that, we’ve got to support communities with the expertise, guidance and advice they need. Too often, we provide the funding and the legal powers but forget that volunteers get tired and worn down. In communities across the land, there are a handful of individuals who are always in the driving seat and they deserve thanks and gratitude.  

“That is why organisations like Community Land Scotland are so critical, because they equip and support communities at different stages of their journey to ownership.

“For the Highlands to thrive, we need to support interventions that will really act as a catalyst for a thriving population. That has got to include land reform, but that has got to go in tandem with other forms of support. If land reform is the bedrock, then housing, infrastructure and connectivity are the building blocks of a sustainable community.

“Every community is different, and the notion of community ownership means that local owners can respond to local need. In some communities, they’ve been doing that for years. Elsewhere, they are just starting. I think that the saying, ‘proceed until apprehended’ should apply to local ambition and aspiration and communities don’t realise how powerful they truly are. It is, of course, never straightforward but ultimately communities have the powers, they can access funding and all they need are the people and the passion for change.”

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