On the day that the Scottish Land Commission opens for business it is relevant to publish the statement delivered to the Applecross Trust last week. Over the month I have had little input as I have tended to agree with most of the direction of the Group. As I have said many times before patience is the name of the game and that has been in demand as most if not all in the statement has been tried time and again over the last decade. Maybe as it is coming from a wider group and does not deviate from what has been requested by the Community for years there will be a more positive response this time. Reactions have been mixed and already we have a “Not in my name” response but that is to be expected and is certainly a minority view. And as stated before there is much frustration in the Community at the barriers that prevent any sustainable development. We await with great anticipation to the response against a background of slowly but inexorably moving Scottish land politics that are attempting to redress the imbalance of Communities taking decisions on their own survival with no access to land.
Applecross Community Working Group – Interim Statement 28th March 2017 THE WORKING GROUP
We recently formed a group of eighteen volunteers, to work on behalf of the wider Applecross community. The group includes representation from all key community organisations. We aim to provide a balanced and objective assessment of the current needs, and broad future aspirations, of the Applecross community.
The Working Group welcomes the Trust’s ongoing process of consultation with the local community over a new estate plan, and in particular the recent related initiative to help create a Community Shared Vision. We believe that a stronger and more progressive relationship between the community and the Trust could be very beneficial for both parties.
The Working Group met four times in March. This resulting interim statement and the eventual Community Shared Vision document will be made available to the wider community for comment.
OVERVIEW OF DISCUSSIONS
The Working Group meetings have been dominated by two key issues: “Better Communication” and “Access to Land”.
The Working Group believes that the new Community Shared Vision will only be delivered if there is greatly improved communication between the community and the Trust. The Working Group is keen to see improved communication between all the key organisations in the community for the same reasons.
The Working Group would also like to increase Trust awareness of activities and capacity/ambitions within the community. In turn, the group would welcome a similar approach from the Trust.
ACCESS TO LAND
The Applecross community stands at a critical juncture. There is a widely held feeling, and hard evidence to support it, that the Applecross community is slowly losing vitality and viability. We have a population skewed heavily towards people aged 60 and over, with a small number of working-age residents. The Primary School roll at 8 has reached an all- time low. Homes being sold are generally beyond the budget of community members and bought by non-residents, hence the percentage of holiday homes continues to rise.
In the face of this, the Working Group believes we need to create additional high-quality employment opportunities and more options for affordable homes for full-time residents. New affordable housing requires suitable land on which to develop – the Trust has a role to play here. A number of employment opportunities could be created, and we believe the Trust could help us in various ways. In particular, new business premises are likely to form a core part of a future employment strategy – access to suitable land and buildings will be crucial.
Severe pressures on funding mean local authorities and the national government are looking for remote communities to deliver local services themselves. The public toilets, the petrol pumps and the broadband provision are already provided by the Applecross Community Company, and the proposed development of housing for the elderly on NHS land beside the GP’s surgery provides another example. In the future we may have to deliver additional projects like these, and we typically need to access grant funds directly as part of the process. Community ownership of assets/land is increasingly becoming a precondition for accessing central government grant funding and there is currently the opportunity to acquire land at commercial value. In tandem with housing solutions, owning land would allow the Applecross community to adapt and evolve with change and increase its resilience while shaping and aspiring to an economically sustainable future.
THE NEXT STEPS
The Working Group recognises that the issues will take time to resolve, through discussions between all key stakeholder organisations, and that new issues will continually present themselves. However, the group is also clear that we must make positive progress in the next few months to keep up the momentum.
The Working Group plans to work towards a Community Shared Vision and will also provide the Trust with feedback on an early version of the new estate plan, once it has been drafted. In addition the group will spend time considering how to form a more permanent discussion forum.
FEEDBACK FROM THE TRUST
It would be very helpful if the Trust could respond at this stage to our Interim Statement, and also reply to the questions listed at the end of this statement.
Prepared by: Applecross Community Working Group Date: 29th March 2017
FORUM: We want our temporary Working Group to develop into a permanent Discussion Forum for Applecross, at which challenges facing the community can be discussed and potential solutions identified. Would one of the Trustees be willing to become a member of this forum alongside other key stakeholders?
LOCAL REPRESENTATION: Is the Trust willing to allow a member of the proposed Discussion Forum to attend Trustee meetings and play a role in feeding in the views of the community, and reporting back to them?
MEETING TRANSPARENCY: Could the Trust publish the minutes of its Trustee meetings so that the community understands more about how it makes decisions? We will encourage community organisations to do likewise for the Trust.
TIMELINES FOR DECISIONS: Could the Trust consider ways to streamline and speed up decision-making in relation to community matters, and set out clear timelines for Trustee responses, to help us deliver our Community Shared Vision?
TRUST STRUCTURE/GOVERNANCE/OPERATIONS: Could the Trust advise the community in advance of any noteworthy changes to structure, governance or operations it is proposing to make? We will encourage community organisations to do likewise for the Trust.
TRUST MEMBERSHIP: Is it possible, in principle, for local residents to become members of the Applecross Trust?
LEGAL POSITION – OBJECTS: Is it possible for the Trust’s objects to be amended (e.g. to include reference to helping support community development)?
LEGAL POSITION – LAND: Are there legal restrictions on the Trust selling land or buildings to community organisations or local businesses to help deliver the Community Shared Vision?
LAND ACCESS FOR COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS – Could the Trust confirm that it is willing to engage with the relevant agencies with a view to selling land to provide a community asset base for future community projects?
LAND SALES REGISTER – Could the Trust produce a register of plots of land it is currently (or in the future) thinking about selling for business or residential development, to enable local organisations and people to explore future potential?
BUSINESS ASSET REGISTER: Could the Trust produce a register of all buildings currently leased (or planned for leasing in the future) to businesses and confirm lease expiry dates, to help local business and community organisations understand the potential for premises to become available in the future?
HOUSING POLICY: Could the Trust produce a written policy on housing, describing the process by which people apply to become tenants of Trust property and how decisions are made on who gets a lease and for how long? Also, as part of this, could it confirm if rental property is likely to be sold in future as it currently forms a crucial element of the rental stock for working age people and families?