A PANEL of experts want councils to more easily take control of derelict land while tax laws should be strengthened to give Scotland’s 11,000 hectares of unused wasteland a new lease of life.

A blueprint has been drawn up to bring vacant and derelict land across Scotland back into use – amid a call for landowners to plan for sites they will not use in the future to avoid them lying empty.

The Vacant and Derelict Land Taskforce has penned 13 recommendations to the Scottish Government to tackle the problem – stressing that making it easier for previously-developed sites to be re-opened can help boost Scotland’s recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

The recommendations include a new compensation programme so that the loss of biodiversity from building taking place on greenfield sites is made up for by improving derelict sites. Ministers have also been told to providing cash for communities to redevelop small derelict sites that are causing harm to communities.

The taskforce has called on the Scottish Government to reform the tax system to incentivise landowners to repurpose empty commercial property in a bid to halt a new legacy of vacant and derelict land as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The experts believe Scotland should set up a national programme of investing in green infrastructure to bring derelict land and buildings back into sustainable use – with a focus on urban green spaces, regeneration led by communities, low carbon housing and renewable energy.

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Local authorities should be given responsibility for coordinating the strategy and the project should be planned over several years in a bid to attract long-term investment.

Taskforce chair and Scottish Land Commissioner, Andrew Thin, said: “Scotland’s legacy of derelict land reaches into all communities, but our research shows that it is areas of most economic disadvantage that have the greatest concentration.

"These sites could instead be assets for their communities, providing much needed greenspace, growing space, community facilities, housing or businesses.

“Our recommendations require commitment from every level of government, as well as public and private organisations and landowners. The proposals not only call for a commitment to responsible practice by owners but recommend using planning guidelines, tax laws and other actions such as compulsory sales orders to halt the practice of leaving land unused."

He added: “We must see urban land as a reusable resource, one that can be brought back into viable life to the betterment of local communities and the wider economy.

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“Our recommendations call for a national approach to tackling vacant and derelict land and to stem the flow of new sites. We need to make it unacceptable for land to be left to fall into disrepair. Scotland cannot afford to ignore this land any longer and as the pandemic changes the way people work and shop, we cannot let it happen again.”

When the Gartcosh Steelworks closed in 1985, with the loss of 700 jobs, it was earmarked as a regeneration project for North Lanarkshire. The site secured planning permission in 2002 and the land was cleared in preparation for new development.

But the only building on the vast site remains the Scottish Crime Campus as further development stalled. Fusion Assets bought part of the site five years ago and helped by funding from the Scottish Government's Vacant and Derelict Land fund, has attracted investors from the private sector.

The panel has insisted that aims around corporate and social responsibility should include an understanding that it is unacceptable to allow land to go to waste – while public funding should not be given to irresponsible landowners.

Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said: “The coronavirus pandemic has been an unprecedented global crisis, with its effects felt most acutely in local communities. It has also highlighted the urgent need to ensure that our recovery from the pandemic is a green recovery focused on wellbeing.

“Tackling Scotland’s legacy of vacant and derelict land has always been a key objective, but our recovery from Covid-19 makes it even more important. Bringing these sites back into use can deliver multiple benefits such as providing space for housing, growing food and playing, as well as helping to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour, attracting more inward investment and improving people’s wellbeing, whilst supporting our transition to becoming a net-zero society.

“I welcome the Vacant and Derelict Land Taskforce’s report and look forward to working with the Scottish Land Commission and other stakeholders to discuss and develop detailed proposals based on its recommendations to help deliver a culture change in Scotland’s approach to vacant and derelict land.”