Tackling urban land vacancy through urban land reform 

Almost 11,000 hectares of urban land in Scotland are vacant or derelict; 47% of that has been so for almost 20 years. This legacy is disproportionately concentrated in deprived areas and is linked to debilitating social issues such as poor health and unemployment. From 2014 onwards, Professor David Adams’ research—which highlights the extent to which urban land vacancy obstructs sustainable economic growth—has played a pivotal role in informing national policy debate.  

Photo of an empty urban spaceIn the UK, local authorities cannot easily bring about positive change on vacant and derelict land, unless it is in their ownership. In principle, Compulsory Purchase Orders could be used to achieve this. However, as Adams’ earlier research showed, local authorities are reluctant to initiate Compulsory Purchase Order action for administrative, financial and legal reasons. Adams’ proposed ‘Compulsory Sales Orders’ (CSOs) have the potential to provide a more direct and simpler solution to owner of neglect vacant and derelict land, especially where local authorities do not wish to be over-prescriptive on the precise form of preferred re-use or redevelopment. This could enable land vacant for an undue period of time to be sold by public auction, preventing landowners with unrealistic price expectations from keeping land vacant indefinitely, and making development more viable. Professor Adams’ research has informed plans to operationalise CSOs in Scotland, with the Scottish Government committed to bringing the proposal forward for legislation.