ORIGINALLY scheduled to take place back in March, the Scottish Forest & Timber Technologies (SFTT) Central Scotland regional meeting was finally held virtually on 27 October.

Welcoming some 100 attendees, Raymond Henderson, SFTT chair for Central Scotland, acknowledged the long delay: “Welcome everyone to what is now a virtual event, replacing the one that we had postponed from the 17th of March in Stirling, when we were all living in a different world.”

Given the extraordinary circumstances this year has presented, Raymond noted that the forestry sector should be proud of the way it has adapted.

The theme of the meeting is ‘Scotland is made for trees’, with a key element being the need for greater land availability. The importance of forestry as a land use has never been more in the spotlight and investment interest has never been higher, which, Raymond said, should bode well for industry.

“This means that there is no shortage of those out there looking to become forest owners or woodland creators. One of the challenges in meeting these new government planting targets and the investment aims of a lot of potential investors out there is supply.

“Where is the land going to come from?” asked Raymond, before passing over to Hamish Trench, chief executive of the Scottish Land Commission (SLC).

Speaking ahead of the publication of the SLC’s advice to the Scottish Government on Regional Land Use Partnerships, Hamish intended to give something of a preview of what that would entail.

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“I think we’ve got a real window of opportunity over the coming year to better join up the way land use decisions are made,” he said. Not only do we have clear climate change targets, a new Land Use Strategy and National Planning Framework are due to come into place next year, both of which together “can set a real agenda for spatial delivery of land use targets in Scotland”. Regional spatial strategies are also being developed and submissions are being made for post-CAP rural and environment funding.

In developing its advice, SLC has hosted online workshops, webinars, published an interim report, commissioned international research, and examined existing integrated land use initiatives.

Taking this into account, it has recommended that the partnerships are used to drive a collaborative approach to land use decision making in the public interest and to prioritise and target delivery of public funding to achieve land use objectives.

It is advising that around 12–15 Partnerships are set up, covering all of Scotland, which connect urban and rural areas based on the geography of planning authorities. “We think the logical starting point is to base them on planning authority areas, particularly so that they have traction and can join up with wider economic and spatial planning,” Hamish said.

It should be ensured that the partnerships comprise an appointed board so as to be accountable and sufficiently independent. Such a board would be drawn from three pools, Hamish said; public bodies, individuals with relevant industry experience, and community representatives. “We are proposing a three-way split in terms of how a partnership might be established, drawn from those three groups. That will need to be underpinned by a body and we think there is plenty of experience and lots of existing bodies in Scotland that could provide that underpinning accountability in actually setting up and running the partnerships.”

The SLC is also advising that the first partnerships be established in 2021 to test approaches and ensure partnerships are operational across all of Scotland ahead of the next Climate Change Plan (2023–2024) to meet the urgency of climate change targets. On this point, Hamish said: “There are parts of Scotland that are raring and ready to go, with a lot of experience already in place, but it will take two or three years to fully develop the approach and there is still quite a lot to work out in terms of the practicalities of implementation.

“I think this is something that has huge potential to develop and evolve, and we’re at the early stages of working out how this kind of approach could be put in place and what’s going to be effective,” Hamish concluded.

“It is clear from discussions over the past year that people have quite wide ambitions for what this kind of regional approach to land use decision-making could deliver in Scotland, and I think there will be some very interesting work ahead.”

The Scottish Land Commission’s recommendations are available in full at www.landcommission.gov.scot.

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