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First urban right to buy gets go-ahead in Scotland

Photo by Jon Davey photography

Edinburgh’s Action Porty has become the first urban community group to successfully use new right-to-buy powers.

The group has been given consent by the Scottish government for a community purchase of the former Portobello Old Parish Church and halls, which they plan to turn into a community hub.

Community right to buy powers have been used extensively across rural areas of Scotland since the 2003 land reform act, which allows communities a register an interest in land and the opportunity to buy that land when it comes up for sale.

The community empowerment act of 2015 extended those powers to larger urban communities and to buildings or land that had been neglected or abandoned.

The Portobello Old Parish Church and Halls had been redundant for some time when Action Porty put out a call to local residents to gauge interest in purchasing it for the community.

The right-to-buy legislation states that 10% of the local community needs to be in favour of any community purchase. The group launched a petition and a series of events to raise awareness and gained the initial support of 25% of the local population. A later ballot came back with more than 98% support for a community purchase.

Shauna MacDonald, a director of Action Porty, said: ‘Our group is the first successful urban community buy-out. We are focused on creating a community hub to which all are welcome. We’d like to see an affordable café based in the halls and for the building to become a venue for gigs and theatre and art as well as a space for local celebrations and community groups.’

The group was awarded a grant of £647,500 from the Scottish Land Fund to help them acquire and develop the property.

MacDonald said that Action Porty was lucky to have a well-informed and skilled committee to run the process.

‘There’s lots of time involved and government needs to understand the kind of support committees need’, she said.

Roseanna Cunningham, Scottish cabinet secretary for environment, climate change and land reform, said: ‘We are trying to encourage urban communities to think about using right to buy powers and we want to ensure people have the resources to take it forward. Many of the rural community buy-outs have come from communities without access to a range of skills but with highly motivated people who wanted to make it happen.’

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