LAND reform could bring as big a change to Scotland’s towns and cities as it has brought to parts of the Highlands and islands, according to a new study.

The report from the umbrella group Community Land Scotland points out that urban community land ownership is still in its infancy – so far there are only two local communities that own land. A further 17 own or are buying buildings, and 13 more are trying to buy land. But the study says: “It has the potential to be as transformative for towns and cities as it continues to be for rural communities. Urban community land ownership has the potential to create places that people want and can afford to make their home in the long term.”

Legislation changes extending the community right to buy to urban areas are one reasons why ownership is expected to grow. This means local community groups can register an interest in a site and if it comes up for sale, be first in the queue to buy it.

Another change is the extension of the Scottish Land Fund, a £10-million- a-year fund from the Scottish Government to help community buyouts. Previously only available to communities of fewer than 10,000 people, now all communities in Scotland can apply. The report adds: “Many rural communities have used land ownership to reverse depopulation. In urban areas, we hope that land ownership will help people stay in areas where rising property and land prices are forcing individuals and groups to relocate or where quality of life is being affected by loss of green space.”

It also says it could help areas suffering from economic decline, where people have to move away to find work. Researcher Jasmine Chorley, who wrote the report, said: “I expect to see more buyouts, especially as people go through the pipeline of the Scottish Land Fund and are then able to make their purchases. We are hoping to see the kind of big changes that have taken place in the Highlands and islands taking place in urban areas as well.

“In the Highlands and islands there have been many benefit of community land ownership. A big one is population retention, providing jobs and opportunities and housing.

“While challenges in urban areas are different, the potential of community land ownership to help in terms of town-centre regeneration, especially in former industrial areas, is quite promising, as well as helping in the housing market and community cohesion. There are a lot of intangible benefits as well.”

One group that has already accessed the Community Land Fund is Easthall Residents Association from the east side of Glasgow. It has won around £65,000 from the fund to buy two old school sites. They will be transformed to provide sports and leisure facilities for the area, which is the third-worst in Scotland on the index of multiple deprivation, and has been blighted by unemployment and social problems. Project co-ordinator Andy Gilbert said: “There will be seven-a-side football pitches, tennis courts, an adventure playground, a BMX track and a running track.

“All the facilities will be those that have been suggested by the community. The training and employment project we want to deliver here will create 45 training places for people aged 16 to 25, the most marginalised members of our community. They will deliver the leisure facilities and hopefully it will push them into employment opportunities in the future.”

Rachel McCann, chair of the association, said: “This will bring in things that folk can’t afford to get to outside the area. It will make this place as good as any other – it’s a complete transformation.”

Chorley’s report says effecting change will not be without difficulties: urban communities face challenges including high land values; low awareness of community land ownership; and difficulties in getting support for buyouts.

But she says awareness could be improved, better support provided, and policy could be more “joined up” at a national and local authority level.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “For community empowerment and asset transfer to work there needs to be help and support for community bodies. That is why we fund the community ownership support service, to support community-based groups in Scotland take a stake in or ownership of previously publicly owned land or buildings. In addition, the Scottish Land Fund supports communities with grants of up to £1m to help them take ownership of land and buildings and provide practical support to groups to develop their ideas into viable projects.”