Local authorities work every day in concert with other levels of government and local stakeholders. They have convening power due to their status as decision-makers, actors working for the public good, and implementers of collective aspirations and projects. They can use this position to organise concerted planning, dialogue and cooperation on land.

Organise coherent public action

Working on land requires combining different domains of public action. Organising collaboration between the services that deal with questions of habitat, environment, economy, urban planning or agriculture is key to bringing coherence in land policy and unlocking results. This can be achieved through a culture of regular meetings and cooperation, backed by clear and strong policy goals. Transparency of data and mapping is also helpful here to engage teams from across the authority. In addition, inter-services collaboration is better enabled by a creative organisational structure involving mixed teams, agile thematic work groups, external experts, and other ways to increase mutual understanding and establish new work habits.

Political backing for technical officers working on land is key, and vice-versa as implementation capacity is needed to carry out the political vision. An efficient officials/staff duo often makes a difference in the outcome of a dedicated land policy. You can also appeal to and cultivate a relationship with individuals who have multiple hats (e.g. a local authority staff member who is also involved in a local association, a council member who is also a farmer, etc.) to build a better capacity to understand and translate issues to different circles.

Finally, acting jointly with other nearby local authorities will enable coordinated support to farmers, joint management of land and nature (waterways, wetlands, etc.), and pooling political weight and means to realise your goals. Groupings of municipalities, for instance, can be the right level to hire a food or biodiversity officer with a perimeter of action larger than a single municipality.

--> Learn more about collaborating on public land with other public owners (see "Share" subsection).

Organise democratic dialogue on land

Opening the dialogue on land use can raise opposition from those who have more control over land markets (e.g. established farmers, corporate players, customary institutions…). This handbook suggests some gradual ways to give more space to the expression of a multiplicity of voices in land governance so as to rebalance power and create a more collective responsibility around the fate of farmland in your area.

Some suggestions to catalyse more democratic dialogue on land include:

  • Carry out a public survey on priorities. Ask for direct opinions from your constituents through a survey or voting process to decide on land actions. This will have many advantages, in particular: a clear direction, legitimacy, and increased interest and implication from your constituents.

  • Create a municipal commission on land or agriculture. Involve farmers, associations, and volunteer citizens in acting as receptors of demands related to agriculture and proposing solutions to elected officials. This commission can also be the contact point for farmers and new entrants and encharged of connecting stakeholders together, which will increase your capacity to both be aware of local needs and to meet them.

  • Carry out consultation in the establishment of policies affecting land. Whether you are updating the land zoning, creating a food strategy, or taking decisions to reduce pollution and manage risks, you can choose to diversify opinions consulted (going beyond the bodies traditionally involved in these processes). Through workshops, interviews, impact studies, for instance, you can incorporate feedback from beneficiary groups, land experts, consumers, and other relevant stakeholders.

  • Introduce land issues in existing participative/consultation circles. If you have existing committees – e.g. for rural development, for water management, etc. – or meetings – e.g. annual hearings, thematic public meetings –, you can propose to make farmland a more frequent topic on their agenda or pass along information on how the actions of specific committees may affect land dynamics.

  • Introduce more transparency about public action. To make citizens feel involved and take part more readily in policy processes about land, it is important to increase trust with local communities. Quality of government including transparency about the use of funds, accountability in following up on decisions, and result or indicator-based public action is sometimes a prerequisite for a more democratic dialogue on land.

Public consultations can be conflictual or seen as a place where constituencies express their dissatisfaction. You can consider different methods for consulting: reaching out to individuals, or groups of peers, or relying on “go-between” actors (who have multiple hats and/or a good knowledge both of the local actors and your local authorities’ goals). Consulting farmers is a priority, but in doing so a local authority must keep in mind the interests of larger, traditional farmers can be more audible and better represented than those of smaller ‘alternative’ farmers. Seeking the voices of “want-to-be'' farmers – future new entrants in agriculture – is also important if your projects are directed at them.

Glasgow establishes a participatory Food Plan and a process to transfer land assets to community groups

The city of Glasgow has created a Food Plan creation through a 10 year multi-stakeholder process, together with the Glasgow Food Policy Partnership - the body created to lead the plan’s preparation and implementation. Preparation of the plan included a public consultation which attracted 600 responses from individuals and groups. The Food Plan has resulted in increased links between community groups and the local authorities, which was possible due to the co-creation process. In its first year of implementation (the plan was adopted in June 2021), the city has managed to deliver most of the plan’s 55 short-term actions, such as increasing access to fruits and vegetables to low-income families, developing an awareness raising campaign (Good Food for Glasgow), and securing external funding for community projects.

In parallel, Glasgow is working to transfer some of its land assets to community groups. Having struggled to maintain five public golf courses and following a review in 2020, the Glasgow City Council closed them and included them in a process to explore public interest in taking over public assets. The Glasgow Community Food Network (GCFN) submitted an expression of interest concerning the Ruchill golf course, about 30ha of land. Joining forces with five other interested groups in the second stage of application, the GCFN aims to convert the golf course into a community enterprise integrating food production, processing and commercialisation with the development of an educational centre where people learn about sustainable food production (for instance through agroecology) while addressing issues of diversity, equality, health and community development.

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