John’s Speech in Justice Committee Debate on its Report of the Title Conditions (Scotland) Act 2003.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): In the small amount of time available, I intend to concentrate on the land maintenance issue and commend some of the evidence that we heard, which I will read to you:

“Our mission is to champion an industry committed to improving the quality of living in Scotland by providing this and future generations with properly cared-for open spaces where people want to live, enhancing the value of homes, and adding to the recreational and general amenity in each development.”

That came from Greenbelt, a company that has been mentioned a few times and a company—I will be generous—with which there was some confusion when initially I contacted it. I successfully made contact via the recorded delivery system of the mail, to broker a meeting with a constituent that was to take place with the site manager. Of importance there was familiarity with the site. My constituent, whom I contacted yesterday, told me that it was not particularly successful, given that the site manager had difficulty finding the house. That in itself suggests that there may be a lack of familiarity with the area.

From conversations with neighbours and others, it is clear that there are non-payment issues, performance issues, cases of people not being billed and uncertainty over ownership. Part of that, I think, comes down to what we might call performance management, and the issue of subcontracting also features.

At its outset, the committee report says:

“The Committee recognises the value in having in place an effective system to keep the country’s housing stock properly maintained.”

It is important for people to have avenues of redress and, in that respect, the Homeowner Housing Panel and the committee’s suggestion of mediation have both been mentioned in the debate.This legislation has been called complex—indeed, I believe that the convener called it “a bit tricky”—and, as a result, I went to the layman’s explanation as set out in the explanatory note to the 2003 act. It says:

“The Act achieves greater clarity in the law” because it implements “the recommendations of the Scottish Law Commission”.

Given Rod Campbell’s comments about the specifics of section 53, it is interesting that the issue will return to the commission. In fact, it is not only section 53 that requires to be clarified.

We had discussions with and heard differing views from some of Scotland’s leading academics. I also note the heavy caveat attached to Consumer Focus Scotland’s legal opinion, which says:

“we have reached the conclusion that it would be preferable in the consumer interest to clarify and simplify the legal position by amending the existing legislation.”

I do not have much time to cover other matters but I want to comment on John Lamont’s point about the Government’s response to recommendation 8, which Alison McInnes also mentioned in her speech. In that recommendation, the committee recognises “that green space has a wider benefit to communities and that there is a role for local accountability.”

I want progress to be made and am pleased that the Government agrees that one option is for local authorities to adopt and maintain the land. I commend Clackmannanshire Council’s approach in that respect, but I am disappointed that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities is not going to act on it. I would certainly favour such an approach. Indeed, I can think of a particular area in Inverness where, on one side of the street, there is a long-standing estate where the council is doing an excellent job of maintaining properties; on the other side, where residents are still paying their council tax, that is not the case. I am not being critical of Highland Council—it has been very supportive of the residents in the area—but I think that people should be able to look to their local authority for support and that there should be continuing involvement from authorities. Indeed,
that is how I want this issue to be progressed.