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Government seeks views on laws to transform land ownership in rural Scotland

Environment and land reform minister Mairi McAllan has revealed ‘transformative’ proposals (Jane Barlow/PA)
Environment and land reform minister Mairi McAllan has revealed ‘transformative’ proposals (Jane Barlow/PA)

The Scottish Government has unveiled “transformative” proposals to address long-standing land ownership concerns.

It is thought tackling the issue will help resolve the climate emergency, while empowering rural communities.

A consultation on the ambitious Land Reform Bill, which is expected to be introduced by the end of 2023, has been launched.

The plans aim to address the highly-concentrated pattern of land ownership in rural Scotland.

The proposed measures include the introduction of a public interest test for transfers of large-scale landholdings.

Owners of large holdings will be required to give prior notice to community bodies on their intention to sell under the plans.

And there will be a requirement on those seeking land-based subsidies to have the land registered in the Land Register, to ensure transparency around who benefits from the public funding.

Environment and land reform minister Mairi McAllan visited the Ecology Centre in Kinghorn, Fife, to formally launch the consultation.

The centre is a community-led charity that has been supported with grants from the Scottish Land Fund.

Ms McAllan said: “Land reform is a pervasive issue in Scotland. We have a strong record of progressive and innovative land reform – but this journey is not complete.

“We must continue to develop and implement land reform that addresses historical inequalities and, at the same time, we must rise to changing social, environmental and economic issues in contemporary Scotland.

“I recognise, and am fully committed to tackling, the adverse effects of scale and concentration of landownership – and empowering communities in the process.

“I am also clear that while investment in Scotland’s natural capital is vital to tackle the climate and nature emergencies, we must ensure that our people and communities are not disadvantaged and, indeed, can benefit.”

And she added “improving transparency” in land ownership will be a priority.

She added: “That’s why this summer we will be consulting on a wide range of transformative proposals – including our aim to ensure that the public interest is considered on transfers of particularly large-scale landholdings.

“The new bill will be a significant step forward in ensuring our land is owned diversely and is used in the public interest and to the benefit of the people of Scotland.”

Ailsa Raeburn, chair of Community Land Scotland, welcomed the consultation. She said: “We very much hope the new Bill encompasses a range of measures that effectively tackles the endemic issues of scale and concentration of land ownership and the adverse effects this has on local communities.”

The proposals from the bill are based on recommendations from the Scottish Land Commission (SLC).

Andrew Thin, chair of the SLC, said: “The Scottish Land Commission has been working over the last five years to provide a robust evidence base for our recommendations on making land work better in the public interest, highlighting the opportunity land reform can bring to Scotland and its people.”

Stephen Young, head of policy at Scottish Land and Estates, said: “Land-based businesses on estates and farms across Scotland play a key role in the rural economy.

“We hope that Government recognises private land businesses are playing a huge part in delivering first class land use in terms of agriculture, renewable energy, leisure, tourism, heritage and conservation as well as meeting the challenges of the climate change and biodiversity crisis.”

He added: “This new land reform Bill will be the third Bill of its type since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament.

“We support all different types of land ownership models and we already have legislation which helps communities acquire land where there is demand. We have also been long-standing supporters of transparency of ownership.

“As regards a public interest test on large-scale transfers of ownership, this is an issue that Government itself has said is extremely complex and will need to be considered in great detail.”

Chairman of NFU Scotland’s legal and technical committee, Alasdair Macnab, welcomed the consultation.

He said: “Land reform is a policy area which always raises concerns with our farmers and crofters and generates wider conversations around land use.

“Publication of the consultation is welcomed as it gives further information as to the direction that the Scottish Government intends to head.

“I am aware that a series of public meetings have been arranged and I urge our farmers and crofters to engage with these, to ensure that our voices are heard.

“Good and prudent land managers should have nothing to fear from land reform and, given the challenges to farmers and crofters currently, the importance of food production must be a factor in the debate.”