THE SCOTTISH Government will publish its long awaited Land Reform Bill in this parliamentary session *. Sweeping reforms will include a proposal that ministers have greater power over land sales including some large family-owned farms.
The SNP said, “Our land is one of our key resources in Scotland, and we should harness and work with it in a way that is green, fair and sustainable. Private ownership of land – particularly at scale – has historically afforded significant privilege to those who own it – hereditary titles, wealth, and the ability to influence policy and law. Land is a vital resource that underpins the wealth and the wellbeing of Scotland as a whole, so in our mission to tackle inequality, land reform really matters.”
Mairi Gougeon, the rural affairs and land reform secretary, told The Times that new legislation would help ensure large land holdings operated in the public interest.
She said, “Our new land reform bill will improve transparency of land ownership, help ensure large-scale land holdings deliver in the public interest, and empower communities by providing more opportunities to own land and have more say in how land in their area is used.”
A Scottish government consultation last year suggested a new public interest test for land sales involving more than 3,000 hectares, although a new private member’s bill published by the Labour MSP, Mercedes Villelaba, suggests that the limit should be 500 hectares.
Villelaba said, “My aim is to tackle the high concentration of land ownership in the hands of so few to ensure that Scotland’s land serves the needs of the many. The extremely high concentration of land in the hands of so few severely limits access to affordable homes, stifles job creation, increases land prices, and harms the environment.” She said that crofters, most farmers, allotment holders, and other small-scale landowners will fall below the limit.
Rachael Hamilton, the Scottish Conservatives’ rural affairs spokeswoman, said “Any legislation must be balanced with a common-sense approach that doesn’t disadvantage farmers and land owners trying to plan for the future. “
The Scottish Government has already launched a Scottish Land Fund, which currently offers grants of up to £1 million to help communities take ownership of the land and buildings that matter to them, and implemented legislation to extend and improve community rights to buy, including a right to buy land to further sustainable development.
N.B. Corrected on 6th September. Original copy said that the Land Reform Bill would be published ‘this week’.