‘Land ownership is at the root of economic woes’

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THE vested interests of land ownership, coupled with the escalating price of land, is at the root of the economic ills of the UK, land ownership reform campaigner Andy Wightman claimed yesterday.

Speculation in land and the tying up of capital in inflated land values – starving the economy of financial resources – had triggered the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market which precipitated the banking crisis, Wightman told the annual meeting at Stirling of the Scottish Agricultural Arbiters and Valuers Association (SAAVA).

“All the money which could be used to boost the economy is tied up in inflated land values,” he said. “This is the reality behind the financial crash.”

It was difficult to engage in a rational debate about land ownership, he suggested, because of the vested interests of landowners, farmers, land agents, banks and the church.

“The pattern of land ownership in Scotland remains deeply problematic,” he said. “If we want to create a wealthier and fairer society, it is vital that the land is held more widely and the governance of Scotland’s natural resources is made more democratically accountable.”

Farm subsidies, he argued, were allocated in a very unequal manner and simply stoked up land prices to a level which could not be economically justified.

The top 10 per cent of farmers in receipt of subsidies in Scotland received £345 million – almost half the total subsidy pot of £710.4m.

A cap on individual farm subsidies – proposed by the European Commission but opposed by the European Parliament – could result in a clawback of £35-54m, which could help reduce the price of land and make it more affordable to a wider range of potential buyers, including new entrants to farming.

The result of the first survey into the occupation of agricultural land in Scotland, conducted by SAAVA and announced yesterday, has confirmed that the area of tenanted land is declining.

Only 33 per cent of previously let land is being re-let but none of the farms in the survey has been sold on the termination of the tenancy. Farms becoming vacant are either being taken in hand by landowners or they are entering into grazing agreements or contract farming arrangements. SAAVA president Martin Hall said it was difficult to draw conclusions from the first year of the survey but it would form a benchmark to compare results in the future.

“What is clear is that the tenanted land sector is shrinking but much of the land that is lost is then made available on other arrangements to farming businesses,” he said.