A £10 million annual fund to help communities buy their own land has been announced by the Scottish Government ahead of a debate on new land reform legislation at Holyrood.
The Scottish Land Fund will continue until 2020 and support has trebled to £10 million a year.
Land Reform Minister Aileen McLeod urged communities to consider whether owning the land they live and work on could bring greater benefit for local people.
The previous Land Fund awarded £9 million over three years to 52 communities, with 90,000 acres purchased on top of the 500,000 acres already in community ownership.
Speaking ahead of stage three of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, Dr McLeod said: “The important thing is that communities are able to make the right choice for them in order to meet local needs and further sustainable development in their local area.
“This is why we have restructured the fund to ensure support is available to communities from the idea stages right through to project development.”
Labour has tabled amendments to increase transparency in the new register now being proposed by the Scottish Government.
Sarah Boyack, Labour’s environmental justice spokeswoman, said: “The SNP like to talk a good game on land reform but the reality is that it has been the Labour Party that has led the way in the consideration of this important piece of legislation.”
The Conservatives are expected to oppose the Bill amid concerns it will “disadvantage tenants, make it harder for new entrants and discourage owners of land from letting it, in direct contrast to the stated aims of the Bill”.
Alex Fergusson, the party’s rural affairs spokesman, said: “SNP plans for land reform across Scotland are rooted in ideology and will cost local jobs in rural communities.
“The proposals could lead to greater government interference in land ownership and an increase in the tax burden on rural businesses.”
Scottish Greens will press amendments to restrict ownership by companies using British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies such as the Cayman Islands.
Andy Wightman, land reform spokesman, said: “Scottish land should not be owned by companies using tax havens.”
The Scottish Wildlife Trust has backed measures to strengthen deer management provisions in the Bill.
But Scottish Land & Estates said landowners are being cast as “whipping boys in an increasingly hostile debate”.
Chairman David Johnstone said: “Unfortunately, the debate has become feverish and instead of the focus being solely on delivering what is best for rural Scotland, time and again we have seen raw anti-landowner sentiment come to the fore.
“This has led to increasing pressure on politicians to ramp up radicalism at a time when the Land Reform Bill was already going to produce legislation that would have far reaching and detrimental consequences for land-based businesses.
“We are now seeing the second Land Reform Bill being passed by the Scottish Parliament in little over a decade. Our members are not anti-land reform. We want land reform that brings about better use of land, rather than a tired, narrow debate that focuses only on who owns what.”