Land reform bill branded “laird bashing”

Scottish Land and Estates have voiced fears that land reform plans are about 'giving lairds a bashing'. Picture: PA
Scottish Land and Estates have voiced fears that land reform plans are about 'giving lairds a bashing'. Picture: PA
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Controversial moves which could see landowners forced to sell-off major parts of their estates to local communities should be made even more radical, MSPs have said.

Holyrood’s rural affairs committee says the planned threshold for sell-offs is too high and should made easier to implement. But it has met with angry reaction from Scottish Land and Estates who have voiced fears the Bill is about “giving lairds a bashing.”

“The Bill could be in danger of becoming more about inflicting punitive measures on landowners rather than about meaningful reform to benefit all,” said spokesman David Johnstone.

Concerns about a lack of evidence on plans to end business rates exemptions for shooting and deerstalking estates have been highlighted by MSPs, with the report calling on ministers to provide a thorough analysis of the possible economic, social and environmental implications.

Plans to make details of land ownership more transparent and accessible, as well as getting communities more involved in decision-making will need to be altered to ensure “they will deliver the radical changes needed on the ground”.

The committee stressed the Bill should be “bold in its ambition and clear in its purpose”, adding that it “needs to deliver a rebalancing of the rights of people and property, and to tackle the current unhealthy balance of power, so that everyone in Scotland can have an improved relationship with, and connection to, the land on which they live and work”.

But Mr Johnstone said: “Any attempt to make the Bill even more radical than it already is, will not help achieve the aim which is surely shared by us all – improving the prosperity of rural communities and the people who work in them.

“We have raised concerns about the lack of clarity and detail in the provisions that would give Scottish Government Ministers the right to enforce the sale of land and we do not agree with the committee’s view that the thresholds for enforced sale could be too high.

“We support community ownership where there is a willing seller and buyer but strongly believe that enforced sale of land as detailed in the Bill runs a serious risk of breaching an individual’s property rights. We are extremely disappointed that the committee suggests it should be easier to enforce the sale of well managed land.”

Rural affairs committee convenor Rob Gibson said MSPs support many of the measures in the Bill.

But he added: “In our view, some parts as drafted require more work to deliver their ambitions.

“Key issues - such as improving transparency on who owns, controls and benefits from land, making the rent review process fairer and more transparent, and creating a better environment for investment in holdings by both tenants and landlords - require either further consideration or more detailed explanation.”