A NEW law would impose limits on how much land private owners can hold in Scotland under plans set out in a landmark
report published yesterday.
In one of the most radical shake-ups of land ownership rights in decades, councils would be handed powers to force the sale of vacant or derelict plots of land, under the controversial plan.
The proposals from the Land Reform Review Group launched by Alex Salmond are aimed at transforming Scotland from a nation owned by the few to a country owned by the many.
But Tory rural affairs spokesman Alex Fergusson, a land-owning farmer himself, last night said: “The recommendations that there should be a limit on how much land anyone can own coupled with the suggestion of a land tax will strike fear in the heart of every single land-owning Scot, whether they own 10 acres or 10,000.”
The plan was also attacked as “state-centred” by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, which warned it would lead to a sharp decline in investment.
But as battle-lines were drawn early, Labour warned that the plans “must not be kicked into the long grass”.
The review group, which was set up by ministers in 2012, is urging the Scottish Government to be “radical in its thinking and bold in its action”.
The report makes 62 recommendations it says are “reforms in the public interest which promote the common good”.
There should be “an upper limit on the amount of land in Scotland that can be held by a private landowner or single beneficial interest”, the group said.
Scottish ministers “should develop proposals to establish such a limit in law” as part of the package of reforms set out in the report, The Land of Scotland and the Common Good.
It also calls for local authorities to have the right to exercise a compulsory sale order over vacant or derelict land, and for community councils or other local groups to be able to ask the council to do this.
The group said there was “a clear need to update Scotland’s system of compulsory purchase” with minister and councils needing new powers to force the sale of land where it is felt to be in the “public interest”.
The 260-page report also backed the creation of a Community Land Agency to begin negotiations between landowners and communities, with the goal of achieving a “significant increase in local community land ownership”.
But Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “While some of the proposals are sensible, there is no denying this is a state-centred programme of recommendations which, if implemented, would greatly discourage private investment in Scotland.”
Douglas McAdam, chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates, suggested the plan to cap land ownership and force owners to sell could lead to legal challenges in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
He said: “The report contains a very negative view of landowners. The suggestion that communities could enforce the sale of land against an owner’s wishes is completely unwarranted and we suspect would struggle to meet ECHR requirements.”
The review group also called for properties owned by the Scottish Government, local authorities and other public bodies to be listed in online registers. It also said local government taxation “needs to be modernised” and that “serious consideration” should be given to introducing a system of land value taxation, which could be an alternative to the council tax.
The review group backed a shake-up of the Crown property portfolio, saying that ending the Crown Estate
Commissioners’ involvement in Scotland would “deliver wide-ranging benefits”.
The plan represents the most far reaching attempt to change the law on land rights since the 2003 Land Reform Act enshrined the right of access to the countryside and the right of rural communities to buy land in their neighbourhood. Environment minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “We will study the report in depth and consider its recommendations.”