Fresh right to buy row hits landowners

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Landowners have responded angrily to suggestions that allowing tenants the absolute right to buy their farms should be part of a wider review of tenancy legislation.

They have also poured scorn on suggestions that the UK parliament look at other aspects of landowning in Scotland.

Their first broadside came after NFU Scotland wrote a wide ranging letter on farm tenancies to Scottish farm minister Richard Lochhead urging politicians to move “beyond the headlines of dispute in the tenanted sector”.

Union president Nigel Miller said he believed there should be changes to existing legislation such as having a more affordable, fast-track dispute resolution system for tenants along with the introduction of “attractive, medium and long-term vehicles of land tenure, including share farming, to ensure new and developing businesses can gain a foothold in farming”.

All too often, he claimed, tenancy problems hit the headlines underlining tensions of under investment in holdings and generally developing a culture of short-termism in the sector.

But the union then suggested that an absolute right to buy had to be part of the wider debate and that triggered an angry reaction from Luke Borwick, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates

“The absolute right to buy [ARTB] has been roundly rejected by landowners and tenants alike who want to see a vibrant tenanted sector. If we want to give new farmers a chance then the nettle of ARTB should be grasped and it should be removed from the dialogue. It is not helpful to continue to refer to it as part of the debate.”

Borwick also took issue with the union’s suggestion that tenants without family could assign the tenancy for value in the form of a fixed-term tenancy on the basis that the landowner interests were safeguarded by a pre-emptive right to buy.

According to the union, this initiative had the potential to provide tenants a route to retirement with a value from their tenancy, while maintaining a significant land-bank for new long-term tenants with an incentive to invest in their farm.

But Borwick claimed tenant farmers already had extensive rights to assign leases to family members.

“Assignation for value will not help new entrants to farming either as it will not mean more land being available to them,” he said. “What will happen in reality is leases will be assigned to existing farmers. These options will be to the severe detriment of Scottish farming rather than being solutions.”

He also threw back a suggestion from Dr Jim Hunter, a former member of the Scottish Land Reform Review group, and several others wanting a review into land ownership by a Westminster committee as “bizarre.”

“The vast majority of landowners in Scotland are doing a first class job day in, day out, working as part of their rural communities and often running businesses in a tough environment. We believe such an investigation is unnecessary and unwarranted”.