Landowners hitting back

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After a month where they have seemingly been on the back foot, with the absolute right to buy for farm tenants coming back on to the political agenda, Scottish landowners yesterday laid out their priorities for change in agricultural holdings legislation.

Their call for flexibility in letting land was not new, but the former convenor of the then Scottish Landowners Federation, Robert Balfour claimed there was more support for it now than when he led the landowners in the last negotiations a decade ago.

The current chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, Luke Borwick, backed him, saying: “Flexibility and opportunities for freedom of contract are much more likely to deliver for young farmers and encourage the next generation of new entrants while also serving the needs of existing farms desperate to expand.”

Both believed that a change in legislation to provide flexibility in the duration of an agreement between landowner and tenants would open up the market and be the right model for letting land.

Balfour said he could see older farmers who might want to retain ownership of their properties letting land for the first time but they would not do so if the threat of losing land through an absolute right to buy was introduced.

He cited the more flexible letting market in England, where let land had actually increased following the introduction of farm business tenancies.

Borwick said: “Farmers now and in future will face a new set of challenges and expectations. Land needs to be a flexible commodity that reflects the requirements of a more dynamic industry.

“Releasing let land will revitalise confidence in the young, enthuse those struggling to grow, motivate the old to retire and persuade more who own land to commit to the let sector.”

Balfour stressed that changes would not affect existing secure tenancies and that even with flexibility in duration of tenancy, there would be agreed parameters.

Both commented on the “irony” of the Scottish Government removing the right to buy from council house tenants while at the same time considering introducing a right to buy on agricultural holdings.

They were both also adamant that political interference in the issue was detrimental to providing a vibrant letting economy.