Warning over future of land reform

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“some lunatic will set the agenda” for the potentially radical reform of Scotland’s land legislation if farmers and landowners do not respond to the plans, they have been warned.

Speaking in Perth, NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller said it was essential for union members to express their views on the agenda set out by the Scottish Government’s land reform review group (LRRG).

He pointed out the potentially serious consequences that might arise from making “no comment” on issues such as changing the law of succession with regard to land ownership and broadening the ownership of land in Scotland.

“The reality is that not only will the group [LRRG] make recommendations to the government but there is a slot for legislation in 2014 so there will be changes to current laws.”

Miller did not define any specific union position, saying he wanted to hear what members’ view were. But he added: “The challenge is for us to get something positive out of any change. There must be ways we can change for the better.”

In order to get the views of its 9,000 strong membership, the union has printed a survey form asking a range of questions – from how members would view an expansion of community ownership through to the introduction of new arrangements for share farming and getting new entrants into farming.

Responses to the survey will be collected by 21 December by the union, who will collate them to respond by the LRRG’s deadline of 11 January next year.

When it was set up by the Scottish Government, the LRRG was charged with “developing innovative and radical proposals to Scotland’s land issues” and its remit was not confined to looking at existing legislation.

The group is chaired by Dr Alison Elliot, a former Moderator of the Church of Scotland, and the only other two members are Dr Sarah Skerratt from SRUC and Professor James Hunter from the Highland and Islands University.

Scottish Land and Estates, whose 2,500 members represents more than three-quarters of the land owned in Scotland, yesterday indicated it would not only be submitting a combined response but would also be encouraging individual submissions “showing in a constructive and positive way how their businesses make a difference throughout Scotland”.

Its chief executive, Douglas McAdam, said: “Our organisation and its diverse membership throughout Scotland will be providing the Scottish Government’s land reform review group with comprehensive and compelling evidence of the substantial social, economic and environmental contribution landowners and estates make to rural Scotland. Furthermore, we will also be demonstrating how land businesses are already effective partners.

“Barriers to rural development do exist but we will be demonstrating that these barriers have more to do with regulatory issues rather than ownership. Landowners are part of the solution, rather than the problem.”