Scotland’s landed estate owners have warned a radical plan to rebuild rural communities devastated by the Highland Clearances could result in money being spent on “unsustainable projects”.
Gavin Mowatt, policy officer at Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), yesterday questioned plans by the Community Land Scotland (CLS) campaign to compulsorily purchase large tracts of the Highlands to resettle them.
CLS are seeking to have the Planning Bill currently before the Scottish Parliament amended to give ministers and communities new powers to deliver rural regeneration including areas that were cleared in the 18th and 19th centuries. According to CLS, ministers should set planning policies to “recognise the desirability of the repopulation of rural Scotland and the resettlement of once populated land now wholly or largely unpopulated”.
Ministers would be required to produce a map of “no longer existing communities” in Scotland and designate land for resettlement.
The new powers would include giving ministers the power to compulsorily purchase land for that purposes and grant a community right to buy for the purpose of land resettlement.
According to the CLS, the need for change comes from problems with population decline, local services struggle to survive and a feeling that planning policies do not do enough.
The CLS said: “Many community owners own or live close to land that was forcibly cleared and the effects of that are still felt today, socially, economically, culturally and environmentally. Community owners see no reason why the effects of these actions should not be reversed”.
David Cameron, a CLS Director, said: “These temporarily deserted lands should once again ring to the voices of children playing in their landscape.”
But Mr Mowatt of SLE, the body representing land owners, said: “Recreating communities as suggested by Community Land Scotland – where there is no existing infrastructure and no existing jobs – would mean spending money, time and resources on potentially unsustainable projects.
“Many would question if this is a suitable use of resources at a time when delivery of much needed housing around existing towns and villages is already proving difficult. We believe there needs to be clear attention on helping existing rural communities to prosper rather than focus being diverted elsewhere.
“The bill as it stands does not do enough for rural communities.”