Reform of land ownership laws '˜must speed up'

Scotland needs to go 'further and faster' to enable community buyouts of land after it emerged fewer than one in seven local groups registering an interest in official schemes manage to secure ownership.

Drumrunie estate in Sutherland and Wester Ross was sold to the Assynt Foundation group. Alan Gordon/Scottish Viewpoint/REX/Shutterstock

More than 20,000 hectares of land has been delivered into local hands through Community Right to Buy as part of the flagship Land Reform Act, which was passed in 2003, official figures have shown.

It comes after the Scottish Government last year passed new laws aimed at strengthening land reform, amid claims that 432 private land owners – 0.008 per cent of the Scottish population – owned 50 per cent of the private land in rural Scotland in 2012.

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Land reform was seen as one of the crowning achievements of the early years of devolution. It has now emerged that 19 community bodies – just over one a year – have secured 21,072 hectares of land. The total area of Scotland is just over 8 million hectares.

There have been 144 bodies who have registered interest in such schemes, according to figures which have been published in a parliamentary answer at Holyrood.

Since 2012, about £16.5 million has been provided in taxpayers’ money through the Scottish Land Fund to enable community buy-outs.

Scottish Green Rural Economy said yesterday that Scotland’s land reform push must step up a gear.

“Giving communities control over their land is an unfinished journey,” it said.

“The continued growth of community ownership is welcome but we must go further and faster to improve the historically undemocratic and unfair ownership of land in Scotland.”

Successive Scottish governments have introduced legislation in an attempt to redistribute land ownership to rebalance a system that they believe has seen too much of the countryside run by relatively few landowners.

One of the earliest successes of the Land Reform Act came in 2005 when a community group bought two Highland estates for £2.9m.

The Glencanisp and Drumrunie estates in Sutherland and Wester Ross were sold to the Assynt Foundation group, comprising about 900 people living in the area. It remains the biggest landholding sold under the community right-to-buy provisions of the Act.

Seven years ago, islanders on Bute completed the buyout of part of a forest previously owned by film director Richard Attenborough for £1.5m.

Ian Hepburn, chairman of campaign body Community Land Scotland, said land reform legislation at Holyrood had made a “huge difference” in giving communities rights to buy land.

He added: “With new rights coming into force soon for communities to buy abandoned or neglected land or to further their sustainable development, we hope to see more and more communities using their rights and getting the benefits that come from community ownership.”