Scottish Land Reform Bill delayed after 'sheer number and variety' of consultation responses

The Bill was due to be published at the end of this year.

Publication of Scotland’s highly anticipated Land Reform Bill which aims to tackle the concentration and responsibilities of landowners has been delayed, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

The paper was due to be published before the end of 2023, but due to “a sheer number and variety of responses” to the Bill’s consultation – around 500 plus – ministers have decided to take more time to consider the proposals.

It is now due to be published early next year.

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Rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon (pic: Fraser Bremner - WPA Pool/Getty Images)Rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon (pic: Fraser Bremner - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon (pic: Fraser Bremner - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Community Land Scotland, which supports community land ownership, welcomed the short delay in order to ensure the legislation was “robust enough” to tackle the scale and concentration of landowners.

A key issue being thrashed out is the definition of a large- scale landholding, a central feature of the proposed legislation. A size of 3,000 hectares has been put forward but

(55%) of those who answered the government consultation disagreed with this definition, with most calling for this to be lower.

Some campaigners and politicians have called for the threshold to be reduced to 500 acres.

Those holding such land face a range of new duties and responsibilities including the need to publish a land management plan which would provide information on community engagement, emissions reduction and nature restoration. The sale of large-scale landholdings could also trigger a public interest test with a pre-emption in favour of community buy-out.

Josh Doble, policy manager at Community Land Scotland, said: “Community Land Scotland welcome the slight delay to the Land Reform Bill being introduced to Parliament, as long as the Scottish Government uses the time to ensure that Bill is robust enough to address the substantial problems of the scale and concentration of landownership in Scotland. At the moment, communities are losing out while wealthy landowners and commercial speculators are benefiting. The legislation must change this.

“This slight delay provides a crucial opportunity to ensure that the Bill can work for all of Scotland’s communities and will deliver meaningful change. We hope that the Scottish Government takes this opportunity.”

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Critics have said the proposals are not robust enough to have a meaningful impact, while others have said breaking up large land holdings will hinder projects helping the Scottish government reach its net zero targets – for example through large-scale peat restoration and tree planting initiatives.

Rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “I, and this government are firmly committed to continued land reform in Scotland. We want to see change that addresses inequalities, improves transparency of land ownership and empowers local communities.

“Land Reform is a highly complex and emotive issue, and this is demonstrated by the sheer number and variety of responses to our Bill consultation.

“To allow time for this further consideration and ensure we get the proposals right for introduction, we are planning a slight delay to the introduction of the Bill. The Land Reform Bill remains a Programme for Government commitment for 2023-24, as does bringing forward measures to ensure that tenant farmers and small landholders can access the new agricultural support framework.”



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