‘Radical’ land reform plans unveiled by SNP

RADICAL plans for land reform which could see the Scottish Government order the sale of parts of major estates to local communities have been unveiled.
Land Reform Minister Dr Aileen McLeod at Carluke. Picture: Jeff HolmesLand Reform Minister Dr Aileen McLeod at Carluke. Picture: Jeff Holmes
Land Reform Minister Dr Aileen McLeod at Carluke. Picture: Jeff Holmes

The Scottish Government has published its Land Reform Bill as part of a drive to achieve “a fairer and more equitable distribution of land in Scotland”.

Nicola Sturgeon has said the issue is “unfinished business” after landmark “right to roam” laws passed by the first Scottish Parliament.

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But the body which represents landowners has already criticised some of the proposals.

The bill will end business rates exemptions for shooting and deerstalking estates. Ministers could also order the sell-off of some parts estates if they are seen as a “barrier” to sustainable development.

Information on who owns land and its value will also be made more readily available.

Land reform minister Aileen McLeod said: “We want to ensure that future generations have access to land required to promote business and economic growth and to provide access to good quality affordable food, energy and housing.

“The introduction of the bill is a significant step forward in ensuring our land is used in the public interest and to the benefit of the people of Scotland.

“It will also end the stop-start nature of land reform in Scotland that has limited progress.”

But David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land and Estates, raised concerns over ministers’ approach.

He said: “We have been very disappointed that in this debate private landownership is pitted against community ownership and landowners are seen as being against reform. This is wrong. We support community ownership but dearly hope that as this bill goes through the Scottish Parliament, the major social, economic and environmental contribution of private landowners is also recognised.”

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But Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg warned of unintended consequences from the bill. “Good can come from land reform but we must ensure that working people are not caught in the crosshairs of the negatives and we will continue to engage with Scottish Government on how the new ratings systems will work, with a view to preserving fragile employment.”

The plans were branded a “rural land grab” by the Tories.

Conservative finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said accused the SNP of pursuing an “ideologically-driven agenda” which will jeopardise the rural economy.

“These proposals would lead to greater government interference in land ownership,” he said.

Labour’s environment spokeswoman Sarah Boyack said communities have “much to gain” from the new opportunities to buy land to further sustainable development.

“This legislation will also be the opportunity to strengthen tenant farmers’ rights,” she added. “I look forward to discussing with local communities, tenant farmers and landowners how we make better use of our land to create new opportunities to regenerate communities and create new homes and jobs. We need to make sure the detail in the Bill is up to the challenges we face now and in the future.”