There is a need for “urgent” action to tackle the harmful monopolies of land ownership across Scotland with calls for new measures to be established that may bring about enforced sell-offs.
A report by the Scottish Land Commission today warns that power is being abused by some landowners causing “significant and long-term damage” to local communities.
Landowners say they are “deeply concerned” over the report’s findings.
The Scottish Government wants to see more diversity in pattern of land ownership across Scotland and the report says this is necessary to guard against the “irresponsible exercise of power”.
More than 407 people, from land owners and land managers to community representatives and individuals, submitted evidence for the report.
It found that most of the disadvantages associated with Scotland’s current pattern of land ownership relate to a concentration of social, economic and decision-making powers, not simply the size of land holdings.
Hamish Trench, SLC chief executive, said: “Concern about the impacts of concentrated land ownership in Scotland has long been central to the land reform debate. This evidence report allows us to move on from debating whether ownership is an issue, to understanding what the issues are and how they can be addressed.
“The evidence we have collected shows clearly that it is the concentration of power associated with land ownership, rather than necessarily the scale of land holding, that has a significant impact on the public interest, for example in relation to economic opportunities, housing and community development.
“Good management can of course reduce the risks associated with the concentration of power and decision-making, but the evidence shows that adverse impacts are causing significant detriment to the communities affected.
“This points to the need for systemic change beyond simply a focus on good management.”
The report – Investigation Into The Issues Associated With Large Scale And Concentrated Land Ownership In Scotland – has been published alongside a set of recommendations to Scottish Government ministers, who asked the commission to examine the issues.
Recommendations include the introduction of a public interest test and approval mechanism at the point of significant land transfer and an obligation for larger land holdings to engage on and publish a management plan.
The commission also recommends a review mechanism to address adverse impacts on communities where normal responsible management approaches are not effective.
But Sarah-Jane Laing, executive director of Scottish Land & Estates, which represents land- owners, said: “We are deeply concerned that the report still sees land ownership rather than land use as the prime route to dealing with issues being faced by communities. Nor does the report adequately reflect the positive and substantial contribution made by rural businesses.”
She added: “We also want to see more detailed and compelling examples to support the report’s claim that concentrated land ownership is damaging fragile communities.”