Benny Higgins: ‘Selling land to reduce overall footprint not new’

The Buccleuch family have had, for generations, a close relationship with the communities and the landscape of the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway.

Benny Higgins, Picture: Lisa Ferguson

That will remain an emotional anchor in perpetuity. But as a business that employs over 400 colleagues directly in Scotland and supports so many more jobs in the communities, it is critical that we make prudent choices to ensure that our financial stability is as far as possible secure so that we can continue to reinvest in projects that will stimulate economic benefit.

It is in this context that we have been selling land in recent times. Earlier this year we sold a substantial amount of land in Dumfriesshire and last month we announced the coming sale of 25,000 acres in the south-west of Scotland, which incorporates Langholm Moor.

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Selling land to reduce the overall footprint is not a new development. And we will continue to look for opportunities to reduce our holdings further where appropriate and therefore broaden ownership, albeit it is more likely to be smaller lots in the foreseeable future.

We have sought to follow the protocol for communication and consultation developed by Community Land Scotland, the Scottish Land Commission and Scottish Land & Estates, the organisation that represents land businesses.

We have done so even in circumstances where it has not been mandatory because we believe it to be the right approach. It is our view the local communities, in particular, should be informed comprehensively of our plans and be given time to engage with us fully.

We opened the consultation on Langholm Moor on 30 May, with a view to putting the land on the open market in August if there was no registered interest. Through the consultation and meetings with various community bodies, two local communities have expressed a desire to reflect on whether or not they may wish to bid for some or all of the land that is to be sold.

We wish to respect their interest and to give them a window during which they can consider their options. By doing this, we will create the opportunity for the community bodies to pro-actively formulate and conclude on their intentions by the end of March 2020.

If a successful bid emerges, we will ensure there is sufficient time to reach legal closure. Needless to say, if no such bid emerges we will continue with the planned marketing of the land.

We have taken this decision to recognise the importance of giving local communities the chance to consider their positions and to ensure there is adequate time to do so. Moreover, we are committed to co-operating with community groups in a transparent manner.

By doing so, we hope the right outcomes will be reached for all of us with an interest in the future of this land holding.

Land use in Scotland is a complex subject and one that throws up all sorts of challenges. Buccleuch will remain a committed and active business in the communities where we are based while creating opportunities for others to develop their own aspirations.

l Benny Higgins is executive chairman of the Buccleuch groupa