Landowners fight Land Reform plans

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Scottish Sporting Gazette

Scottish Land & Estates said today it was voicing extreme concerns over measures outlined in the Scottish Government's land reform bill proposals, and has submitted its formal response to the government's consultation.

Within its submission, Scottish Land & Estates has said:

  • It is fully committed to transparency and accountability of landownership in Scotland.
  • It would like to see the Scottish Government take action to deliver the effective community planning framework required to deliver community aspirations
  • The Scottish Government should ensure existing powers are fit for purpose and fully utilised before introducing further powers.
  • The tenant farming industry would be best supported by dealing with Agricultural Holdings legislation separately.

However, Scottish Land & Estates has also made clear its serious concerns on several proposals within the consultation document. The organisation has said:

  • It is extremely concerned about the proposal for Ministers to intervene if a landowner is seen to be a barrier to sustainable development simply because of the scale of ownership .
  • That there are implications in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) that need to be observed regarding government intervention in these circumstances.
  • That current business rates exemptions - as applied across a range of sectors such as agriculture and fish farming - should not be ended for sporting estates.

David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said: ?Landowners are committed to playing their part in building sustainable and empowered rural communities and whilst there are measures within the consultation that we can support, there are proposals that would leave us with serious concerns.

?As we have made clear on many occasions, we are fully committed to working with government and public bodies to ensure that land ownership - public, private and community owned - is fully transparent.

?There is extreme concern, however, about the suggestion of providing powers to Scottish Ministers to intervene in private landownership. The proposal seems to be set in a context where private landowners are considered the barrier to sustainable development rather than part of the solution.

?Sporting estates are also too readily singled out in a negative light when they are businesses that make a key contribution to tourism, local employment and the environment. Both shooting and stalking in the Scottish context are low margin operations but can provide significant contributions to many remote, fragile communities. The government has misrepresented the reasons for these rates being abolished and has failed to provide any indication of the impact of reintroducing sporting rates.

?Overall, we would like to see far more acknowledgement from government of the significant problems facing rural development. A myriad of research into rural growth has been carried out over the years which indicate that numerous barriers exist - yet the focus remains solely on land ownership. There is no evidential basis for this approach.?

?Research on barriers to rural development in Scotland repeatedly identifies planning regulations, other regulations, broadband, housing and transport as the main issues. It is disappointing that the Scottish Government is still not taking action to address these nor is it taking steps to provide more effective community planning and local decision making.

?This focus on ownership persists despite clear evidence that privately owned land is employed overwhelmingly productivity and is already delivering a wide range of public benefits. It benefits local communities through tourism, job creation, agriculture, housing and more. We remain firm in our assertion that private and community ownership should not be viewed as opposite ends of a spectrum - both ensure the viability of our rural areas.?

Scottish Land & Estates also believes the tenant farming sector would be supported better if proposals by the Scottish Government on Agricultural Holdings legislation did not form part of a Land Reform Bill.

David continued: ?This is a complex area of legislation and warrants its own legislative slot since many of the recommendations will have no bearing on land reform in any way. The needs of the tenanted farming sector are too important to be bolted as an addendum to other legislation.?

Scottish Land & Estates added that in principle it had no objection to the establishment of a ?Scottish Land Commission' but that is subject to the circumstances, structure, type and remit of the Commission being considered extremely carefully. If properly structured and with a clear remit, it could aid consistent evaluation and development of Scottish land law and policy in a constructive way. However, the commission members would need to be apolitical, completely independent from government and care would need to be exercised that the commission did not act as a centralising force, drawing power away from local communities.

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