Article by Malcolm Hay as published in the Press & Journal on Saturday 31 May 2014
The wide-ranging report published last week by the Land Reform Review Group was heralded as something of a triumph for the land reform movement in that they regard it as one in the eye for private land ownership in Scotland.
However, it is farmers in fertile lowland areas close to villages and towns who could well end up bearing the brunt of the consequences.
Such was the will of the Land Reform Review Group to deliver ‘radical’ reform that would address land ownership it appears it lost sight of what it should have been trying to achieve – helping make rural Scotland a more thriving and vibrant place to live and work.
What we have now is a blizzard of recommendations that could affect every owner of a sliver of land or riverbank.
For example, the LRRG suggests that the introduction of a land value tax should be given serious consideration by the Scottish Government. Clearly what they have in mind here is imposing an additional, punitive financial burden on larger estates which often manage land on a large scale because scale is the only way it can become viable. But have they thought for a moment what a land value tax would do to owner-occupier farmers? It would not appear so. The group seems to be referencing a model whereby LVT would be levied on farmland at a rate of 3.2p per £1 land value - a hefty amount to pay on an annual basis. If your land increased in value because nothing was coming on the market in your area, you would then be penalised for this uplift in value.
Tenant farmers are seen by the group as a precious resource to be protected, although confusingly it seems to want to turn them into owner occupiers and it frowns on those owner occupier farmers who sell land to other farmers allowing them to become bigger – and more viable - businesses.
Another area that farmers may not realise is a direct threat to their interests is land around villages through the introduction of a right to buy for communities - even if the owner does not wish to sell. The LRRG has cloaked this provision in the public interest as it does with what they call an actual right to buy for tenant farmers. So does this mean that allotments could be seen to be in the public interest but intensive poultry production to provide affordable food is not? This could be an invitation to NIMBYs stopping land use they don’t like.
I know the people who I work with in agriculture and we all want to see the industry succeed. Of course, things can always be improved and the industry always does best when people get round a table and thrash out a way forward. What should raise real concern among the farming community now is that the Land Reform Review Group has tried to shoehorn politically-driven land reform ideology into farming issues and that will not serve the interests of agriculture well.