Following the publication of the Land Reform Bill in the Scottish Parliament today, Scottish Land & Estates, which represents landowners across Scotland, issued the following statement.
David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “The publication of this Bill will result in fundamental and far-reaching changes to the way that land is managed and owned in Scotland.
“Land reform campaigners continually say that too much land is owned by too few people. In reality, this legislation will have an impact on tens of thousands of people across Scotland who own and manage all sorts and sizes of land holdings.
“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. There is plenty of room for all types of landowners and much can be achieved for rural Scotland if owners work together in partnership.
“We welcome measures such as transparency and registration of ownership and increased community engagement which accord with our Landowners’ Commitment and an amnesty for notices for tenant farmers’ improvements – a measure we suggested.
“However, we have real concerns about key elements of this Bill which could have seriously detrimental impacts on land-based businesses and rural areas without seeming to have clear objectives in mind.
“The proposed right for government ministers to intervene and enforce the sale of property is a key concern. No-one would try to justify bad practice when it comes to land management but there desperately needs to be more clarity around the circumstances in which a government minister thinks it will be right and proper for he or she to decide a landowner is a barrier to sustainable development and forcibly remove someone’s property.
“The proposed end to the exemption of business rates for sporting rates will add an administrative burden and cost to rural businesses which are already delivering significant public benefits. The lack of detail on this proposal means it is impossible for the sector to articulate what the impact will be on individual businesses and a full economic and environmental impact assessment is needed as a matter of urgency.
“Another troubling issue is the proposal to very significantly extend the right of succession for secure tenant farmers. At the least a test which demonstrates that a successor has a working connection to the farm seems a fair and sensible additional provision and would help secure the ongoing productivity of the farm.
“This legislation follows hot on the heels of the Community Empowerment Bill which was passed only last week and it is the second major Land Reform Bill to go through the Scottish Parliament in less than 15 years.
“After a two-year long debate on land reform, we are now on the brink of an unprecedented amount of land-related legislation. Throughout this process we have said that private landowners are enthusiastic partners committed to helping make things happen in rural Scotland that benefit business and communities. In future, we firmly believe that any debate on land should be forward-looking and concentrated on how to make the best use of land. Confidence building for the future will be vitally important to underpin continued investment.”