‘Historic’ land reform legislation passed

Andy Wightman

Legislation to transform how land is used and governed has been passed by the Scottish Parliament.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill will allow ministers to create a public register of those with a controlling interest in land to increase the transparency around land ownership.

It is also intended to address issues of fairness, equality and social justice connected to the ownership of, access to and use of land in Scotland and introduce a new process to sell or assign farm tenancies, creating a secure route out of farming for those without a successor

Writer and researcher on land rights, Andy Wightman, described the legislation as “historic”.

Writing in The National, he said: “The commitment to establishing a Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement and a Scottish Land Commission will do nothing directly to change the pattern of landownership.

“But it is an important move to ensure that land reform remains on the political agenda in future. This in itself may well turn out to be the most enduring legacy of the bill. One of the reasons this legislation has taken so long to arrive is because the Scottish government abandoned land reform in 2007 and didn’t get going on the topic again until 2012. Land reform will not happen without sustained, determined and vigorous effort.”

Mr Wightman added: “the opportunities and challenges for the next Parliament are to enact the voluminous secondary legislation to make the bill work and to bring forward further reform on the wide range of land reform topics not captured in this bill such as inheritance law land taxation, land information, housing, compulsory purchase and Crown land governance.

“Much remains to be done over the next 20 years, but this is as good a start as could have been hoped for.”

Speaking after the stage three debate on the bill, land reform minister Aileen McLeod said: “This radical legislation will make important changes to specific rights and responsibilities over land, including provisions to increase the transparency of land ownership, which have never before been seen in this country.

“It will allow us to provide guidance to landowners and tenants and allow communities to be involved when decisions are taken about land. The bill will also remove the existing exemption of business rates for shooting estates and deer forests.”

Speaking on the agricultural holdings part of the bill, Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “The package of measures included in the bill will improve security and investment conditions for existing tenants, deliver the environment to create opportunities for new entrants and to ensure an appropriate balance between tenants’ and landlords’ rights in the context of the wider public interest.

“It will also revitalise the sector by creating new routes into farming and providing the flexibility for businesses to grow. Our tenant farmers are an important part of agriculture which in turn is the foundation of our booming food and drink industry, this bill will help ensure the tenanted sector has a vibrant future in Scotland.”

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