Scottish Government unveils "radical" Land Reform Bill

The Scottish Government has unveiled a "radical" Land Reform Bill that would end a rates exemption for shooting and deerstalking estates and give communities the right to buy land to further sustainable development.

The bill is also designed to encourage greater transparency about the ownership of land and will create a Scottish Land Commission, which will oversee access to and use of land, as well as issues of social justice connected with ownership.

Sporting estates have had a rates exemption since 1994 but the Scottish Government claims it is unfair. It wants to use the extra money raised by ending the exemption to increase the resources of the Scottish Land Fund, which supports community buyouts.

Land reform minister Dr Aileen McLeod said: "Through the Land Reform Bill, we want to ensure that future generations have access to land required to promote business and economic growth and to provide access to good quality, affordable food, energy and housing."

Private landowners have criticised the bill. David Johnstone, chair of Scottish Land & Estates, said it is wrong to paint landowners as being against reform but warned that parts of the draft legislation could have "seriously detrimental impacts on land-based businesses and rural areas" without seeming to have clear objectives.
"The proposed right for government ministers to intervene and enforce the sale of property is a key concern," he said.

"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."
He added that the proposed end to rates exemptions for sporting estates will increase the administrative burden on rural businesses that deliver "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," Johnstone said.

Elsewhere, the Historic Houses Association for Scotland warned that the bill will only add to the uncertainty over the future of many of the country's oldest estates at a time when many are already struggling with the cost of upkeep and maintenance.

"Further clarity will be required as the legislation makes its way through parliament, but with the majority of Scotland's built heritage in private ownership, the prospect of surrounding land, which is often key to the viability of the historic house too, being lost as the result of a decision to force a sale, does little to quell the current state of unease," the association's chairman, Andrew Hopetoun, said.

Launching the bill, Dr McCleod argued that the importance of land reform in contributing to the future success of Scotland's communities cannot be underestimated.

"The introduction of the bill is a significant step forward in ensuring our land is used in the public interest and to the benefit of the people of Scotland. It will also end the stop-start nature of land reform in Scotland that has limited progress," she said.

"Land is one of our most valuable assets. Owning land can help realise the aspirations and potential of our communities, making a real difference to long-term sustainability, and building stronger, more resilient and supportive communities.

"At the heart of these proposals is the principle of responsibility that comes with all land ownership, and while there are many exemplary landowners in Scotland, the message is clear, it is no longer acceptable to own land in Scotland and not take the public responsibilities that come with that ownership seriously. I know this Bill will be good for the people of Scotland, encourage greater public interest and participation in land and help our communities reach their potential."

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