Land Reform Bill tackles concentration of ownership

The Scottish Government announced that “transformative changes” are being proposed to the way Scotland’s land is used and managed “in order to ensure greater benefit to communities and the environment.”

The Scottish Government is seeking views on the proposals for its new Land Reform Bill, which it said will be introduced by the end of 2023.

It said the Bill aims to address “long-standing concerns about the highly concentrated pattern of land ownership in rural areas of Scotland.”

Proposed measures include:

  • The introduction of a public interest test for transfers of large-scale landholdings.
  • A requirement on owners of large-scale holdings to give prior notice to community bodies of their intention to sell.
  • A requirement on those seeking land-based subsidies to have the land registered in the Land Register “to ensure transparency around who benefits from public funding.”

The consultation also asks questions about “how to ensure communities benefit from future investment in Scotland’s natural capital, and that there is greater transparency around land and asset ownership.”

Environment and Land Reform Minister Mairi McAllan visited The Ecology Centre in Kinghorn, Fife, to formally launch the consultation.

The centre is a community-led charity that has been supported with grant funding from the Scottish Land Fund.

McAllan said: “Land reform is a pervasive issue in Scotland. We have a strong record of progressive and innovative land reform – but this journey is not complete.

“We must continue to develop and implement land reform that addresses historical inequalities and at the same time, we must rise to changing social, environmental and economic issues in contemporary Scotland.

“I recognise, and am fully committed to tackling, the adverse effects of scale and concentration of landownership — and empowering communities in the process.

“I am also clear that while investment in Scotland’s natural capital is vital to tackle the climate and nature emergencies, we must ensure that our people and communities are not disadvantaged and indeed can benefit.

“Finally, we must continue to improve transparency of ownership of land in Scotland.

“That’s why this summer we will be consulting on a wide range of transformative proposals – including our aim to ensure that the public interest is considered on transfers of particularly large-scale landholdings.

“The new Bill will be a significant step forward in ensuring our land is owned diversely and is used in the public interest and to the benefit of the people of Scotland.

“This is the next step on Scotland’s land reform journey as we continue the work to pass more power to people and local communities, encourage and support responsible and diverse landownership and ensure communities have a say in how land in is used.”

Chair of Community Land Scotland Ailsa Raeburn said: “Community Land Scotland warmly welcome the launch of the Consultation on the forthcoming Land Reform Bill.

“It is becoming ever clearer that who owns and controls land, is incredibly important in building a fairer greener Scotland.

“We very much hope the new Bill encompasses a range of measures that effectively tackles the endemic issues of scale and concentration of land ownership and the adverse effects this has on local communities.

“The Bill is a great opportunity to ensure Scotland’s land is owned and used fairly and that as many people as possible can benefit from it.”

Chair of the Scottish Land Commission Andrew Thin said: “The ways land is owned and used is central to tackling the climate emergency, contributing to a successful economy and supporting communities.

“It is great to see the Government launch the consultation of the upcoming Land Reform Bill which includes a range of potential measures to ensure that the benefit of land is shared by all.

“The Scottish Land Commission has been working over the last five years to provide a robust evidence base for our recommendations on making land work better in the public interest, highlighting the opportunity land reform can bring to Scotland and its people.

“I would encourage everyone to take part in the consultation and help to shape the next step in Scotland’s land reform journey.”

The Programme for Government and Bute House Agreement contained a commitment to introduce a Land Reform Bill by the end of 2023.

This Bill and other measures being taken forward by the Scottish Government is based on extensive work carried out by the Scottish Land Commission, including a major review of the scale and concentration of land ownership.

The proposals for the Bill are based on the Scottish Land Commission’s recommendations for legislation to tackle scale and concentration of land ownership.

Stephen Young, Head of Policy, Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Land-based businesses on estates and farms across Scotland play a key role in the rural economy.

“We hope that government recognises private land businesses are playing a huge part in delivering first class land use in terms of agriculture, renewable energy, leisure, tourism, heritage and conservation as well as meeting the challenges of the climate change and biodiversity crisis.

“The most important aspect of land is how well it is used – regardless of who owns it – and this is going to be more crucial than ever as we rebuild economic activity and ensure that rural communities thrive again in the wake of the pandemic.

“This new land reform bill will be the third bill of its type since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament.

“We support all different types of land ownership models and we already have legislation which helps communities acquire land where there is demand.

“We have also been long-standing supporters of transparency of ownership.

“As regards a public interest test on large-scale transfers of ownership, this is an issue that government itself has said is extremely complex and will need to be considered in great detail.”