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A Consultation on the Future of Land Reform in Scotland


Chapter 1 Introduction: Land Reform in Scotland

10. Scotland is rich in natural resources, most importantly land, which is part of our history and identity as a country and as a people.

11. Land, both rural and urban, is intimately linked to ideas of well-being, justice, economic opportunity and identity. Land is key to the success and development of our communities. Our relationship to land is, therefore, fundamental to our well-being and economic success as well as to achieving environmental sustainability and social justice.

12. The system and structure of land ownership and rights in land is a defining factor in this relationship: it can facilitate and promote development, but it can also act as a barrier. In this context, ambitious land reform has the capacity to contribute to sustainable economic growth, which is at the heart of the Scottish Government's purpose.

13. Land Reform has the potential to empower greater numbers of people and to promote issues of social justice as well as greater investment and development. The decisions we take now on land reform will shape Scotland's future for generations to come.

History of land reform in Scotland

14. Land Reform has been the subject of discussion in Scotland for generations. More recently a broad-ranging review by the Land Reform Policy Group, carried out in the late 1990s and chaired by Lord Sewel, examined the policies and other measures needed to remove land-based barriers to the sustainable development of Scottish rural communities.

15. Two main outcomes for land reform were identified. First, to achieve more diverse ownership and a reduction in the concentration of ownership and management arrangements, at local level, to promote sustainable development.[1] Second, to ensure increased community involvement in the way that land was owned and used so that local people were not excluded from decisions which affect them as individuals and as communities.

16. The Group's Report A Vision for the Future[2] was published in 1999 and set out a series of aspirations for change, including:

  • more local involvement, greater commitment and accountability by private landowners;
  • more scope for community ownership and management of local land where sustainable;
  • more scope for releasing land for housing and local development where sustainable and secures the retention and, if possible, the expansion of fragile rural communities;
  • about the same level of ownership by public bodies, but with more local involvement and accountability and more employment of local people;
  • more local involvement and accountability and more employment of local people by non-Governmental organisations who own land in rural Scotland;
  • outdated and unfair feudal arrangements swept away;
  • conditionality of land ownership where appropriate to reflect modern circumstances;
  • a more constructive approach to problem cases, including those relating to the foreshore and the seabed;
  • more definitive and broad-brush information readily available about land ownership;
  • more information readily available about beneficial owners and about public support relating to land;
  • better integration of policy for rural land use at national and local level;
  • more public access on a responsible basis;
  • better arrangements for agricultural tenancies; and
  • more sustainable crofting communities.

17. Since the report, there have been various and wide-ranging legislative and other measures put in place to deliver land reform across the Parliamentary terms to date. Many of these measures required the Scottish Parliament to pass new legislation such as the :

  • Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc. (Scotland) Act 2000
  • Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003
  • Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 2003
  • Title Conditions (Scotland) Act 2003
  • Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004
  • Crofting Reform etc. Act 2007
  • Land Registration etc. (Scotland) Act 2012
  • Long Leases (Scotland) Act 2012.

18. Many of these acts of the Scottish Parliament have improved the laws governing the rights of ownership and other rights in land in Scotland such as: the abolition of feudal land tenure; the introduction of community rights to buy land; and the modernisation of land registration.

Land Reform Review Group

19. The recent independent report of the Land Reform Review Group (the Review Group), chaired by Alison Elliot, The Land of Scotland and the Common Good[3] (the LRRG Report) extended to a 240 page report with 62 recommendations that has placed land reform in its broadest context yet.

20. The Review Group was announced on 24 July 2012 and started its enquiry in September 2012. A call for evidence was issued on 4 October 2012. By 18 January 2013, 484 submissions had been received. The Review Group also undertook a programme of meetings and visits to gather evidence and views of people and communities across Scotland.

21. A thorough analysis of responses was carried out and considered by the Review Group. The Review Group also called for further evidence and met with experts as they developed their recommendations.

22. The final report, published in May 2014, clearly identified the land reform debate in a modern context, relevant to the whole of Scotland, urban and rural, with a clear focus on the public interest and the common good.

23. The LRRG Report moved considerations of land reform - in the past often focused on addressing concerns over historic injustices - to a debate firmly focused on looking forward at how best to ensure the public interest. The Report looks at how the 'common good' can best be served through the exercised of a range of policies that impact on access, use, ownership and rights in land. In this context, land reform can only be delivered through a series of careful changes across a whole range of policy areas.

24. The LRRG Report discusses the pattern of ownership of land throughout Scotland. In doing so, it refers to the claim that 432 people own half of the privately owned land in Scotland. The Report argues that the existing balance of policies is not meeting demands for a fairer society and that patterns of land ownership should change. Overall the Report highlights that land reform needs to be an on-going process, continuously updating Scotland's system of land ownership and rights in land to ensure that Scotland's land delivers for the people of Scotland.

How the Scottish Government is responding to the Review Group's Report

25. The LRRG Report proposed a range of actions that would over time start to influence the balance of rights and patterns of ownership and ensure Scotland's land delivers for Scotland's people. In an initial response to the Report, Paul Wheelhouse, then Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, welcomed the overall vision and the proposed direction of travel of the recommendations.

26. The Report's 62 recommendations range from smaller short term proposals to longer term, more radical changes and not all will require legislation. There has been a high level of agreement over the Report's aims and its vision for how we manage land ownership and rights in land in Scotland. We have, since publication, been considering whether the Report's recommendations are in fact the best way to achieve the Report's aims and our aspirations for the future of Scotland.

27. Annex B contains detail of all the recommendations made in the Report, and the action that is being taken forward by the Scottish Government for each. It is our intention to publish a full response on all the recommendations after the responses to this consultation have been considered and analysed.

28. We are already taking forward a number of policies that seek to achieve the aims set out in the LRRG Report. Some of these are non-legislative such as developing a Land Rights and Responsibilities Policy. Others, such as improving and extending community rights to buy, require legislation will be taken forward in other Bills.

29. Our current actions on land reform, many of which we have committed to and started to implement since publication of the Report in May, are summarised below. These are set out in more detail in Annex A.

  • Improving the transparency of land ownership, by announcing the target to complete the Land Register covering the whole of Scotland in 10 years with all public land being registered within 5 years.
  • Improving and extending existing community rights to buy and introducing a new community right to buy for neglected or abandoned land, within the existing Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill.
  • Taking forward a dedicated workstream to consider the 9 recommendations relating to land assembly for housing and regeneration, in order to design and further consult on a package of measures to best meet the Review Group's aims.
  • Committing to consult in Spring 2015 on a new management system and further options in response to the recent Wild Fisheries Review, to be followed by consultation on a draft wild fisheries Bill in Winter 2015/16.
  • Committed to launching a public consultation on substantive changes to succession law before the end of this financial year, in response to the Scottish Law Commission's 2009 report on Succession. As part of this modernisation, the distinction between movable and immovable property would be removed.
  • Developing a strategy to achieve our target for 1 million acres in community ownership by 2020, including the establishment of a Short Life Working Group to help develop a strategy and action plan for community land ownership that will act as a blueprint for a dedicated community ownership support team within the Scottish Government, in line with the Review Group's recommendation for a Community Land Agency.

Next steps

30. We understand the importance and breadth of the issues at the heart of the Land Reform Review Group's Report. We know that to achieve the ambitions of the people of Scotland and we need to do more than just respond separately to the 62 recommendations.

31. As a nation, we need to consider how to balance ownership and rights in land and promote diversity in all forms of ownership - public, private, third sector and community. We need to design policies that deliver for the people of Scotland.

32. The aim of this paper is, therefore, to ensure you and everyone in Scotland are given the chance to influence this debate, provide your thoughts and suggestions, and to shape both Scotland's vision for the future of land rights and responsibilities policy and future land reform by consulting on:

  • our vision and plans for the future of land rights in 21st Century Scotland as contained in our draft Land Rights and Responsibilities Policy (Chapter 2); and
  • potential proposals for a Land Reform Bill within this Parliamentary term (Chapter 3).