However here is a snapshot of the background and content this draft Bill, which is now in the consultation queue. In October 1997, in the days before the Scottish Parliament, the Labour Government set up the Land Reform Policy Group, chaired by Lord Sewel, Scottish Office Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries. Their remit was "to identify and assess proposals for land reform in rural Scotland, taking account of their cost, legislative and administrative implications and their likely impact on the social and economic development of rural communities and on the natural heritage." Such a remit is clearly central to the NEMT's raison d'ętre.
In February 1998 the Group produced a consultation paper "Identifying the Problems" and from the feedback produced the "Identifying the Solutions" in September 1998. From this the Group presented their recommendations to the newly formed Scottish Executive enabling the production of the White Paper "Land Reform: Proposals for Legislation" in July 1999. Yes, this was again sent out for consultation and seminars were held through out Scotland. NEMT has responded to each of these papers as recorded in Mountain Views.
From the White Paper the Draft Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, Consultation Paper and its supporting Draft Scottish Outdoor Access Code - Public access to the outdoors: rights and responsibilities were produced in February 2001. Our news webpage also provides links to the Executive's Land Reform web site and several interpretative documents.
From the start there has been three aims within this exercise as follows:
Readers are encouraged to obtain a free copy of this draft legislation by phoning Andrew Taylor of the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department, Tel No. 0131 244 4447. The deadline for responses has been extended to 30th June 2001.
We must spare a word here for the beleaguered farmers as regards implications of the access side of this legislation. Many are already struggling with increased dumping of rubbish over their hedges, trampling of crops, hassle of gates left open and all this on a day to day basis. Is such a Code going to make the culprits behave more responsibly? Every farmer cannot be sitting behind every fence, on a 24-hour basis, ready to request that offenders "modify their behaviour". And that is without mentioning foot and mouth…
Further provisions under the access section are that "each local authority must establish a minimum of one local access forum for its area." Local authorities must also "compile and maintain a list of all core paths within their area." Aberdeen Council, for example, has already taken extensive proactive steps here and NEMT members have been present at several of their meetings.
Rural "Communities" have first of all to get themselves constituted in accordance with the proviso's of the Bill and then they have to register an interest in any said piece of land in which they can "demonstrate a direct connection". When the land owner of the said piece of land decides he wants to sell, once the Community can demonstrate they have such attributes as majority support and a ready made sustainable plan for the land, then the land owner is legally obliged to sell the land to that community. The issues involved are complex and have been subject to extensive debate.
This legislation is eye-opening stuff and readers are encouraged to take the opportunity to get involved before the Bill is finally passed.
Jennifer A Cook, April 2001
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