Land Reform Update
On 16 March, the Land Reform Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament. Much of the new legislation alters the terms of agricultural tenancies - generally in favour of tenants, thus encouraging estates to take farms in hand where possible, in order to operate them directly or in partnership, as has been the trend for many years - but there are some other measures of more direct interest to mountaineers, and/or of more general interest. These measures include:
- The re-introduction of non-domestic rates on sporting (but not fishing) estates; this will require the identification and then the valuation of such estates, which Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) has said is likely to be 'chaotic', may bring in little new net revenue, and will jeopardise rural jobs.
- Strengthened rules on deer management, including greater involvement by local communities. SNH may require deer management plans, including culling numbers, and must report to Ministers within 3 years of the Act on the effectiveness of the code of practice on deer management.
- A "land rights and responsibilities" statement, to be written by ministers and reviewed every five years
- An improved Land Register, with information on persons with "controlling interests" in land.
- A new Scottish Land Commission, to be composed of five Land Commissioners as well as the Tenant Farming Commissioner, to keep land policy and reform needs under review.
- A new Scottish Land Fund to open on April 1 with £10m (up from £3m) available each year to help community buy-outs. If communities – possibly with third parties, whether corporate or non-local - can show need, then, subject to landowner appeal, they will be able to purchase land compulsorily to further "sustainable development", such as energy projects, park creation or affordable housing.
The Bill as passed has not gone as far as some have wanted, e.g. to require landowners (people or companies etc.) to be registered in the European Union; the Minister (Aileen McLeod) has said that this is not within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. There is only limited change to access legislation, mainly relat8ing to core path amendments.
Much detail remains to be settled (with some to be further argued in the Parliament - with a new set of MSPs - as secondary legislation), and there may even be legal challenges ahead. Progress on enhancing the land register, on improving deer management, and even on achieving community land purchases, is unlikely to be quick. But things have moved: watch out for further updates!
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