Proposals for a “radical package” of land reform were welcomed this week by campaigners and politicians.
On Wednesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a Land Reform Bill which will remove tax breaks from sporting estates and give ministers new powers to intervene where the scale of land ownership is deemed to be a “barrier to local sustainable development”.
The new bill — part of Ms Sturgeon’s ‘Programme for Government’ — will also place a new duty on charity trustees to consult with local communities where decisions on the management and use of land under the trustees’ control may affect a local community. In addition, it will create a Land Reform Commission. Separate to the Bill, the First Minister also promised to more than triple the Scottish Land Fund between 2016 an 2020 from £3 million to £10 million.
Commenting on the announcement, David Cameron, chairman of Community Land Scotland, said: “We welcome these important proposals, seeking to address a range of issues that have warranted attention for many years.
“The growth in the land fund will help many aspiring communities to a better future.
“The range of proposal shifts considerations about land from being largely about private interest, to land issues being a public-interest matter. Giving Ministers the power to intervene in land if the public interest is not being served is particularly important and welcome.
“The Land Reform Commission offers the opportunity to constantly monitor land issues and ensure our land laws are updated to meet changing circumstances. Their focus needs to be established as being about land being owned and managed into the future to deliver greater social justice.
“The acid test of all of this will be whether in a decade’s time and beyond our land ownership patterns have begun to shift decisively and are fairer, or whether Scotland’s land is still largely owned by a small and privileged elite.”
Land reform campaigner Andy Wightman said that, after a decade of absence, it was “great to see the land question” back on the political agenda.
He added: “This is an important, substantial and meaningful set of proposals. Taken as a whole, they will hopefully shift the baseline of the debate – that is to say the set of assumptions and norms that have too often been taken for granted and which politicians have too often been reluctant to tackle.
“How land is owned, used and governed is vitally important to the well-being and prosperity of all who live in this country – in particular to those who, because of inflated land values, cannot afford the basic human right of a home. For far too long, the ownership and control of Scotland’s natural resources have been in the hands of a small elite. Their political influence has been such that reforms that would, in any other European country, be regarded as normal, have been dismissed as extreme or an unjustifiable attack on property rights.
“As for the proposals themselves, they represent a suite of important reforms.”
Rob Gibson, the MSP Caithness, Sutherland and Ross has been campaigning for land reform for decades. He warmly welcomed news that the Scottish Government is to bring forward a “radical” Land Reform Bill.
“The announcement from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon commits the Scottish Government to a radical policy on Land Reform which is sorely needed and will have positive consequences in every part of the country,” he said. “The First Minister has made clear that Land Reform will be at the heart of the new Government. The establishment of a Minister (my good friend Dr Aileen McLeod) with the specific portfolio of Land Reform, showed this and today’s announcement confirms it. The SNP Scottish Government will take a robust approach tackling the centuries old inequalities of land. This is transformational change and will help drag Scottish Land policy into the present day. As such it is to be welcomed.
“The need for a radical approach is well known in the Highlands and Islands we have been putting up with feudal land practices for too long. To echo the First Minister, I want to see land for the many not the few. That is the road that the Scottish Government is now travelling on. That is the road I have been travelling for many years and today saw a massive step towards that goal. So all in all I think you could say it is a good day and, as they say, the land is before us.”
Ms Sturgeon said the Land Reform Bill would be taken forward within this parliamentary term.