Land ownership in Scotland sees 'irresponsible exercise of power'

Written by Tom Freeman on 20 March 2019 in News

Scottish Land Commission reports Scotland's current pattern of land ownership is bad for local economies and communities

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Much of Scotland is owned by a handful of landowners who have a "irresponsible exercise of power", the Scottish Land Commission has concluded.

In a new report, the commission said the concentration of power causes harm to communities.

It concluded many parts of Scotland are controlled by a “land monopoly” with very little in the way of legal protection, and should be the subject of a public interest test in any future purchasing of land.

The independent investigation heard from over 400 people, including landowners and land managers in their employ, but Scottish Land and Estates said their views were not represented in the final report.

The review was commissioned in Nicola Sturgeon’s 2017 Programme for Government.

The report Investigation into the issues associated with Large Scale and Concentrated Land Ownership in Scotland also contains a set of recommendations for the Scottish Government, including a statutory framework to “strengthen local democratic accountability of land ownership and use”.

Hamish Trench, chief executive of The Scottish Land Commission said: “Concern about the impacts of concentrated land ownership in Scotland has long been central to the land reform debate. This evidence report allows us to move on from debating whether ownership is an issue, to understanding what the issues are and how they can be addressed.

 “The evidence we have collected shows clearly that it is the concentration of power associated with land ownership, rather than necessarily the scale of landholding, that has a significant impact on the public interest, for example in relation to economic opportunities, housing and community development.

 “Good management can of course reduce the risks associated with the concentration of power and decision making, but the evidence shows that adverse impacts are causing significant detriment to the communities affected. This points to the need for systemic change beyond simply a focus on good management.”

Sarah-Jane Laing, executive director of Scottish Land and Estates, said: “We are deeply concerned that the report still sees landownership rather than land use as the prime route to dealing with issues being faced by communities. Nor does the report adequately reflect the positive and substantial contribution made by rural businesses.

“Landowners and communities are at the start of a new era as a result of the last land reform act passed in 2016. Many of its provisions are still to come into effect and will give communities unprecedented rights and opportunities to acquire land. These provisions should be allowed to take shape before further measures are considered.”

The Scottish Government welcomed the report.

A spokesman said: "We expect that the report will inform how we address long-standing issues caused by the concentration of land power in rural Scotland, to the benefit of local communities."

Scottish Green MSP Andy Wightman said it was “a vital and timely report that confirms what many of us have been arguing for decades. Hegemonic landed power needs to be eliminated”.

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