Land Reform aims to go further

28 July 2012

The First Minister Alex Salmond has unveiled plans to extensively review land reform in Scotland, with a view to promoting a stronger, more successful Scotland at local community and national level. The review will be carried out by the newly unveiled Land Reform Review Group. Mr Salmond has appointed Dr Alison Elliot to chair the group alongside Professor James Hunter and Dr Sarah Skerratt as vice chairpeople. Ten others will form an advisory group, drawn from areas such as property and land, economics, law, community-led organisations, landowners, and those with expertise in forestry and access.

It is expected that the Group will report in stages to Scottish Ministers, and will aim to examine what the outcomes of further land reform should be. The Scottish Government would expect a report on any legislative changes that are required to allow this to be taken forward by the end of 2013.

Speaking from Skye, where the Scottish Cabinet convened as part of their summer tour, Mr Salmond said:

"Land reform is an important part of Scotland’s story. From the Crofting Acts of the 1880s and 1890s to the more recent right-to-buy legislation and support for community land purchase, significant progress has been made. "

"We cannot underestimate the crucial part land reform will play in contributing to the future success of Scotland for the next generation. By improving the relationship between our land and people, we can create stronger communities and deliver the economic growth and fairer society that the people of Scotland quite rightly expect."

"I want this review to deliver radical change for both rural and urban areas, developing new ideas which will improve current legislation as well as generating even more innovative proposals.”

Reforms brought about by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 – specifically, Part 3 of that Act - have already strengthened crofting communities by giving them the right to buy regardless of whether the landlord is offering the land for sale. The Act allows for a crofting community body representing an identified crofting community to acquire eligible croft land including salmon fishing, mineral rights (except mineral rights to oil, coal, gas, gold or silver), associated with that crofting community, and sporting rights.  Individual crofters have had the right to acquire their croft since 1976. However, the crofting community right under the 2003 Act has so far yet to be exercised successfully; the ongoing Pairc Estate buy-out is tied up both in and out of the courts in an attempt to reach an amicable agreement. The only other application, on the Galston Estate, brought about a dialogue between the owners and the applicants that ultimately led to a successful purchase outwith the Act. Other crofting estate buyouts such as that in South Uist have been with the agreement and cooperation of the Landlords.

Currently, the community right to buy is seen as a cumbersome and complicated process that may deter community groups from launching a bid to buy. Recent crofting legislative reform has also added another layer of complexity. A recent report carried out by the Scottish Government, titled Overview of Evidence on Land Reform in Scotland, showed that there was a lack of funding advice and a lengthy process that could potentially put groups off. Another view was that the legal provisions were there purely as a last resort – presumably following failed negotiations with a landlord to purchase outwith the confines of the Act.  There are also very complex mapping requirements which must be done accurately and in some detail for an application to succeed. The report suggests that further support and guidance would be beneficial, alongside promoting greater awareness of the provisions to empower crofting communities.

This can be contrasted with the wider Community right to buy outwith land under crofting tenure, which has been utilised far more than predicted, with 95 of the 142 applications to register a community interest since the introduction of the 2003 Act being approved. Of those 95 approved, 11 have gone on to successfully complete a purchase.

If you would like to find out more information on the current provisions for crofting community buy out, or how these proposed reforms might affect you, please contact Brian Inkster in Glasgow or Eilidh Ross in Inverness.


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