A public interest test to be met for significant transfers of land is among the recommendations of a new report published today by the Scottish Land Commission.
Titled Investigation into the issues associated with Large Scale and Concentrated Land Ownership in Scotland, the report finds that concentrated landownership is having significant impacts on communities across rural Scotland.
Representing what the Commission says is the most substantial investigation conducted into the impacts of this issue, the report is based on evidence from more than 400 people that shows how the concentration of social, economic and decision-making power significantly impacts communities across rural Scotland.
Notably, it finds that while in some parts of Scotland, concentrated ownership hampers economic development and causes serious and long-term harm to the communities affected, the problems are not associated exclusively with any particular type of landowner – there was a consistent pattern of evidence relating to land owned across the private, public, NGO and community sectors.
Its initial recommendations are aimed at addressing the adverse effects identified, and to stimulate a more productive, diverse and dynamic pattern of rural landownership.
In addition to the new test for significant land transfers, it proposes an obligation for larger landholders to engage on and publish a management plan, and a review mechanism to address adverse impacts on communities where normal responsible management approaches are not effective. It calls for policies to be developed to promote more diverse private ownership to help achieve the land reform objectives, and for greater local engagement in land use change.
Hamish Trench, CEO of the Scottish Land Commission, commented:
“Concern about the impacts of concentrated landownership 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 landownership, 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.”
He added: “The reforms we propose are a first step to address the significant issues identified in the evidence and move towards a more diverse and dynamic pattern of landownership.
“Some of these reforms will require legislative change, and in the short term we have identified the need for stronger leadership within the landownership sectors to address the risk and impacts identified and implement a programme of land rights and responsibilities good practice.
“These reforms seek to address the issues of concentrated landownership using ways that are normal in other countries and economic sectors. It is common in international practice to have some form of approval measures at point of land transaction and we are also used to regulating the concentration of market power and monopoly positions in other sectors of the economy.”
The Commission will to engage with stakeholders and the public on the findings of the evidence, its implications and their recommendations, through a series of events and public meetings culminating in a land reform conference in October 2019.