The notion of some form of state control over the sale and purchase of rural land is a relatively new concept in Scotland, having been introduced by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. A comment sometimes made by prospective purchasers of Scottish property from other countries outside the UK is that they may not be overly concerned about community rights to buy, in their different guises, on the basis that they are no worse than those that exist in their home country. So, how does Scotland compare?
- Relatively tight controls exist over the sale and purchase of different types of property – rural and urban.
- Until recently, ownership of agricultural land was limited to Danish citizens only. However, these rules have recently been relaxed. The latest rules make it possible for foreigners to acquire agricultural land in Denmark, provided that the land remains cultivated according to Danish regulations, and the farm occupied by a local farmer.
- The permission of the Government may be required before purchasing land in excess of 30 hectares.
- Rural land is subject to rights of pre-emption in favour of Societies d’Amenagement Foncier et D’Establishment Rural – “SAFERs”. The exercise of the pre-emption is subject to government control.
- The Departments (i.e. the local authorities) are the principal beneficiaries, but they often exercise the right on behalf of other Government departments.
- The pre-emption right must be exercised in accordance with the Rural Code (French Government, 1992) – the main objective being the sustainability of farming.
- After purchase, SAFERs are required to sell land within five years.
- Limited use? The exercise of SAFER pre-emptions is uncommon, occurring in less than 1% of sales (Fédération nationale des Safer 2012).
- Regulated by the Law on Sale of Agricultural Land.
- The sale of land larger than a certain size (e.g. 2 hectares in Bavaria) requires government approval.
- The Government has the power to stop sales of land if the sale would result in inefficient allocation of agricultural land, the reduction of agricultural parcels, or extreme sales prices (either too high, or too low).
- Hungarian land law required to be changed upon Hungary’s accession to the EU. Previously, certain rules operated to restrict the ownership of certain land to Hungarian nationals.
- The new, revised laws still impose quite strict conditions on the ownership of land.
- Non-natural person (i.e. companies etc.) are excluded from land purchases – private individuals in general may only own one acre of agricultural land – Hungarian citizens and nationals of EU countries qualifying as farmers may acquire agricultural land up to 300 acres – the total area of land used by a farmer may not exceed 1200 acres.
- Pre-emptions exist in favour of the Government upon the sale of certain land.
- The new land laws also impose conditions on the use of land. For the first five years of ownership, the purchaser cannot sell/assign and must not to use the land for non-agricultural purposes.
- The Localism Act 2011 – the beginning of the road towards community ownership?
- New regime giving local community groups the right to make a bid to buy a property that has a potential community use when it comes up for sale.
- Every local authority must maintain a list of community value assets. The current and realistic future use of them must further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community. Nominations for entry onto the list may only be made by community groups.
- The owner is obliged to give notice to the local authority of any intention to sell. There is then a process which gives the local community the opportunity to make an offer.
- However, and this is the crucial difference between Scotland and England, there is no obligation on the owner to sell or to give the community group a right of first refusal.
- So the process is really in place so that community groups do not miss out on the opportunity to negotiate with the seller – but the process is relatively light touch (certainly when compared with Scotland) in that it does not afford strong rights to community groups.