11th June 2015

By the end of June, the ground breaking Land Reform (Scotland) Bill will have been laid before the Scottish Parliament. The Bill will implement the Scottish Government's commitment to change the nature of land ownership in Scotland (both rural and urban), and represents a further building block in the Land Reform programme.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 is the genesis of modern Land Reform in Scotland. The 2003 Act legislated on three key areas: (a) access rights/the right to roam, (b) the pre-emptive community right to buy and (c) the crofting community right to buy. Much has happened since then, and much has been written on the subject of Land Reform over the last few years. The Scottish Government themselves have produced a substantial volume of consultation papers, studies, review groups and proposals on various different issues which come under the Land Reform banner. The purpose of this note is to briefly summarise the main policy and legislative developments since 2003 in chronological order, to assist with putting the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill 2015 into context. The Bill is expected to cover the traditional aspects of land issues (such as the community right to buy) but also a number of other aspects, such as the law of Agricultural Holdings.

July 2012 – the Land Reform Review Group is established

In July 2012 the Scottish Government commissioned the Land Reform Review Group to investigate a wide number of issues in relation to Land Reform – including the distribution of land ownership and the relationship between land and people. The Group then embarked on gathering evidence and reported the following year that they had been inundated with submissions.

June 2013 – the Million Acre Policy

The First Minister announced in June 2013 that the Government wished to see 1,000,000 acres of land in community ownership by 2020, and that the Government would assist and support purchases by community bodies.

May 2014 – 62 recommendations

The Land Reform Review Group published its final report in May 2014, which contained 62 wide ranging recommendations in relation to Land Reform issues. Amongst the most significant were recommendations to limit the amount of land a person may own, and to prevent foreign entities from owning land in Scotland. The Government went on to take forward some of the recommendations, although a number have not been taken forward.

June 2014 – Community Empowerment Bill

The Scottish Government published the Community Empowerment Bill in June 2014. Amongst the most controversial proposals was the proposal that community bodies would be able to force an owner of land to sell"abandoned or neglected land", even against the wishes of the owner. The Bill also contained certain provisions in relation to the transfer of assets owned by public bodies to community organisations. The Bill passed Stage 2 of the parliamentary process in March 2015, and it is expected that the Stage 3 (and final) process will be completed shortly.

December 2014 – Land Reform Consultation

The Scottish Government published their consultation document in December 2014, and the consultation period was open until February 2015.

The main points within the Consultation were:

  • A power of Ministerial direction to landowners where the landowner is a"barrier to sustainable development".
  • Restriction on non-EU entities buying land in Scotland.
  • Introduction of shooting rates.
  • An obligation on charities to"engage" with communities and consider the"impact" of a sale or transfer of land.
  • Introduction of deer management regulations.
  • Miscellaneous provisions including greater role for public bodies in controlling land – easier access to land data.

The consultation paper also included a"land rights and responsibilities charter" which, if implemented, would set out a detailed code of rights and responsibilities.

The Scottish Government subsequently published their analysis of the consultation in February 2015, and indicated that:"The vast majority of proposals were supported by respondents to the consultation but with a range of caveats and clarifications. Some respondent groupings including private landowning organisations and private sector and professional bodies expressed negative views to several of the proposals."

January 2015 – the Final Report of the Agricultural Holding Review Group

Issues concerning Agricultural Holdings have not traditionally been"Land Reform" issues but rather the law and policy surrounding Agricultural Holdings has been in a category of its own. However, the distinction between Agricultural Holdings and Land Reform has recently become blurred, and the Scottish Government proposes to deal with amendments to Agricultural Holdings legislation within the forthcoming Land Reform Bill.

Amongst the recommendations of the Agricultural Holdings Review Group were:

  • Creation of a Tenant Farming Commissioner (an interim commissioner has now been appointed).
  • A new system for calculating rent levels based on the productive capacity of the farm rather than open market value.
  • Extending assignation and succession rights for secure tenants.
  • Allowing secure tenants to convert their tenancy to a Limited Duration Tenancy of 35 years and then assign that LDT for value.
  • Provisions to enable the tenant to force the sale of the holding where a landlord fails to meet their responsibilities.
  • The possibility of full repairing leases.
  • A new 'modern' Limited Duration Tenancy with a minimum term of 10 years.

March 2015 – a contribution from Westminster

The Scottish Affairs Select Committee has also been considering Land Reform issues, and their report was published in March 2015. The work of the Committee has, however, possibly been lower profile than the work of the Scottish Government. The Labour party (who, at the time of publication of the report were dominant on the committee) had, of course, a strong link with Land Reform in Scotland. The 2003 legislation promoted by the Labour government was as significant in the first session of the Scottish Parliament as the current SNP government proposals.

Given that so many issues relating to Land Reform are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the report of the Committee naturally contained a different emphasis – looking at issues concerning taxation (Agricultural Property Relief, exemption from Rates enjoyed by agricultural property, etc).

June 2015 – what happens next?

The Land Reform Bill is expecting at the end of June, and it is anticipated that the Bill will carry forward the main strands of the Land Reform Consultation Paper (along with reform of Agricultural Holdings).

If this Land Reform timeline raises any questions, please submit them to landreform@turcanconnell.com and one of experts will endeavour to respond to you in due course.