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Land reform proposals could force people to sell up, claims SLE

Survey responses must be submitted by October 20
Survey responses must be submitted by October 20

Landowners body Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) has hit out at the government’s land reform proposals warning they could force some people to sell their land.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last week pledged to embark on a “radical programme of land reform” in Scotland.

This week a consultation was launched by newly appointed environment and land reform minister Aileen McLeod (see column) over the proposals which include increasing the Scottish Land Fund from £3million this year to £10million in 2016, and removing tax breaks for sporting estates.

There are also plans to give ministers power to intervene “where the scale of land ownership or the conduct of a landlord is acting as a barrier to sustainable development”, and introducing a restriction on companies, trusts and partnerships from outside of the EU owning land.

It is also proposed that a Scottish Land Reform Commission be set up and that measures are put in place to have all the information about land ownership in one place.

SLE chairman David Johnstone hit out at the proposals and said they had failed to recognise the major social, economic and environmental contribution that estates and land-based businesses made in Scotland.

“We are now faced with the threat of landowners being forced to sell land if they are regarded as being a barrier to sustainable development,” said Mr Johnstone.

“The reality is that many landowners are the drivers of sustainable development. There needs to be much greater clarity on this issue particularly on what evidence exists to suggest this measure is necessary and in what circumstances the government thinks it is all right to force someone to sell their home and business.”

He urged government to treat the land reform proposals separately from the upcoming recommendations from the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group (AHLRG), warning that the complex area of tenancy law needed separate consideration.

Bidwells partner Finlay Clark agreed and said the proposals could damage the rural economy.

He said the breaking up of large land holdings could damage the forestry sector, while the withdrawal of business rates exemptions for shooting and deerstalking could put jobs at risk.

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (STFA), on the other hand, welcomed the proposals and said plans to combine the AHLRG recommendations with the land reform proposals were “excellent news”.

Chairman Christopher Nicholson said:  “Tenancy reform must be considered as part of the broader land reform agenda for a more inclusive society and to increase opportunity in the wider rural economy.

“Scotland’s land and people need a better deal and land reform will unlock underutilised assets for better use by more of the population.”

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