Campaigners have stepped up calls for reforms that would finally lift the “veil of secrecy” that shrouds the identity of many of Scotland’s landowners.
In a new report, Community Land Scotland said the nation has an opportunity to take a “world-leading role” in guaranteeing land ownership transparency through new Holyrood regulations.
But the organisation, which represents the groups behind Scotland’s community buy-outs, said the benefits could be “limited” unless the opportunity is properly grasped.
Just 500 people own about half of Scotland’s land and it was revealed last month by the Press and Journal’s sister paper, the Sunday Post, that property and land worth £2.9billion was being held by companies based in foreign tax havens.
But the information can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds to obtain from the Registers of Scotland, despite the equivalent data being free south of the border.
In her report for Community Land Scotland, researcher Poppea Daniel concluded: “There is a long history of land registration in Scotland and a presumption of public access to information about land ownership.
“However, there are some key factors which are compromising land ownership transparency in practice.
“The main, centralised register of land is incomplete and not integrated with other sources containing information about (for example) legal entities which own land.
“There is a gap as yet between the desire for a ‘publicly accessible’ land registry and the reality.
“Access for citizens to anything other than the most basic information is fragmented, expensive and complicated.”
She said the benefits of new land reform legislation could be restricted if this framework is not overhauled.
Calum MacLeod, Community Land Scotland’s policy director, said: “The report reveals weaknesses in the existing system for promoting transparency of ownership.
“It also shows that lifting the existing veil of secrecy on beneficial ownership of land in Scotland requires the new Register to be comprehensive in its coverage, responsive to the needs of users and, crucially, freely accessible by the public.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it was “determined to improve the transparency of land ownership in Scotland.
“To enhance that we will shortly introduce regulations to Parliament for a new public register of controlling interests in owners and tenants of land.”