Former Holyrood minister Peter Peacock has demanded urgent action to prevent “green lairds” from ushering in another century of land “exploitation” in Scotland.
Mr Peacock, a land reform campaigner who served as education minister in the Cabinet of Jack McConnell’s Labour government, said he is “increasingly concerned” about the threat.
The former Highland Council convener called on the next Scottish Government to use its existing agencies to “aggressively” purchase land and protect it for communities.
He proposed the radical move after expressing stark fears about a rapidly emerging trend of businesses seeking to buy estates in the Highlands and Islands, and other rural areas, for carbon offsetting purposes.
Research conducted by Savills, the long-established selling agents often involved in the purchase of large sporting estates, recently said 2020 had been “an extraordinary year for the Scottish estate market”, with a 98% increase in buyers registering to purchase rural property in Scotland.
Craft beer giant BrewDog, meanwhile, is planning to develop a “green” hotel, distillery and campsite, along with hiking and biking trails, on a “huge chunk of land” it has bought in the Highlands.
It also announced plans for the “UK’s biggest” woodland establishment and peatland restoration project at the site, understood to be the 9,300-acre Kinrara Estate, near Aviemore.
Mr Peacock and others fear the new promotion and interest in purchasing estates could be motivated by a desire to “hedge future carbon tax liabilities, and access public spending on climate actions, to offset their carbon emissions”, while enhancing their brands by displaying their green credentials.
I have become increasingly concerned that we are seeing the next great Highlands and Islands land exploitation under way, with the danger that new patterns of external ownership of Highlands and Islands land will be established that may last for the next century and more.”
The former Highlands and Islands MSP, who served at Holyrood from 1999 to 2011, believes it risks repeating the mistakes of the past.
“I have become increasingly concerned that we are seeing the next great Highlands and Islands land exploitation under way, with the danger that new patterns of external ownership of Highlands and Islands land will be established that may last for the next century and more,” he said.
“This is likely to see, once again, the Highlands being sold from under the feet of local people to external forces who can out-compete other interests for land, forcing up land prices, and undermine communities in their ability to take a lead in tacking the climate emergency while also promoting wider social and economic benefit under local democratic control.
“Land purchased by corporates for their own purposes could lock in new patterns of external land ownership for the next century and more and hamper a shared desire across the political parties to advance local community ownership and control of land.”
Mr Peacock urged the next government to take immediate action.
My strong sense is that an urgent and significant state intervention is needed in land markets.”
“My strong sense is that an urgent and significant state intervention is needed in land markets, akin to that which created the Forestry Commission, to take land into public ownership to stop this exploitation, with the explicit intention of transferring that land to local communities to own and manage over time,” he said.
“This would release community initiative to tackle the climate emergency and provide more of the inspiring examples of community action on land for environmental, social and economic purposes already seen among community owners of land.”
He believed such a move would ensure a bigger community and public role and not leave the climate emergency to the private markets.