“Radical” legislation to tackle so-called green lairds is needed to stop a new Highland Clearances, according to Scotland’s land reform minister.
Màiri McAllan has launched a consultation on the Scottish Government’s land reform bill, which she hopes will address long-standing ownership concerns.
Some of the proposed measures include introducing a public interest test for transfers of large landholdings, and making sure owners give community bodies notice if they intend to sell.
It would also ensure those applying for land-based subsidies have their property properly registered to help improve transparency.
Ms McAllan hopes the bill will also clamp down on green lairds by better regulating land ownership.
It comes after the government was told to take “urgent” action on the issue.
Green lairds risk to rural communities
The term “green laird” describes companies and individuals buying up estates across Scotland to boost their environmental credentials.
Fears have been raised that the phenomenon could create a century of land exploitation across the country.
Speaking at the Ecology Centre near Kinghorn in Fife, Ms McAllan said that if action is not taken now, “we risk international corporations and individuals buying up swathes of land for their benefit”.
“That risks communities being left behind and would be tantamount to a second clearance,” she said.
“That is exactly what we need to avoid.
“There are a number of bits of work on that already but we have an opportunity here to regulate land ownership.”
Minister ‘fully committed’
Ms McAllan insisted the government is determined to tackle problem landlords.
She said: “We must continue to develop and implement land reform that addresses historical inequalities and at the same time, we must rise to changing social, environmental and economic issues in contemporary Scotland.
“I recognise, and am fully committed to tackling, the adverse effects of scale and concentration of land ownership – and empowering communities in the process.
“I am also clear that while investment in Scotland’s natural capital is vital to tackle the climate and nature emergencies, we must ensure that our people and communities are not disadvantaged and indeed can benefit.”
Labour MSP criticises bill
The proposals have been criticised by Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba, who is planning to launch her own bill at Holyrood.
She said the government’s proposal does “nothing” to address “one of the greatest symbols of inequality there is”.
Ms Villalba said: “Little will change under these very vague proposals from ministers.
“The centuries’ old entrenched inequality of land ownership in Scotland would remain.
“I would encourage campaigners to engage with this consultation, and make their feelings known about these ridiculously inadequate proposals and to make the case for real land justice.”
Andrew Thin, the chair of the Scottish Land Commission says it is “unhelpful” to label all landlords as bad.
Speaking at the visit in Fife, Mr Thin said: “Just because you own a large landholding doesn’t make you a bad person.
“Scotland has a great many good landlords who do a good job for the country.
“Many who don’t do a particularly good job without realising they are neglectful or misusing their power.
“That is not because they are bad people but often they are born into that position and are out of their depth and need some help.”