The Scottish Land Commission (the “Commission”) published a report on 20 March 2019 on the impact of the concentration of land ownership in Scotland with recommendations to the Scottish Ministers.
The report follows a discussion paper on land ownership issues in Scotland, a Commission research report looking at international approaches to limiting scale and concentration of land ownership and a call for evidence of people’s experiences of issues associated with concentration of land ownership.
The Commission sought responses from people who live and/or work in areas where the majority of land is owned by either a single individual or organisation or a very small number or individuals or organisations; and the individuals and organisations have the power to make decisions about how this land is used, that affect the whole community.
407 anecdotal responses were received in response to the call for evidence and the Commission has summarised their findings as follows:-
- Most of the advantages associated with Scotland’s current pattern of land ownership can be associated with potential economies of scale.
- Most of the disadvantages identified relate to concentration of social, economic and decision-making power, not simply the scale of landholdings.
- In some parts of Scotland, concentrated land ownership is an impediment to economic development and is causing significant and long-term harm to the communities affected.
- The pattern of market and social power in concentrated land ownership, has parallels with monopoly power in wider economic policy.
- There are issues to address beyond ownership, specifically a lack of effective participation in land use change decisions.
- These problems are not associated exclusively with any particular type of land owner – the evidence reveals issues across land owned by private owners, public bodies, NGOs and communities.
- There is little or no method of redress for communities or individuals, where there are adverse economic or social impacts arising from concentrated ownership.
The report sets out the Commission’s initial recommendations as follows:-
- Introducing a Public Interest Test for significant land transfers/acquisitions.
- Requiring land holdings over a certain scale to engage on, and publish, a management plan.
- Legislating for a new Land Rights and Responsibilities review process, to take effect where there is evidence of adverse impact.
- Taking into account the effects of concentrated ownership in the implementation of the forthcoming Community Right to Buy Land to Further Sustainable Development.
- Reviewing and investigating policy options to encourage a more diverse pattern of private ownership and investment.
- Creating more robust mechanisms to ensure local democratic influence on and benefit from, land use change.
- Optimising opportunities, through land owners reviewing the operation and governance of their land holdings, using the Land Rights and Responsibilities framework.
- Implementing – in the immediate future – a programme of land rights and responsibilities good practice (Codes of Conduct).
The Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement was introduced by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 and in terms of the 2016 Act is due to be reviewed by 27 September 2022.
The Commission has stated that it will now engage widely with stakeholders and the public on the findings of the evidence, the immediate recommendations and their wider implications for landowners and managers, communities and others, through a campaign of awareness raising, events and public meetings culminating in a land reform conference in October 2019.
The Commission’s report and recommendations can be viewed here.
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