Land Reform (Scotland) Bill 2024 – a quick guide

Reforms proposed by the Bill will be relevant to multiple aspects of the use and management of Land in Scotland. Stuart Greenwood breaks down the key areas affected and how the regulations will change.

28 March 2024

Sweeping changes are being proposed to legislation that deals with the ownership, management and use of land in Scotland. 

The Scottish Government published its Land Reform (Scotland) Bill 2024 on 13 March 2024. 

The key focuses include:

  • land management: 
  • community engagement and right to buy:
  • further reform to agricultural holdings:
  • expanding on the existing regulatory framework following on from the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016.

The Bill proposes new powers for Scottish Ministers to make regulations enforcing community engagement on landowners with single or composite holdings in excess of 3,000 hectares, or 1,000 hectares where the holdings constitute more than 25% of an inhabited island. 

These amendments include a requirement for such holdings to maintain and implement land management plans and will also introduce enforcement measures to ensure compliance.

The Bill also expands on the existing rules surrounding Community Right to Buy. 

Currently, communities can register a pre-emptive right to purchase a holding, or part of a holding, meaning the land could not be sold before notice was served on the community and they have been given the option to purchase the holding. 

The Bill takes this further, requiring landowners of holdings of 1,000 hectares or more to give notice to communities when those landowners intend to sell all or part of their holdings - regardless of whether a right to buy has previously been registered.

It is also proposed to give powers to Scottish Ministers to regulate how certain holdings are sold.

These include preventing the transfer of large holdings without a prior lotting decision and determining whether the land must instead be transferred in smaller lots to different individuals. A right to appeal the lotting decision and compensation provisions have been proposed alongside this.

The Scottish Land Commission will also see the addition of a ‘Land and Communities Commissioner’.

The Bill proposes this new role will work alongside, but have distinctly separate functions from, the existing Land Commissioners and Tenant Farming Commissioner. The functions of the Land and Communities Commissioner will include the power to enforce the provisions on community engagement on landowners. 

There is also a proposed duty for Scottish Ministers to publish a model lease designed for letting land so it can be used either wholly or partly for environmental purposes, and the introduction of rights relating to small landholdings including the right to buy and diversification. 

Policy changes over small landholdings have been consolidated in the Bill, particularly those relating to rent, assignation, succession and compensation.

In respect of agricultural holdings, changes are proposed in connection with an agricultural tenant’s right to buy and registration of interest, though much of the detail is awaited on this as it is to be made by separate regulation.

Reforms will also be made to the process of resumption from agricultural holdings – the process by which a landlord may remove land from an agricultural tenancy. This includes the imposition of a minimum notice period of one year for secure agricultural tenants and a greater role for the Tenant Farming Commissioner in overseeing any resumption.

Finally, on agricultural holdings the Bill introduces the long-awaited changes to the rent review process and further changes to the provisions regarding compensation for tenants’ improvements and the process for a tenant seeking to diversify their activities on the holding.

This is a very brief overview – there are many reforms proposed by the Bill which will be relevant to multiple aspects of the use and management of Land in Scotland. 

To help clarify how these changes will work in practice we will be publishing a series of articles focussing on each of the areas of reform in more detail and setting out the implications of the provisions as currently presented. 

In the meantime, if you have any questions on how the Bill could impact your organisation please get in touch with our market-leading Rural team and we will be happy to help.