Scottish Land Commission publish report on land ownership in Scotland

Hamish Lean discusses the potentially far-reaching consequences for rural land ownership. 

30 March 2019

The Scottish Land Commission has recently published their report into what it describes as the issues associated with largescale and concentrated land ownership in Scotland.  The report draws a number of conclusions and makes recommendations to the Scottish Government about potential future legislative change that might have far-reaching consequences for rural land ownership.  

It takes the view that the evidence that it has gathered indicates that largescale and concentrated rural land ownership directly impacts economic and social wellbeing. 

It recognises some advantages in the current pattern of land ownership predominantly related to economies of scale. 

However, it considers that these advantages are outweighed by a deficit in participation created by the concentrated pattern of land ownership and by inadequate land use decision-making processes. 

It finds that the pattern of market and social power evident in concentrated land ownership has parallels with monopoly power and the Commission takes the view it should be controlled in the same way.

It concludes that a concentration of land ownership has a direct influence on the public interest.

To be absolutely clear, the Commission does not conclude that private ownership of land is a bad thing and in fact takes the view that it is in the public interest to encourage a more diverse private ownership of rural land in Scotland. Its concern revolves around largescale concentrated landholdings and the implications which they have for local communities.

The Commission makes a number of recommendations to Scottish Government. Whilst these fall short of imposing a cap on land ownership the Commission does recommend that Scottish Government introduce a power to apply a public interest test and approval mechanism at the point of a significant land transfer. 

The Commission envisages criteria based on scale, value, location, proposed land use and fragility of community and suggests that the power to apply the tests should sit with local authorities, with a potential appeal to Ministers. 

The Commission also recommends that the Scottish Government introduce a legal requirement for landholdings above a certain size to prepare and engage on a management plan incorporating community engagement. 

The Commission also recommends that Scottish Government introduce a power to the Commission of statutory review underpinned by codes of practice to assure accountability on the operation of landholdings in relation to the principles of land rights and responsibilities.  

It is obvious that change is coming to the traditional landed estate in Scotland. The Commission proposes to hold a conference in October of this year to discuss its report and recommendations. 

It is vital that all those with an interest in the sector pay close attention to and actively engage in the process in order to help shape the likely outcomes.