Land reform Consultation Submission


Common Weal believes that the concentrated nature of Scottish land ownership is a barrier to economic, social, cultural and environmental development and that the current regulatory framework enables ownership of Scottish land for tax evasion and avoidance purposes. Reform is necessary and welcomed.

Consultation Questions

Draft Land Rights and Responsibilities Policy

Do you agree that the Scottish Government should have a stated land rights and responsibilities policy?

Yes, we agree.

Do you have any comments on the draft land rights and responsibilities policy?

Detailed and full information on who owns the land of Scotland is a key part of this process, and has been obscured for far too long. The data on ownership, use and value shouldbe held in one place, and made easily accessible by the public, ideally in the form of an interactive map.

If made accessible, we believe that a significant number of our communities would have an interest in this. Gaining ownership should be as simple and straightforward a process as possible and the funds needed for these purchases must be made readily available. The policy is consistent with international best practice and the rights-based approach of international development.

Nonetheless, we would raise caution around the use of the phrase “environmental responsibility, economic prosperity”. Without further development, the vague nature of those phrase may allow for it to be exploited or misapplied to put economic benefits before the care and well-being of communities and environmental sustainability.

Considering your long term aspirations for land reform in Scotland, what are the top three actions that you think the Scottish Government should take?

There are three key issues: transparency of ownership, increasing accessibility to land ownership and developing strategies that will assist in producing a wider range of options for the use of land.

With regards to transparency, a pressing concern is the severe lack of public knowledge of who owns land. This insufficient awareness is especially concerning regarding both the size and use of land on large estates. We firmly believe that without key steps taken to ensure transparency of land ownership, the lack of civic engagement will hinder grassroots-led land reform.

Following on from this, the accessibility of land ownership should also be a key aim thatthe Scottish Government should pursue. We believe the best means of ensuring that landis made available to as many as possible, as well as reducing the size of the large estates,is to introduce a Land Value Tax. If a comprehensive Land Value Tax were implemented,the public purse would benefit and comparably unproductive large holdings would consequently be made less attractive. Rather than setting an upper limit of land holdings size or forcing sale, it becomes significantly less profitable for owners to hold very large estates – unless they are used productively and create jobs.

Lastly, the development of a comprehensive a land-use strategy should be prioritised. For example, a strong presumption against developing further renewable projects on privately owned land should be taken. The resultant billions of pounds in profits from the current arrangement sees most leaving Scotland and the rest pouring into the same pockets of land owners, already in receipt of large sums of public subsidy, simply for owning the land.

Land for projects such as wind farms should be collectively owned – either by local authorities, local trusts or other models. Profits should go to the local authority, the government or community trusts, with a proportion of the money reinvested into additional projects.

Another illustration of this is in the area of housing. Scotland is suffering from a severe housing shortage, poor quality housing stock and high house prices, resulting in hardship for too many.

An in-depth housing policy paper will be published by Common Weal later in the year, but we believe that an extensive programme of national house building and self- building could go a long way in alleviating the housing crisis.

In order for this to happen, land must be made available. The law should be altered so that the purchaser of the land pays only the value of the land before the planning permission was granted, rather than the vastly inflated price attracted by the planning permission. This way local authorities, the Scottish Government, co-operatives etc. could purchase land for housebuilding at more accessible prices. Land could be set aside in towns and villages across Scotland for local families to self-build (self-building typically results in larger, better quality and more eco friendly housing that the volume builders) and the government could undertake a locally managed program of quality house building for rent, providing future income for the people of Scotland.

These are only some examples of how a land use strategy could promote positive economic and social benefit through better use of land.

Proposals for inclusion in a Land Reform Bill

Proposal 1 – A Scottish Land Reform Commission

Do you agree that a Scottish Land Reform Commission would help ensure Scotland continues to make progress on land reform and has the ability to respond to emergent issues?

We agree. Currently, fewer than a thousand individuals own over half of Scotland’s land, consequently making us the most concentrated land ownership in Europe. We hope that the Scottish Land Reform Commission will help transform this. Equitable land distribution is key to becoming a more socially just nation that uses its resources to benefit everyone.

What do you think the advantages or disadvantages of having a Scottish Land Reform Commission would be?
It would be advantageous to have a commission to focus on the continuing process of land reform and establish the principle of interventionism on how the land is owned and managed. We believe there should be a Scottish Land Commissioner with responsibility for promoting land reform, quasi-judicial powers to determine access disputes and a role in acting for communities in land disputes.

Do you have any thoughts on the structure, type or remit of any Scottish Land Reform Commission?

The appointments to this Commission must be carefully considered. It should comprise of those with a direct interest in the land, those who live on the land and depend on it directly for a living earned through labour.

There remains a danger here that the Commission could comprise of unrepresentative members from the top income strata with links to powerful vested interests, which would corrode the effectiveness of the Government’s commitment to land reform. The Commission should thus reflect the make up of Scottish society, and should be gender balanced.

There is no reason it could not be appointed through a democratic process, reflecting wider social needs and not just those of existing interest groups.

Proposal 2 – Limiting the legal entities that can own land in Scotland

Do you agree that restricting the type of legal entities that can, in future, take ownership or a long lease over land in Scotland would help improve the transparency of land ownership in Scotland?

Yes, we agree. Land ownership should be restricted to individuals and legal entities based in the UK or EU. A right to buy land should be introduced so that tenants can secure a changeof ownership without having to wait for land to be offered for sale, or where ownership might otherwise change. This seeks to address the pressing matter that too many estates rarely change hands, thus hindering the diversity of land ownership and consequently social mobility.

Do you agree that in future land should only be owned (or a long lease taken over land) by individuals or by a legal entity formed in accordance with the law of a Member State of the EU?

We agree.

What do you think the advantages or disadvantages of such a restriction would be?

If the objective is to improve transparency and limit illegal activity, then this must be applied retrospectively. Therefore, landowners who currently own land held by offshore entities must transfer ownership to a compliant entity.

This would be consistent with the public interest provisions of the European convention of human rights. The beneficial owner would not be losing their beneficial ownership. They would still enjoy possession and enjoyment of their land but they would merely have to make a different arrangement with regard to holding title to the land. Their convention rights would not have been violated. All existing owners registered outside the EU should be required to transfer title to a compliant entity within, say, five years of a date to be set.

With the EU in the process of agreeing a new money laundering directive, establishing exactly who Scotland’s beneficial owners are is entirely consistent with the both Scottish Government policy aims and the EU’s transparency aims.

How should any restriction operate and be enforced, and what consequences might follow if the restriction is breached?

Failure to transfer ownership to a compliant entity within a reasonable timescale and with proper engagement would result in the land reverting to either a local authority or the Scottish Government. Further consultation would be necessary to determine which.

Proposal 3 – Information on land, its value and ownership

Do you agree that better co-ordination of information on land, its value and ownership would lead to better decision making for both the private and public sectors?

Better coordination of information on land, its value and ownership would inevitably leadto better decision-making for both private and public sectors. As stressed above, when addressing the current deficit in transparency of use and ownership, comprehensive data, information and interactive maps should be made readily available for public use to increase awareness of and engagement with the value and ownership of land.

Do you hold data you could share or is there any data you would wish to access?

We do not.

What do you think the advantages or disadvantages of wider and more flexible sharing of land information would be and do you have any recommendations about how this can best be achieved?

All land, counting farmland, should be included in this. It is fundamentally important that land information is made as accessible as possible to the public. There is a demonstrable weight of evidence that it is in the public interest for communities to be able to find out who the owners of land are. This can be for a variety of reasons such as; bad management, abandonment or dereliction, or to inquire about leasing or purchasing.

There is no public interest reason that we can think of that requires secrecy of ownership. A short timeframe should be set to allow for compliance, with heavy penalties for non- compliance.

Proposal 4 – Sustainable development test for land governance

Do you agree that there should be powers given to Scottish Ministers or another public body to direct private landowners to take action to overcome barriers to sustainable development in an area?

We do. However, we would exercise caution on two points. Firstly, the phrase sustainable development has been used with no further specification as to what this precisely entails. Secondly, these remains a problem of land owners intimidating tenants, particularly in rural communities. Finding ways to include communities in the planning of futures in a way that does not make them feel intimidated should also be a priority here.

What do you think the benefits would be and do you have any recommendations about how these can best be achieved?

It would be beneficial to confirm the principle of public interest in the good management of land, particularly where this impacts on local and national wellbeing.

However, further thought needs to be given to ensure that community powers are increased with Ministerial direction as a last resort.

Do you have any concerns or alternative ways to achieve the same aim?

As outlined above, Land Value Tax would achieve similar aims.

Proposal 5 – A more proactive role for public sector land management

Do you agree that public sector bodies, such as Forestry Commission Scotland, should be able to engage in a wider range of management activities in order to promote more integrated range of social, economic and environmental outcomes?

We agree.

What do you think the benefits would be and do you have any recommendations about how this can best be achieved?

It is hard to argue that land use in Scotland is anywhere close to optimal utilisation. Economic and social development requires that resources are used for development purposes (improving outcomes for the many) and not just speculative purposes (improving outcomes only for owners with no reference to wider impacts). Land is a particular kind of asset and should be thought of differently from other kinds of assets.

Where land is in public ownership or management, its management should be integrated into wider strategies of economic and social development. Where poor land use is contributing to poor social and economic outcomes then there is a public interest in some form of intervention.

However, we believe that the best strategy is to encourage more diversity of ownership, allowing for a wider range of land uses and increased innovation in land use and management. Introducing a Land Value Tax to bring the cost of land much closer to its economic value is a means of giving people and groups better access to land ownership and to maximise the economic viability of the productive use of land.

Do you have any concerns or alternative ways to achieve the same aim?

As above, influencing the cost of land through a Land Value Tax would be an important step.

Proposal 6 – Duty of community engagement on land management decisions to be placed on charitable trustees

Do you think a trustee of a charity should be required to engage with the local community before taking a decision on the management, use or transfer of land under the charity’s control?

In principle, yes. However, this could be developed further with more structured ways to help communities to influence land use policy – not least through effective local democracy with planning powers at the community level.

What do you think the advantages or disadvantages would be?

A duty to ‘engage’ could simply be used to whitewash issues. Charitable trusts should be required by law to have members of the local community on the board. This would ensure that local views are represented in the decision-making processes. Furthermore, there is currently an issue around owners economically profiteering from charitable status without operating in the interests of the local community. Concrete measures should be adopted to ensure that public benefit rests at the heart of charities.

How should “community” be defined?

Scotland requires a proper system of local democracy with community-level governance. The identification of relevant communities would take place as part of that development.

What remedies should be available should a trustee of a charity fail to engage appropriately with the local community?

Sanctions such as the removal of charitable status should be considered where there is clearly insufficient public benefit to local communities from the governance of land.

Proposal 7 – Removal of the exemption from business rates for shooting and deerstalking

Should the current business rate exemptions for shootings and deer forests be ended?

Yes, we agree that these business rate exemptions should end.

What do you think the advantages would be?

Large sporting estates are a poor use of Scottish land and it is not in the public interest to create special incentives to prop up that single use of land. This is public subsidy to a single industry sector which prevents proper development of land for productive use. It is also quite clearly a subsidy to wealthy landowners for a sport enjoyed by the wealthy. There is thus a clear question of justice as to why this pursuit receives special treatment.

What do you think the disadvantages would be?


Estate owners will argue that jobs will be lost as a direct result. However, we feel that many of the jobs associated with sporting estates are temporary, seasonal and low paid. In the long term we cannot sustain industries that require these kinds of public subsidy.

Land use must be economically viable based on its productivity, not its public subsidies. It is hard to justify these subsidies in terms of wider community benefit.

Proposal 8 – Common Good

Do you agree that the need for court approval for disposals or changes of use of common good property, where this currently exists, should be removed?

We believe that there is an urgent need to record, map and take moves to protect and recover ‘common good land’. Protections should be strengthened. It is of utmost importance that we map all the common good land that exists as soon as possible.

Furthermore, Common Good should have a statutory definition. There should also be new framework covering how common good funds should be managed and, in particular, how communities could or should be involved.

If removed, what should take the place of court approval?

This could be a competence of a Scottish Land Commissioner, with recourse to legal review.
Should there be a new legal definition of common good?

This should be decided on further consultation.
What might any new legal definition of common good look like?

This should be decided on further consultation.

Proposal 9 – Agricultural Holdings

Do you agree that the Scottish Government should take forward some of the recommendations of the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group within the Land Reform Bill?

Given that the public has not yet been made aware of the precise recommendations of the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Group, we do not feel comfortable advocating this yet.

What do you think the advantages would be?

It is our view that, as a separate bill, it would be subject to stronger lobbying from the landed interests. Tenant farmers should be entitled to purchase their land at a reasonable rate, taking account length of tenure as well as market value. This would also have the effect of reducing the size of some of the larger estates.

Proposal 10 – Wild Deer

Do you agree that further deer management regulation measures should be introduced to be available in the event that the present arrangements are assessed as not protecting the public interest?

Yes, we agree.

What do you think the advantages would be?

Other European countries have effective deer management frameworks in place. We consider that this would be advisable here, and that the right to hunt could be withdrawn if deer management targets were not being met.

What do you think the disadvantages would be?


Equality Impact Assessment

What differences might there be in the impact of the Bill on individuals and communities with different levels of advantage or deprivation? How can we make sure that all individuals and communities can access the benefits of these proposals?

We believe that the Scottish Government should implement a comprehensive balanced score-card approach to equalities. We are currently working on developing this, but advocate a numbers model that ensures the delivery of genuine diversity and equality.

Secondly, with regards to commissioners, we would like to reiterate the importance of including people who work on the land. Furthermore, it is absolutely vital that these members are remunerated, similar to those on health boards. Consequently, by ensuring that these positions are paid, the scope for excluding those on low incomes is dramatically reduced, thus encouraging socio-economic diversity. Unlike previous considerations of land, this Commission has to represent its surrounding society and have diversity in its membership.

Additionally, there is a reality of conflict. As it stands, intimidation and fear are heartbreakingly widespread. Consequently, many tenants are silenced. The proposals around land and of land reform must acknowledge this, and produce a strategy to protect vulnerable tenants who are currently looked upon unfavourably by some landlords for requesting change.

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Photo credit to: Smilla4