Land reform in a Net Zero nation: consultation analysis

Outlines the findings from an analysis of responses to a public consultation on land reform in a Net Zero nation.

11. Assessing impact

The final section of the consultation paper asked a series of questions in relation to the impact of the proposed policy.

Island communities

Question 45 – Are you aware of any examples of how the proposals in this consultation might impact, positively or negatively, on island communities in a way that is different from the impact on mainland areas?

Around 110 respondents made a comment at Question 45.

Some respondents observed that the inclusion of a classification of large-scale landholding that is specific to islands (i.e. land that accounts for more than a specified minimum proportion of a permanently inhabited island) should mean that the impact on island communities will broadly as for mainland Scotland. However, there was also a view that it is difficult to assess the likely impact on islands as a specific threshold has not been proposed.

General comments included that that the proposals should impact positively on island communities since large-scale land ownership can be a critical issue, with problems and challenges magnified. For example, it was reported that people who work for some estates are too dependent on them for housing and jobs and that this prevents them speaking up. It was hoped that the proposals will help improve landowner accountability, and could help address depopulation. Further comments included that islands need populations to survive, and that active community land ownership and management opens up opportunities to share wealth. There was also reference to improving opportunities to acquire land at a realistic value where it can be shown to be in the public interest and necessary for a sustainable community.

Comments and suggestions around maximising the positive impact of the reforms for island communities included that:

  • Public and non-statutory bodies, such as NatureScot and the National Trust for Scotland, should be within the scope of the legislation. There was specific reference to the Isle of Rum and how NatureScot engages with communities.
  • Qualifying criteria should include defined categories of key local assets, such as shops, harbours and land suitable for housing.
  • There are instances, especially in smaller islands, where the ownership of a key piece of land that is required, for example, for harbour or housing development, can have a very significant impact, even if the piece of land in question is not very large. There should be provision to deal with such instances.
  • The proposals should also consider crofting, including the hyper-inflation of the market around the sale of crofts, increased external investors and both houses and land becoming inaccessible to members of island communities.

It was also suggested that consideration should be given to island communities often depending on volunteers who have to interact with individuals and corporations with extensive resources at their disposal. There was thought to be a need for clear guidance and support to be made available to communities to enable them to challenge non-compliance or breaches of LRRS statutory duties.

In terms of possible negative impacts, comments tended to focus on possible economic impacts, including in relation to the loss of employment opportunities. It was noted that rural and island employment is fragile, and it was suggested that care should be taken to ensure there are no unintended consequences to legislation.

Further comments included that private estates employ many full and part time staff in agriculture, forestry and short-term holiday letting, and also support local businesses such as laundries, shops, and restaurants. There was also reference to the role of private estates/large landowners in wild deer management. The concern was that the proposals do nothing to encourage private landowners to invest. It was also suggested that the proposals could drive away private investment and make large estates unsaleable.

Young people

Question 46 – Are you aware of any examples of particular current or future impacts, positive or negative, on young people, (children, pupils, and young adults up to the age of 26) of any aspect of the proposals in this consultation?

Around 150 respondents made a comment at Question 46.

In terms of the positive impacts on young people, respondents were most likely to reference the importance of young people having access to land. There was particular reference to young people having access to land for farming and to pursue land-based vocations, and to the need for support for new entrant farmers. It was also suggested that there is an urgent need to upskill, teach and train a workforce to deliver the aspirations underpinning land reform.

There was also reference to the need for affordable housing, including the opportunity to build homes on windfall land, with a connection made to allowing young people to remain in, or return to, rural communities and supporting those communities to thrive, for example by keeping the school age population at a level that keeps local schools open. It was also noted that local businesses, including land-based businesses, need a workforce that includes younger people, including because many of the employment opportunities are physically demanding.

Other potential positive impacts identified included that:

  • The proposals, especially those relating to Land Management Plans, may help in building relationships between communities and landowners, including with local schools and other educational institutions.
  • Most Community Trusts have a charitable duty to support opportunities for young people, and that the opportunity for community land ownership will enable more opportunities to be available.

Those commenting at this question included a small number of respondents who identified themselves as younger people or as having younger people in their family. They included a respondent who explained that they are currently living on a croft and are looking at how to live with the smallest environmental impact and the biggest positive impact on the landscape around them. They went on comment that it is important for young people to stay engaged and informed about policy decisions in this area, including because they are likely to actively affect them.

In the medium to longer term, respondents also referred to children and young people as being the ones for whom achieving net zero and tackling the biodiversity crisis will be most critical. Suggestions relating to taking the reforms forward included that those in government should work with young people on their ideas for the future, with a Rural and Island Youth Parliament and a Taskforce referenced. There was also a concern about how accessible a consultation process such as this one is for young people.

However, there was also a view that some of the reforms could add to the difficulty for young people of getting involved in farming. It was suggested that the right to buy legislation for Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1991 tenancies, coupled with the proposals set out in this consultation, are serving to close down all opportunities for new tenancies to be offered to new entrant or young farmers.

More generally, it was suggested that young people will be most affected by any negative impacts stemming from the proposed reforms, if these are long term in nature. This included a reference to the proposals being counterproductive to addressing climate change and a suggestion that, while the proposals will permanently remove land from food production, carbon sequestration by softwoods being planted now will largely come too late to significantly alter climate change.

There were also concerns that the proposals do not go far enough in terms of reversing unequal land ownership and tackling the entrenched social inequality that impacts on young people.

Other general comments included that it will be interesting to see how land reform interacts with Play Sufficiency assessments.

Protected characteristics

Question 47 – Are you aware of any examples of how the proposals in this consultation may impact, either positively or negatively, on those with protected characteristics (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation)?

Around 60 respondents made a comment at Question 47. General comments included that respondents were not aware of any likely impact, or that other legalisation already covers protected characteristics and the relevance to land reform is not clear. Others commented that there is not likely to be any particular or specific impact on those with protected characteristics, including because the protection of the environment benefits everyone.

Some respondents did expect the proposals to have a specific impact on people with protected characteristics, including because disadvantaged and minority groups already experience any negative impacts more severely than the majority. It was noted, for example, that people who are marginalised on the basis of one or more protected characteristic are far more likely to also be economically disadvantaged and that this means they are less likely to be able to adapt to and mitigate the damaging consequences of climate change. It was suggested, therefore, that making the most of the Land Reform for Net Zero process could be of particular benefit to people marginalised on the basis of one or more protected characteristic.

There was an expectation that community ownership of land should have a positive impact on any issues involving equality and that facilitating more community-ownership, with the opportunity to create community businesses for local benefit, has the potential to have a positive impact on all people with protected characteristics.

Other comments included that farming is currently dominated by white, middle-aged men and that anything that can be done to diversify land use will be a good thing. It was reported that many land workers are part of protected groups, such as migrant communities, people of colour, women and people who are marginalised because of their gender, and generally have less access to land. Expanding the definition of ‘community groups’ to include people beyond those who already live in rural areas was seen as essential to ensuring increased diversity of land ownership and land use in Scotland.

Other comments about particular protected characteristics included that:

  • The population of farmers and farmer tenants, and of rural communities more widely, is an ageing one.
  • Ethical veganism is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. The expansion of plant-based land management and food production, free from the use of animals, is important to uphold the rights of vegans to practice their beliefs.
  • The LGBTQ+ community is still being stigmatised in some rural areas, and that giving different groups of people the opportunity to live and work in rural areas could help bring about change.
  • In some parts of Scotland, it is very unusual for women to be offered the opportunity to run estates or farms.

It was also noted that women have been structurally excluded from land ownership on an overwhelming scale and that succession law, inheritance practices and unequal access to income, wealth and power mean that women have been severely hampered in land ownership. There was also reference to those with less access to inherited wealth, and a connection to the protected characteristics of race and religion. In terms of specific proposals, it was suggested that any special treatment of family farms would be likely to be discriminatory on grounds of race, religion and potentially also sex.

There were some concerns that the proposals do not go far enough to support land access for people with protected characteristics. It was argued that, as the proposals would only apply full regulation to 20% of Scotland, it is difficult to see how they will make a meaningful difference to the lack of diversity in Scottish land ownership. There was particular reference to the gender imbalance of land ownership.

Other issues or concerns raised included that:

  • If landowners such as the Church of Scotland were to be considered to be large-scale, increased and disproportionate duties would be placed on local volunteers and result in a greater administrative burden on a charitable organisation with religious purposes. The proposals may also reduce income associated with the landholding and thus available for the support of the congregational ministry of the Church of Scotland.
  • Little seems to be being done to encourage disabled people into land working, conservation or agriculture.
  • The proposals seem to be actively targeting international capital and European and English landowners.

Environmental impact

Question 48 – Are you aware of any examples of potential impacts, either positive or negative that you consider any of the proposals in this consultation may have on the environment?

Around 175 respondents made a comment at Question 48.

General comments included that any land reform proposals have the potential to have a major impact on the natural and built environment, with some respondents noting that they expected the proposals to have a positive impact. In terms of particular proposals, comments included that a well-executed LRRS should have a positive impact on the environment and that the requirement to produce Management Plans should ensure greater transparency in how the environment is being managed. There was also a view that the Land Use Tenancy, if properly designed, may enable positive environmental action by businesses.

In terms of the types of benefits respondents expected to see there was reference to: better land management for biodiversity; peatland restoration; soil improvement; carbon reduction and sequestration; natural reforestation; the uptake of forestry and woodland creation options; and an increase in mixed land use. There was also reference to reversing the decline of crofting, and its potential to reverse the decline of biodiversity. Other positive impacts suggested included that:

  • A healthy environment is beneficial to the local community, attracts tourists and generally boosts the local economy.
  • Greater involvement of communities in the environment around them – in managing it, benefiting from it, and actively engaging – is likely to lead to improvements in environmental quality and ecosystem service provision.
  • Many of the proposals will assist with collaboration between communities and landowners in helping deliver net zero and environmental targets.

Other respondents were less optimistic about the environmental impact the proposals would have. Their concerns included that any approach which supports the drive to create forestry for carbon credits is likely to adversely affect ecosystems and reduce biodiversity rather than increase it. Associated comments included that the purchase of large areas of land by private companies for carbon offsetting is setting up a perfect formula for greenwashing and disempowering local communities.

Some respondents highlighted issues raised at previous questions relating to the environmental benefits of landscape-scale initiatives and the risks associated with the fragmentation of landholdings. There were concerns that changes in ownership, and any fragmentation of large-scale landholdings, could impede progress towards meeting Scotland’s 2030 and 2045 net zero objectives, and could also have a detrimental impact on biodiversity and nature. In terms of biodiversity, there was reference to the benefit from scale of management. There was also reference to the potential for the cumulative negative impacts of some small-scale developments, such as renewables, to be missed by being included in Land Use Tenancies. It was argued that this is where RLUPs can have an overview.

Other comments and concerns included that:

  • Access to substantial pools of capital for climate mitigation measures could be lost. Specifically, there were concerns that additional taxation, further constraint and restrictive protocols may lead to lack of investment in Scotland as other countries become more attractive alternatives.
  • The proposals could act to frustrate large-scale investment and site assembly, for example for major wind farm investments, or the assembly of infrastructure that could be required to support new sustainable infrastructure and utilities that might be required on a national scale.
  • Complicating the conveyancing process, imposing Land Management Plans and overcomplicating the ability to apply for support schemes would all be detrimental to net zero if applied incorrectly.
  • Placing greater financial burdens on private landowners will ultimately lead to job losses. This could lead to a loss of skills and invaluable local knowledge. Taking land out of production, for example for landscape wide rewilding, could also lead to job losses and have an adverse impact on the rural economy.

In terms of how potential impacts could be assessed and/or positive impacts maximised, it was suggested that all approaches should be designed to ensure environmental benefits, including by requiring steps to be taken to improve biodiversity levels, and that:

  • The proposals should be run through the co-impact tool to look at impacts on social cohesion, health and wellbeing, the economy, the environment, and biodiversity.
  • Land reform should take a place-based approach using nature-based solutions to create a climate adaptive and resilient place. It was suggested that a focus solely on economic outcomes will have unintended negative impacts.
  • There must be clear guidance as to what is expected from landowners in helping to deliver national environmental targets when also being asked to take local views into account.
  • Landowners should be held to Responsible Investment in Natural Capital as part of the LRRS.
  • It will be important that the historic environment is also considered, particularly through the proposed Management Plans.
  • The particular challenges presented by mining development should be considered, including so as to adequately protect Scotland from the significant environmental threats posed by the international mining sector.

It was also suggested that any potential positive or negative impacts on the environment should be included in the proposed Land Management Plans.

Socioeconomic disadvantage

Question 49 – Are you aware of any examples of how the proposals in this consultation might impact, positively or negatively, on groups or areas at socioeconomic disadvantage (such as income, low wealth or area deprivation)?

Around 135 respondents made a comment at Question 49.

Some respondents noted the relatively high levels of economic disadvantage in many rural areas, including in island communities. There was specific reference to isolation being a particular factor for island communities when the ferries are unable to run.

An associated point was that any measures that retain money and jobs within rural and island communities will serve to benefit those experiencing hardship. It was also noted that those who are economically disadvantaged are less likely to be able to adapt to and mitigate the damaging consequences of climate change, and it was suggested that making the most of the Land Reform for Net Zero process could be of particular benefit to these people and their communities. There was specific reference to issues associated with mining development having the potential to impact negatively on remote, socially disadvantaged and economically vulnerable rural communities.

In terms of the current proposals, general comments included that they seem to offer a positive impact to groups or areas at socioeconomic disadvantage, or at least will not disadvantage them. There was reference to redistributing wealth to local areas and groups, and to benefiting areas of socioeconomic disadvantage through empowerment, innovation and community ownership.

Other possible benefits identified included that an increasing rural population makes a range of services, such as schools and public transport, more viable to the benefit of everyone. There was reference to opening up new opportunities for people to move into rural areas, with increased supply of affordable housing and greater employment prospects.

A number of respondents connected these types of potential benefit to increased levels of community ownership, including through seeing this as the route to ensuring that the needs of all groups within the community can be properly considered. Specifically, it was suggested that there is the potential for more employment for members of the community if land is community-owned. In relation to the benefits of community ownership, it was reported that increased community land ownership has proven to be transformational in areas of socio-economic disadvantage associated with rurality and higher than average living costs, especially on community owned islands.

However, it was also noted that deprivation may impact on a community’s ability to generate enough social capital to progress a project in the first place, and the importance of making sure that processes are not overly burdensome for community organisations was highlighted. There was also a concern that proposals that rely on sufficient community capacity, such as reporting breaches to the LRRS, may disadvantage groups or areas at socio-economic disadvantage.

In terms of particular proposals, comments included that the Land Use Tenancy, if designed successfully, is the measure in this consultation most likely to assist by enabling a whole new approach to letting land. Other comments on Land Use tenancies included that, if they are affordable enough, they could really open doors for people on low incomes who have skills in land management or environmental work.

It was also suggested that preparing and publishing Land Management Plans should help focus attention on appropriate development which should, overall, have beneficial effects for groups or areas at socioeconomic disadvantage. It was suggested that income from investment in natural capital and renewable energy can be very beneficial, particularly where land is community-owned.

However, others raised concerns, or did not think the proposals would have a positive impact on groups or areas at socioeconomic disadvantage. The issues raised were similar to those highlighted in relation to the environment, including that some of the proposals could result in reduced investment in rural Scotland. Whilst it was acknowledged that, in some cases, a change of ownership may drive new activity, it was thought that in other cases the structures suggested may make it harder to raise finance or have the confidence to invest.

It was also noted that many rural areas are already relatively disadvantaged socio-economically and it was suggested that any measures that discouraging future investment risk further disadvantaging these communities. This was often connected to loss of employment opportunities, with one view that the cumulative impact of the reforms could be catastrophic for Scottish rural communities. Further comments included that the provision of jobs from large-scale landowners is often vital to rural communities, and that there is a real risk that the proposals will accelerate rural depopulation and deprivation, as a result of loss of livelihoods in remote and rural Scotland. It was suggested that the reforms equate to discrimination towards rural workers, something which was argued to permeate government policy.

It was also suggested that the proposals would have no impact on some of the most disadvantaged areas of Scotland as they are concerned only with rural issues. It was reported that, some of the most important impacts of good land management happen in urban and peri-urban areas.

With specific reference to community ownership, it was suggested that there is an assumption that community groups are active and available in all areas but that, in reality, more affluent or politically engaged areas will be keener on land reform than low income, low wealth areas. Reflecting a point also made by those who did think the proposals would have a positive impact, there was a view that making sure there is good access to accommodation, good services and work opportunities will be key. In this case, it was suggested that addressing these issues is more important than who owns the land.

For others, the concern was that the proposals do not go far enough or are not focused on benefiting the right groups. It was suggested that a disproportionate amount of funding and profit relating to the land reform and land use change this consultation touches upon will ultimately be fed through to those who are already wealthy. There was a call for the reforms to be focused on the bottom quartile of rural population by wealth in each region.

In terms of how potential impacts could be assessed and/or positive impacts maximised, it was suggested that communities need to have easier access to support in order to develop community ownership ideas. Further, support must be provided in a meaningful and effective way to help local communities to become involved with land ownership since bureaucracy, costs and the attitude of the professional classes to community land ownership can be barrier to socioeconomically disadvantaged groups.

Other suggestions for improving the positive impact of the proposals for socioeconomically disadvantaged groups or areas included:

  • A mechanism for matching buyers with lenders prepared to lend money to communities.
  • Setting up an urban development fund.
  • Empowering and encouraging community councils to: acquire land to let as crofts; let land in units of not more than ten hectares on non-transferable, non-heritable liferent; and take over the management of lands in the locality on which title has been surrendered.

It was suggested that it may be useful to undertake a robust assessment of the positives and negatives flowing from recent community purchases, and also that the Scottish Government should establish long term monitoring programmes in relation to land ownership, land values and wider land reform impacts. It was noted that the assessment framework established by Thomson et al can provide insights into the long term metrics that need to be assessed to consider impacts of land matters.

There was also reference to work by SSE around publishing a Just Transition Strategy, and a follow up report focused on moving from principles to action.

Potential costs and burdens

Question 50 – Are you aware of any potential costs and burdens that you think may arise as a result of the proposals within this consultation?

Around 165 respondents made a comment at Question 50.

A number of respondents noted that they did expect costs and burdens to arise as a result of the proposals, with further general comments including that there is potential for the costs to be significant. It was suggested that almost all the measures proposed would result in additional costs and regulatory burdens for businesses which are classed as large-scale.

Costs to landowners

In terms of the types of costs to landowners, there was reference to time, administrative burden, legal costs, professional fees, registration costs and mapping costs. There was a concern about the potential duplication of land reform and planning procedures and regulations.

Comments about the costs associated with particular proposals included that landowners will incur significant costs through the need to implement Management Plans as well as reporting against LRRS. It was reported that a pilot of a voluntary LRRS process highlighted how much time this took.

In terms of particular activities, there was reference to costs associated with:

  • The development and publication of Management Plans.
  • Conveyancing fees associated with the public interest test.
  • Dealing with disputes.
  • The requirement for all land to be in the land register to receive public funds.

There was also a suggestion that the greatest cost incurred could be for those looking to sell if the sale of land falls through, including because of possible delays in carrying out a public interest test. The potential for the public interest test, and the regulation of large-scale land transfers, to add additional complexity and cost to the sales process was highlighted, and it was suggested that this would be likely to hinder value. It was also suggested that any forced lotting could greatly reduce the overall value of the landholding. Associated points were that any measure which reduces the value of the land could be in breach of Human Rights and that any purchasers or sellers who suffer a loss may seek compensation from the Scottish Government.

Respondents also highlighted potential for the proposals to result in reduced or lost investment and that time and resources used to carry out land reform-related activities could otherwise be used to complete important land management operations and net zero contributions. It was argued that evolving natural capital markets present a potentially huge opportunity for rural Scotland but there was a concern that many of the proposals in this consultation put the required investment at risk.

Beyond the general issues relating to costs and burdens to large-scale landowners, there were also a small number of comments about specific landowners or types of landowner. These included that:

  • Depending on the threshold(s) to be applied, the additional burdens and compliance requirements may very well apply to public sector landowners as well as those in the private sector.
  • The inclusion of landowners such as the Church of Scotland in the definition of large-scale landowners would place vastly increased and disproportionate duties on local volunteers. Any increase in costs would result in decreased revenue being available to meet the cost of the local congregational ministry of the Church.

Although a number of respondents raised concerns about the cost implications of the proposals for landowners, others thought that any costs or burdens would be just and proportionate, or suggested that large-scale landowners are likely to be able to cover them through their own resources. There was also a view that one of the purposes of land reform should be to raise the cost and burden of owning a large estate while simultaneously reducing the cost and burden of returning that land to local communities.

In terms of specific proposals, it was suggested that although the LRRS proposals could have a financial cost for a landowner, this will be outweighed by the opportunities of identifying more effective use of the land as a whole and implementing this improved use. In relation to any regulation or licence type costs, it was suggested that these could be reduced through the use of mapping technology.

Costs to the public purse

Respondents also identified a number of ways in which the proposals could result in costs to the public sector or to government. These included that:

  • A clear reporting and monitoring system for LRRS breaches and for enforcing Management Plans will need to be devised. Properly resourcing the SLC – or whichever body is preferred – for enforcing Management Plans, investigating LRRS breaches and administering the public interest test will be vital.
  • Landowning businesses will need to be equipped with the knowledge and understanding of the new requirements and some of the necessary support will need to come from the Scottish Government and SLC.
  • There should be dedicated land reform officers for island communities.

In terms of costs to particular organisations or bodies, it was suggested that:

  • Registers of Scotland would incur conveyancing and registration costs associated with community bodies requiring to be set up such as to be notified of intention to sell. There would be costs relating to building a new register and investigating a large-scale landholding to determine if it is within the scope of the duties.
  • Local authorities could incur costs in collecting and collating data for the land registry, and in connection with any other duties stemming from the proposals.

In terms of public funding to support community land ownership, it was noted that this is already provided through the Scottish Land Fund. Others also commented on how communities would be supported, including that financial support for communities and lower income groups will be essential to ensure these groups are not disadvantaged and can take advantage of the opportunities which present themselves.

Data protection or privacy

Question 51 – Are you aware of any impacts, positive or negative, of the proposals in this consultation on data protection or privacy?

Around 80 respondents made a comment at Question 51.

General observations included that there will be some data protection or privacy-related impact, including because landowners will be under more scrutiny and their details would be on a public register.

Other comments included that requiring more information to be held on the Land Registry and for private business plans to be made public is a breach of privacy. In terms of particular proposals, and reflecting issues raised at Question 10 in particular, some respondents noted their concern about any requirement to include commercially sensitive information in Management Plans. It was also suggested that extreme care needs to be taken in compelling businesses to reveal information which may be time sensitive.

It was also suggested that there could be privacy issues with any attempt to make public the ultimate beneficial owner of any given property. It was suggested that there are many reasons why it should be possible for this information to be kept private, if a person or company chooses to do so. There were also concerns about the privacy of those who live on the land and work there, including that privacy of home could be compromised.

However, others did not have any concerns, and suggested that any impacts would be positive, or that the data protection and privacy aspects are adequately dealt with in the proposals. An associated view was that information on the ownership of land, how it is to be used and the intention to sell it should all be publicly available. It was suggested that any calls to limit public information about estates should be resisted wherever possible and that full transparency of information should be considered one of the costs of being a large landowner.

Finally, it was noted that it will be important that management and participation in community right to buy is by properly constituted bodies that have data protection policies in place.



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