Part 1: The road to reform
Land Reform in the early years of devolution
On 1 July 1999, the Scottish Parliament was reconvened and from that date the Parliament assumed its power to make laws for Scotland on devolved matters. Since then, the Scottish Parliament has implemented a number of land reform measures. One of the Parliament's first Acts was the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc. (Scotland) Act 2000. This Act introduced a simplified and modernised system of property ownership, and brought to an end the old system of feudal tenure which had existed in Scotland for more than 800 years.
A consistent feature of land reform in Scotland has been government support for community ownership. Prior to 2000, the Scottish Office had provided financial support for a land unit in Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which supported community buy-outs in the Highlands. In 2000 the Scottish Land Fund was established, with the support of the then Scottish Executive. Initially funded by the National Lottery, its purpose was to provide grants to communities to enable them to buy land. It was re-launched in its current form in 2012. The Scottish Government currently provides funding of £10m a year for the Fund and has committed to doubling this by the end of this Parliament.
Recognising the need to develop a legal framework to support and encourage more communities to buy land, the Scottish Government introduced the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. It included the following measures:
- a statutory right of responsible (non-motorised) access over most land;
- a community 'right to buy' which gave eligible community bodies the right to apply to register an interest in rural land, as well as a right to apply to exercise a 'pre-emptive' right to buy (effectively the right of first refusal if/when the property is put up for sale); and
- the crofting community right to buy, whereby crofting community bodies may register an interest in land held under crofting tenure, and purchase that land (regardless of whether the owner wishes to sell), subject to approval by Scottish Ministers.
The 2003 Act has been used by communities to buy approximately 57,000 acres of rural land since 2003. In addition it has helped bring about many community buyouts through negotiation, rather than by use of the legislation.
The 2014 Land Reform Review Group Report, and the 2016 Land Reform Act
In 2012 the Scottish Government established the independent Land Reform Review Group. This group was given the task of developing 'innovative and radical proposals on land reform that will contribute to the success of Scotland for future generations'. These proposals were published by the Land Reform Review Group in their May 2014 report.
In response to the 2014 Land Reform Review Report, the Scottish Government introduced further significant legislation through the Community Empowerment Act (Scotland) 2015 and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016. In addition, the Scottish Government tasked the Register of Scotland with the significant undertaking of completing the Land Register to bring a new level of transparency to land ownership in Scotland.
The Community Empowerment Act introduced:
- measures to simplify the Community Right to Buy process, and extend it to urban as well as rural Scotland;
- a new Right to Buy Abandoned, Neglected and Detrimental Land;
- measures to support community bodies taking ownership or control of assets from the Scottish Government, public bodies such as Forest and Land Scotland and health boards, and from local authorities; and
- measures to ensure that decisions taken about public services take account of community needs and views.
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 introduced measures including:
- a requirement for the development of a Scottish Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement (LRRS) to improve the relationship between the land and people of Scotland, where rights and responsibilities in relation to land are fully recognised and fulfilled;
- the establishment of the Scottish Land Commission to review the effectiveness and impact of current and potential future laws and policies relating to land;
- powers for Scottish Ministers to compel the disclosure of information about controlling interests in land and to provide for the establishment of a public Register of Controlling Interests in Land (RCI); and
- a new Right to Buy Land to Further Sustainable Development.
The Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement was published in 2017. The Statement highlights the Scottish Government's commitment to more diverse landownership. This commitment is articulated in the following principles of the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement:
"There should be …more opportunities for citizens to own, lease and have access to land" - and
"More local communities should have the opportunity to own, lease or use buildings and land which can contribute to their community's wellbeing and future development".
Taken together, the measures introduced through the Acts passed since 2000 have helped to achieve a better, fairer balance of power between communities and landowners in all sectors. The Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement has also helped to normalise expectations of community engagement in decision making about the land that surrounds them.
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