The land of Scotland and the common good: report

The final report of the Land Reform Review Group.


Figure 1 Satellite view of Scotland

The Review Group

1 The Scottish Government announced the establishment of an independent Land Reform Review Group ( LRRG) in July 2012 and published the Group's remit in August ( Annex 1). Ministers appointed three Members as the Review Group and also a wider group of Advisers to assist the Group in its review ( Annex 2).

2 The Review Group started its inquiry in September 2012 and undertook a public consultation as the first phase of its work. The Group issued a Call for Evidence on 4th October and by the time that closed on 18th January 2013, 484 submissions had been received ( Annex 3). The Group also undertook a programme of meetings and visits to gather views from a wide range of interests.

3 In May 2013, at the end of this first phase of the inquiry, the Review Group published an Interim Report on the Group's work and also an analysis by ODS Consulting of the written submissions received in response to the Call for Evidence.

4 By the time the Interim Report was published in May, two of the three original Members of the Group had resigned for personal reasons. As a result, half way through the inquiry period, Ministers appointed two replacement Members and an additional fourth Member. An independent Special Adviser was also appointed to assist the Members of the Group with their review.

5 The new membership of the Review Group met for the first time at the end of June 2013, at the start of the second phase of the Group's work leading to this Report. During this phase, the Group reviewed the issues identified during the consultations that had been carried out. The Group then investigated many of the main topics involved in greater detail. This included requesting additional information and briefings on topics from a number of sources, as well as meetings with the Group's Advisers and other specialists. While many of the submissions to the Group were about similar issues, a wide range of potential land reform issues were highlighted in the submissions as reflected in the contents of this Report.

The Review

6 The Review Group's remit is to examine the role of Scotland's system of land ownership in the relationship between the people and land of Scotland, and make proposals for land reform measures that would:-

  • "Enable more people in rural and urban Scotland to have a stake in the ownership, governance, management and use of land, which will lead to a greater diversity of land ownership, and ownership types, in Scotland
  • Assist with the acquisition and management of land (and also land assets) by communities, to make stronger, more resilient, and independent communities which have an even greater stake in their development
  • Generate, support, promote, and deliver new relationships between land, people, economy and environment in Scotland" [8]

7 This is a very wide remit, both in terms of the scale of the overall relationship between the land and people of Scotland and the broad, strategic nature of the objectives for the land reform measures to be recommended by the Review Group. However, the system that a country has in place for the ownership and management of its land is, as the Group's remit states, "fundamental to the wellbeing, economic success, environmental sustainability and social justice of the country."

8 The land of Scotland in this context is the territorial land area of Scotland, including Scotland's seabed out to the 12 nautical mile territorial boundary. The overall system for the ownership and management of this land can be seen as having three main components. The first is Scotland's system of property laws governing how the land is owned. [9] The second is the system of regulatory laws governing how land can be used. The third component is the system of non-statutory public sector measures to influence how land is owned and used in the public interest.

9 These three components together form Scotland's overall system of land tenure. For Scotland, as for other countries, it is important that this system should work to best effect in the public interest. The system also needs to be updated and refined on an on-going basis in response to changing circumstances. This process is land reform and for this review, the Group defined land reform as measures that modify or change the arrangements governing the possession and use of land in Scotland in the public interest.

10 The need for land reform in these terms has long been recognised in Scotland and it is a topic to which the Scottish Parliament has paid particular attention. In the lead up to the Parliament's establishment in 1999, the Scottish Office set up the Land Reform Policy Group ( LRPG) to develop land reform measures that could be implemented by the Parliament early in its history. [10] The LRPG's final recommendations subsequently resulted in the new Parliament enacting a range of land reform measures, starting with the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc. (Scotland) Act 2000.

11 The fact that Scotland still needed at the beginning of the 21st century to abolish feudal tenure as the way that most property was owned in Scotland, symbolised more widely that the arrangements governing the ownership and management of land in Scotland required modernisation and reform. While there has been significant progress over the last 15 years, the Review Group's consultations identified many different issues still over how Scotland's land is owned and used. These issues involve urban and rural land and also Scotland's seabed.

12 The wide nature of the Review Group's remit and the diversity of significant land reforms issues identified in the evidence have represented a major challenge for the Group, particularly given the constraints on its inquiry in terms of the time and resources available.

The Report

13 The Group's approach to its remit has been to undertake a broad review of current issues over Scotland's system of land ownership, to encompass the diversity of topics identified during the Group's inquiry.

14 The Report has nine Parts. In the first, the Group sets the context for the rest of the Report by clarifying the scope of the Group's review and defining its use of terms including, for example, what is meant in the Report by 'the public interest'. The Report then has seven main Parts, 2-8, dealing with the main land reform issues considered by the Group. In Part 9, the conclusions from those Parts are discussed in terms of the three broad objectives in the Group's remit, and there is a summary list of the Group's Conclusions and Recommendations from each Part of the Report.

15 The Group's remit has required it to review Scotland's system of land ownership against the three broad objectives for the land reform measures to be recommended by the Group. As the Group worked through the list of land reform issues raised during its inquiry, the Group became ever more convinced of the importance of considering Scotland's system of land ownership as a whole. As the Group has learnt, the laws or lack of them governing the ownership and use of land are important to many different issues in urban, rural and marine Scotland.

16 The Group's review might be considered, in its way, as an update on further land reform measures that are still required in Scotland, following the implementation of LRPG recommendations and other reforms over the last 15 years. Then, at the time of devolution, Scotland's system of land ownership was out of date in many respects for historical reasons, including the limited opportunities for Scottish legislation at Westminster. While there have been significant improvements since then in a range of aspects, the Group's overall view is that Scotland's system of land ownership should be seen as still in transition from that outdated position, to a system that better serves the public interest in contemporary Scotland.

17 In the Report, the Group makes over 60 recommendations on a wide of range of topics and the Group is concerned that these recommendations should be seen in context. While we have benefited greatly in our work from the knowledge of others, the Group is not an expert committee making authoritative recommendations on all of the topics covered.

18 Our task has been to carry out a broad review to identify issues and potential reforms in line with our remit. The number of issues to be covered inevitably means that there have been limits to the detail in which each topic could be considered. The role of the Report is to provide an overview that brings together some of the many important issues associated with the ownership of Scotland's land, and identify ways in which land reform measures could help tackle these issues in line with the three objectives in the Group's remit. The purpose of the Report is to inform and stimulate discussion rather than provide answers, and the Group's recommendations should be seen in that light.


19 We are grateful everyone who contributed to the Group's inquiry, including those who sent in submissions, hosted visits by the Group, participated in meetings or helped the Group's work in other ways. The Group is particularly grateful to its Special Adviser, Robin Callander, its wider group of Advisers (listed in Annex 2) and the Group's secretariat, Dave Thomson and Pamela Blyth, for all their assistance with the Group's work.

20 As the Members of the Group, we take responsibility for the contents of our Report. We are very conscious that, in tackling the Group's remit and writing this Report, we have had to consider a wide range of topics in some of which we had limited previous knowledge. We apologise for any factual errors or similar mistakes that we have made unwittingly in the Report.


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