This summary sets out the key messages from the analysis of responses to the Scottish Government's consultation on the review of the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement (the Statement). The consultation paper can be read on the Scottish Government website.
In total 55 responses were received: 26 responses were submitted by organisations and 29 by individual members of the public.
The suggestion for a revised vision set out in the consultation paper adds references to a just transition and to natural capital. A small majority of respondents – 55% of those answering the question – thought that the revised vision reflects the outcomes that we need to achieve to some extent. This rose to 71% of organisations answering the question.
Just transition to net zero: Respondents who commented were generally supportive of the proposal to reference a just transition to net zero carbon emissions. Reasons given included that the proposal recognises the pressing need to address the climate crisis and the crucial role that the ownership, use and management of land has in mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Natural capital: There was also support for introducing a reference to natural capital, although respondents sometimes went on to suggest how the reference could be strengthened. One suggestion was that there should be explicit reference to biodiversity.
Reframing of the vision: Some respondents were looking for a more fundamental review and/or reframing of the vision. Further comments included that the proposed vision is not accessible or that references to a just transition and natural capital offer only a partial updating of policy developments since the point at which the current Statement was drafted.
Retain the existing vision: A minority position was that the vision does not need to be changed at all. An associated concern that specific reference to the transition to net zero could be seen as deprioritising the more economic and socially focused public policy objectives set out in the vision.
The current Statement sets out six principles. Respondents were asked whether each of the principles is still relevant, with a clear majority agreeing that each principle is still relevant. Support ranged from 94% of those answering the question agreeing that Principle 5 is still relevant, to 80% agreeing that Principle 3 is still relevant.
Principle 1: This principle was described as having vital foundational significance for the Statement and there was support for the continued reference to human rights in relation to land. However, other general observations about this principle included that it is difficult to understand and should be simplified or streamlined. Another suggestion was that the current principle should be split into two, with one principle focused on balancing public and private rights and the other on the fulfilment of human rights.
Principle 2: The embedding of access to open land was seen as critically important, with other comments including that more should be done to promote community access to land and assets. It was suggested by some that Principles 2 and 3 be combined as they cover similar themes relating to a more diverse pattern of land ownership.
Principle 3: A number of respondents suggested Principle 3 should be retained with its current wording. Other comments addressed how to improve the delivery of Principle 3 and included that community ownership, leasing or use of land and buildings should be a normal, designed part of community planning, development and regeneration.
Principle 4: Although most were supportive of its basic premise, a small number of respondents had fundamental concerns about Principle 4. These included that the Scottish Government should be upholding the rights of landowners. Others were supportive of the overall position set out, but also wanted to see other themes covered, including explicit reference to the holders of land rights having both environmental and social responsibilities to their local communities.
Principle 5: A number of comments addressed the issue of transparency, with comments including that the objective should be to achieve transparency rather than to improve it. It was also suggested that the Government should be clear about the purpose and scope of any transparency measures.
Principle 6: One perspective was that open and honest collaboration between landowners, managers and those in the public, private and third sectors will be critical to making progress against the Statement. There was, however, also a concern that Principle 6 does not recognise the difference between encouraging effective community collaboration to shape and inform decisions, and communities having the right to decide on land use where they themselves do not own it.
Measuring and reporting on progress
Measuring change: Some of the comments addressed the basic principles that should underpin any approach to measuring change. These included that the approach be underpinned by clearly defined public standards, with progress and change measured against these standards.
Other suggestions included that success-focused outcomes, both national and local, should be developed, and that these could be modelled on the approach used in the Scottish Government's National Planning Framework.
Reporting: A majority of respondents – 88% of those answering the question – thought that there is a need for regular reporting on implementation of the principles of the Statement.
A number of the comments addressed which organisation should take responsibility for reporting. The most frequently made suggestion was that the Scottish Land Commission (SLC) should take the lead, for reasons including that it is naturally well-positioned to report on implementation. Other suggestions on where responsibility for reporting could lie were: Scottish Ministers; Audit Scotland; and landowners.
There were also comments relating to self-assessment by landowners, with occasional references to this being either made mandatory or, more frequently, continuing to be voluntary. Other comments included that the SLC's pilot on self-assessment should provide helpful insights regarding the implementation of such an approach.
Bridging gaps in awareness
Some respondents thought that there is generally low awareness of the Statement beyond key stakeholders. In terms of particular groups or populations, it was suggested that those living or investing in urban areas, as well as organisations involved in regeneration activity, may not be familiar with the Statement. There was also reference to the farming community, including owners of small farms or small areas of other land, not thinking the Statement applies to them.
General suggestions on improving engagement included further awareness raising, and more publicity about the work of the SLC, with ideas such as an expanded SLC roadshow, or using a variety of workshops or webinars. It was also reported that the Good Practice Programme offers scope for tailored approaches to engagement.
A number of respondents argued that greater engagement with the Statement could be achieved by putting adherence on a compulsory or statutory basis.
The final set of consultation questions asked respondents if they were aware of any examples of how the proposals might have in an impact on a particular group or issue. At each question, a number of the responses were simply to note that respondents were not aware of any possible impacts.
Further comments relating directly to island communities included that there can be particular problems in accessing land, with the challenges seen on the mainland intensified on islands. It was reported that people are forced to leave as a consequence of there not being enough available land. A connected comment was that any increase in community owned land would deliver benefits in terms of population retention and an increase in young people staying or returning.
Also with reference to young people, it was suggested that the delivery of the Statement could lead to opportunities including training and job opportunities. Other comments focused on access to land and housing, with particular reference to the lack of entry opportunities for small farms and crofts.
Some respondents called for more to be done to recognise the inequalities that act as barriers to more diverse forms of land ownership. It was suggested that this will require positive, deliberate action.
In relation to environmental impact, comments included that any decisions relating to land use will ultimately impact the environment and that it is incumbent on all involved to ensure any revisions to the Statement have a positive impact.
With regard to any potential costs and burdens, one perspective was that the proposals are unlikely to result in additional burdens as the Statement is voluntary. However, respondents did identify areas in which costs could be incurred, including in relation to some aspects of implementation and reporting.
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