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November 1, 2007

Land Reform Legislation

Colleagues in England are envious of own community right to buy legislation – but land reform activist Andy Wightman asks if it is working as well as it could

Andy Wightman


In Session 1 of the Scottish Parliament there were a number of significant Acts passed relating to land reform including the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc. (Scotland) Act 2000, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 2003. Session 2 of Parliament saw a number of these Statutes coming into force but no further land reform legislation. Session 3 provides the opportunity to both review the effectiveness of this first tranche of

legislation and to begin the process of taking the land reform agenda forward by initiating a series of further measures, six of which are outlined in this paper, namely;

• Common Good Act

• Community right to buy – review & extension

• Crown Estate reform

Each of the areas builds on existing work and thus much of the groundwork has already been done. Each of these proposals seeks to extend the opportunities for ownership and control of land to many more people across Scotland.

Common Good Act

Across Scotland there are millions of pounds of assets that were gifted to communities or acquired in their name in the former burghs of Scotland. Under the 1973 Local Government Act, title to these assets was transferred to District Councils and then in 1996 to unitary authorities. Local authorities generally have a poor record of stewarding these assets on behalf of the former burgh inhabitants. In many cases, assets have gone missing, revenue and receipts have been misappropriated and record keeping remains generally poor.

These assets belong to the 4.5 million people (over 87% of the Scottish population) who live in the 196 former burghs (as listed in Schedule One of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973). This Act would seek to clarify the status of these assets and provide communities with a statutory right to take back title to property which used to belong to them in some cases for centuries prior to the 1975 re-organisation of local government.

This wealth belongs to the local community and not to the Council and can be used to begin a process of civic renewal and physical regeneration, to deliver wealth and

prosperity, and to give back to towns across Scotland some self respect, belief and power to better the welfare of their community.

The Labour Party election manifesto promised Town Centre Trusts and a fund to allow local communities to take ownership of property. The Liberal Democrats promised a Common Good Act and the SNP promised a review of community council powers.

A Common Good Act would secure all three commitments and more.

Community Right to Buy Review and Extension to the whole of Scotland

Part 2 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 provides communities in rural Scotland with a right to apply to Scottish Ministers for consent to register an interest in land. If such consent is given, the land cannot be sold without the community having a right of first refusal to acquire it.

In light of significant problems with the administration of this legislation, there is an urgent need to review the provisions of this legislation to ensure that they can be used easily and speedily by interested communities. There is also a strong case for an independent inquiry into the administration of the Act.

Furthermore, it is increasingly clear that the rational for restricting the community right to buy to areas of Scotland outwith settlements of 10,000 people not only disenfranchises over 3.5 million citizens (the 69% of the population who live in settlements of over 10,000 population), but denies the opportunities afforded by asset ownership to some of the poorest and neediest communities where the impact could be greatest.

There is thus an opportunity to eliminate this divide and make the community right to buy available to communities across urban and rural Scotland. This does not require revisiting the Act but can be achieved by amending the existing Community Right to Buy (Definition of Excluded Land) (Scotland) Order 2006 (Scottish Statutory Instrument 2006 No. 486).

Crown Estate

Under Scots law, the ownership of a number of distinct property rights is vested in the Crown. These Crown property rights are a form of public land and the powers both to change them and to regulate their use are devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Government is responsible for the administration of some of these Crown property rights with the revenues going to the Scottish Consolidated Fund. However, other Scottish Crown property rights are still administered by the Crown Estate Commission (CEC) as part of the UK wide Crown Estate with revenues going to the Treasury.

The property rights administered as part of the Crown Estate in Scotland include

Scotland’s ownership of its territorial seabed or 53% of Scotland’s total territorial area, as well as around 50% of Scotland’s foreshore. There are major issues about the current lack of accountability and benefits in Scotland over the CEC’s management of this vital marine estate and the other Crown property rights for which the CEC is responsible.

A report by a group of public bodies operating as the Crown Estate Review Working Group, has recently provided a detailed and authoritative account of the Crown Estate in Scotland. The report set out a compelling case for changes to the current arrangements and calls for a review of the position with the Crown Estate in Scotland to implement these.

This review should be carried out by the Scottish Government without delay so that Scotland can regain control of its own seabed and the other Scottish Crown property rights still administered by the CEC. This will make substantial contribution to the delivery of public benefits in Scotland.


For more info` on Andy`s work and other reports, see