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June 5, 2013

Fierce criticism for interim report

Although Scotland’s First Minister will be addressing the annual conference of Community Land Scotland later this week, a bigger talking point is likely to be work of the Land Reform Review Group and the publication of its Interim Report. CLS has gathered together some published responses to the report, many of which make for uncomfortable reading.  Perhaps most tellingly, the NFU and Scottish Land and Estates seem to be the most satisfied with the report.  Here’s one of the more moderate responses from Community Woodlands Association.


Jon Hollingdale

Community Woodlands Association’s response to the Land Reform Review Group’s interim report

The Land Reform Review was launched last year with bold words like” radical” and “innovative” attached and a wide ranging remit:

a. 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;
b. 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;
c. Generate, support, promote and deliver new relationships between land, people, economy and environment in Scotland.
(my emphasis)

But any expectations that it might live up to the radical, innovative tags it was given are crushed on the very first page of the Review Groups Interim Report, which both repeats the above in full, and then posits a very much narrow reinterpretation, whereby the remit has contracted into reviewing the 2003 legislation and:

considering how the benefits of community ownership could be extended through the exploration of new relationships between land, people, economy and environment in Scotland.

Naturally as an organisation representing ~150 current or aspiring community land owners we think that extending community ownership is an important topic, and we’re pleased that the proposal made by ourselves and others for a Land Agency to facilitate this has been taken up for further discussion, but theres little else to cheer, not least because the language of the remit and thus the stance of the report has moved from “deliver” to “consider”.

Likewise, a technical review and revision of the ridiculously over-engineered Land Reform Scotland Act is long overdue, and amending the legislation so that it actually supports the empowerment of communities rather providing a series of obstacles, will be very welcome, but there was no need to go through this extensive pantomime in order to add SCIOs to the list of approved forms for Community Bodies.

In the meantime a huge range of topics and issues have been quietly sidelined. Andy Wightman and others have highlighted a number of key omissions, of which the abandonment of the tenant farmers is the most striking. Critically, there is minimal discussion of the context and circumstances under which we having (or not having) the debate in the first place. Whilst the report does, briefly, note that:

Scotland has significantly large private landholdings and the discretions of ownership allow a few people to make decisions about large parts of the country’s land resource and also in some cases about the options available to the people who live their lives on it.

it makes no attempt to quantify Scotland’s extraordinary concentration of landownership, or to recognise that, as even the Scottish Government’s own Land Use Strategy does, the current ownership arrangements are not delivering sustainable development and the broad range of desired social, economic and environmental benefits.

Moreover, there’s no analysis at all of how this astonishing pattern of inequality arose or is perpetuated. I’m told they rarely sing the third verse of “All things bright and beautiful” in church these days, but it might yet serve as the epigraph of this report, so little does it challenge the current dispensation. Land ownership, and thus land reform, is all about power and money, but it’s clearly considered impolite to discuss such matters as the only financial references in the report are to the difficulties of funding community acquisitions. As we wrote in our submission to the call for evidence, the status quo is:

neither divinely ordained nor the logical outcome of a rational market… (but)… the product of decades of intervention … and sustained by vast public subsidy.

Unless the review is willing to tackle these difficult issues then the prospects for the Land Reform agenda, and even for extending community ownership on any meaningful scale are bleak indeed.