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April 7, 2020

Seeking transparency

Amidst the chaos of the Covid19 crisis, it’s strangely comforting that some areas of work are proceeding (almost) normally. Scottish Land Commission have just published the second in a series of protocols designed to shape how information is shared on the way land is owned and managed. Hard on the heels of the protocol which sets out how landowners should engage with communities on important decisions relating to land, this second protocol sets out how landowners should be more transparent about what they own and how they manage and use it. Land Commissioner, Sally Reynolds blogs on the issue.

Sally Reynolds, Scottish Land Commissioner

In this blog, Land Commissioner Sally Reynolds looks at improving the transparency and availability of information on the ownership, management and use of land following the publication of the Commission’s second protocol on ‘Transparency of Ownership and Land Use Decision-Making.’

In these difficult and changing times, there is one thing that remains constant – and that is land. The way Scotland’s land is owned, managed and used has the potential to contribute to the economic, environmental and social goals of the country.

However, the lack of transparency about land ownership and land use decision-making still remains a barrier to achieving this potential. It seems only right that information about the ownership, use and management of land should be available to those who could be impacted by the decisions made about that land.

If we had better information about land ownership and decisions relating to land people would not only be better informed but have more confidence in that decision-making. Those with decision-making powers in relation to land would be recognised for acting in accordance with their responsibilities as well as their rights.

Sharing information in this way is critical. It not only provides the foundation for open and transparent decision-making but can also enable participation. Improved information about who controls land in Scotland will help to empower people, including community groups, and give them the opportunity to understand who is in control of land.

The Scottish Land Commission’s latest good practice protocol on ‘Transparency of Ownership and Land Use Decision-Making’ aims to encourage owners and managers to provide simple details that will greatly improve people’s understanding of who owns land in Scotland and what it is used for. It sets out clear expectations around sharing information about who owns and controls land and how they can be contacted.

The protocol focuses particularly on Principle 5 of the Scottish Government’s Land Rights and Responsibilities statement: “There should be improved transparency of information about the ownership, use and management of land, and this should be publicly available, clear and contain relevant detail” and supports the upcoming Register of Persons Holding a Controlled Interest in Land.

The protocol asks that:

Up-to-date information about who owns land or buildings and the extent of the landholding should always be publicly available

If there are people or bodies with significant influence and control over land and buildings, information about who they are and the extent of their control should be made publicly available along with information about ownership

Contact information for the landowner or for someone with local decision-making authority over the land (such as a land manager or agent) should be available

Contact information for the relevant community council and/or community organisations in the area should be available.

This new protocol is part of our programme of good practice and sits alongside our first protocol on Community Engagement in Decisions Relating to Land. Together they provide a blueprint for good practice for both landowners and communities to work together to mutual benefit.