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April 19, 2022

Distorted land market

It has long been an established fact that the way Scotland’s land market has developed over the years has resulted in the most concentrated pattern of land ownership of any developed country.  And recently, for a variety of reasons, that market, particularly in rural Scotland, has been hotting up. The Scottish Land Commission has just published some interesting research into some of the factors that seem to be driving this. The study identified some new categories of investor with their own distinct reasons for buying and a growing trend in off-market acquisitions. Community Land Scotland shares some very real concerns. 


Community Land Scotland

Community Land Scotland welcomes publication of the Rural Land Market Insights Report by the Scottish Land Commission.  The report highlights factors driving changes to Scotland’s largely unregulated and increasingly overheated rural land market and raises fundamental questions about who benefits from land-use associated with Scotland’s uniquely concentrated pattern of rural land ownership.

It is deeply concerning that the Scottish Government’s commitments to land reform, community wealth building and a just transition to net zero risk being undermined by soaring rural land values and the cloak of secrecy obscuring the majority of estate sales and a substantial proportion of other rural land sales, which occur ‘off-market’.

As the cost of living crisis deepens it is imperative that aspiring community landowners are given every opportunity to participate in the rural land market to put the principles of community wealth building into practice by building affordable, energy efficient homes, providing secure, sustainable employment, and supporting local businesses, as so many existing community landowners do.

The massive increases in rural land prices documented in the Land Commission’s report effectively deny communities the opportunity to buy land for their own sustainability on the increasingly rare occasions when sales are publicised on the open market in the first place.   Given the crucial importance of land as an engine for securing the sustainability of our rural communities and for delivering on Scotland’s climate targets in a socially just way, we cannot see how leaving the land market to its own devices advances these twin objectives.

Community land Scotland is therefore calling on the Scottish Government to introduce new land reform legislation as a matter of urgency to help correct the land market failures that the Land Commission’s report has so comprehensively uncovered.

Dr Calum MacLeod, Community Land Scotland’s Policy Director said:

“At a time when the escalating cost of living crisis is exacerbating rural poverty there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea that great swathes of rural Scotland can be secretly traded as a luxury lifestyle choice, a credit on a corporation’s carbon ledger or a speculative hedge fund investment.  The Scottish Government needs to urgently accelerate introduction of land reform legislation regulating secret ‘off-market’ land sales, applying public interest tests on significant land transfers and current landholdings, and making it easier to use existing community rights to buy, or risk our rural communities being left behind as an increasingly supercharged and exclusionary rural land market fast disappears over the horizon.”