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June 13, 2023

Points of contention

The consultation responses for the forthcoming Land Reform in a Net Zero Nation Bill have now been analysed and published. SCA’s own response is here.  Lots of areas of contention to be thrashed out as the Bill works its way through the Parliamentary process. The proposal that large scale landowners might have new legal obligations imposed on them provoked a lot of comment from both sides. Most (although obviously not all) respondents considered the proposed threshold (3,000 hectares) as being far too high. Much debate too over the introduction of a public interest test. Interesting times ahead.


Scottish Government

Full report

Executive Summary

This summary presents headline findings from an analysis of responses to a public consultation on Land Reform in a Net Zero Nation.

The consultation paper set out a number of proposals for inclusion in the Land Reform Bill and also invited respondents to give their views on other ideas and proposals, which may or may not be included in the Bill. It opened on 4 July 2022 and closed on 30 October 2022, asking a total of 51 questions.

In total, 537 responses were received, of which 162 were from groups or organisations and 375 from individual members of the public. Five in-person consultation events were also held across Scotland with a further event online.

Large-scale landholdings: the consultation sought views on three criteria for determining a large-scale holding. Respondents were relatively evenly divided on the criteria, with a small majority (55% of those answering) disagreeing with the use of a fixed threshold of 3,000 hectares. Most respondents who suggested an alternative threshold called for a lower figure, with comments including that the proposed hectarage would affect a relatively small number of landowners and so have limited impact.

Other respondents commented on the general direction of the proposals, with the most-frequently raised concern that there is little or no evidence that land ownership at scale has negative outcomes for communities or the environment.

Respondents were split evenly on a fixed percentage of a data zone or local authority ward(s) and a small majority (57% of those answering) supporting a specified minimum proportion of a permanently inhabited island.

Strengthening the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement (LRRS): There was support (75% of those answering) for placing a duty on large-scale landowners to comply with the LRRS and its associated protocols. A majority (69% of those answering) also thought this would benefit local communities. However, some respondents argued that there is evidence to suggest that a voluntary, guidance-led approach is working for both landowners and communities.

Compulsory Land Management Plans: A majority (77% of those answering) agreed that there should be a duty on large-scale landowners to publish Management Plans. In terms of how often Management Plans should be published, the most frequent suggestion was every 5 years.

A new public interest test: A majority of respondents (72% of those answering) agreed with the application of a public interest test to transactions involving large-scale landholdings. However, some were of the view that the proposed threshold for large-scale landholdings is too high and would apply to very few land transactions each year. Other respondents saw a range of potential disadvantages associated with public interest test proposals, including the risk of interference with landowner rights.

A majority (63% of those answering) agreed that if a public interest test concluded there was a strong public interest in reducing scale/concentration of ownership, then the conditions placed on the sale of the land could include that the land in question should be split into lots. A slightly larger majority (68% of those answering) agreed that the land should be offered to constituted community bodies in the area. The most commonly raised issue was that lotting has the potential to have an impact on the viability and market value of landholdings.

Receipt of public funding: A majority (79% of those answering) the question, agreed that eligibility requirements for landowners to receive public funding from the Scottish Government for land-based activity should include that all land, regardless of size, must be registered in the Land Register of Scotland. A majority (74% of those answering) agreed that funding should require large-scale landowners being required to demonstrate compliance with the LRRS and having an up-to-date Land Management Plan in place.

Other raised concerns or sought clarity around the scope of the proposals, such as whether they would apply only to central government funds and also potential barriers to registration on the Land Register.

Land Use Tenancy: A majority (71% of those answering) agreed that there should be a Land Use Tenancy to allow people to undertake a range of land management activities. Those supporting the proposed approach frequently pointed to the importance of introducing greater flexibility in the way let land can be used, including a greater focus on activities contributing towards just transition to net zero, climate adaptation, biodiversity recovery and nature restoration, community wealth building and population retention and growth in areas within rural Scotland. Respondents who had disagreed with, or were not sure about, developing a Land Use Tenancy most frequently commented that the lack of detail on the proposal makes it difficult to form an opinion.

Other issues covered: The latter sections of the consultation sought initial views about whether the Scottish Government should explore who should be able to acquire large-scale landholdings in Scotland and other land related reforms. Coverage of these issues, along with a detailed analysis of views on the policy proposals summarised above, is provided in the main report.