Following publication by the Scottish Land Commission of a new discussion paper on land reform legislative proposals, Scottish Land and Estates (SLE), which represents land businesses across Scotland, has issued this statement.

Mark Tennant, chairman of SLE, said: “We have now had 20 years of intensive land reform legislation in the Scottish Parliament.

During that time, land businesses have embraced massive change and there are so many positive outcomes from multiple ownership models including public, private and community.

“They are all playing their part in delivering the Scottish government policy in key areas such as renewable energy, farming, forestry and housing.”

Lack of new thinking

Tennant continued:

“This new discussion paper does not reflect the great changes that have taken place. The report is rich in emotive description but does not offer new thinking on its key findings.

Where there are issues raised, it is in everyone’s interests that we move on from vague opinions and feelings to crystal-clear evidence of negative impacts that can be verified and acted upon.

“Landowners of any type or scale may be delivering government objectives but that may not sit well with a local community.

“That does not mean to say the ownership model or the business model is wrong.

“This paper does not address the conflict which often exists between the Scottish government’s view of what is in the public interest and how a local community would define it.

“We wholeheartedly support community engagement over land use and have been actively engaged with the Scottish Land Commission in developing plans and protocols to encourage this.

“If there is a negative issue in a particular location that is causing concern, there is an argument for very targeted intervention.

However, so many remedies already exist and it would be disproportionate to bring in legislation that could affect a whole business sector for very isolated issues.

“We have already seen the consequences with proposals that could adversely affect the short-term lets sector.”

‘Serious EHCR and property rights issues’

“Nearly two years ago, the Cabinet Secretary for Land Reform highlighted the fact that introducing a public interest test on the acquisition of property raised serious European Court of Human Rights [EHCR] and property rights issues,” added Tennant.

This new discussion paper does not take the matter forward nor offer new thinking on how such an idea – first mooted several years ago – would work in practice.

“We already have unprecedented rights in place regarding intervention on land sales and management.

“Community groups which express an interest in acquiring land enjoy first refusal, abandoned or neglected land can be subject to ministerial intervention and measures are in the pipeline where landowners blocking sustainable development could be forced to sell.

“All this is in addition to the substantial regulation that covers land management standards.

Land businesses have adapted to a barrage of legislation and regulation and have taken a very constructive approach to land reform.

“They are unwavering in their efforts to help rural Scotland thrive and, for us, this is and will be the greatest challenge in the years ahead,” he concluded.