A major review of land ownership in Scotland is being undertaken by an expert group appointed by the Scottish Government. The review, which will cover both rural and urban land ownership, will look at ways of enabling communities "to have a stake in the ownership, governance, management and use of land." This, it is hoped, will increase both the prosperity and sustainability of those communities.
The changing face of land ownership has been a benefit to Scotland. Although it initially created pressures on farms and rural estates, it has brought rewards in the long run as business models have been adapted to become leaner and more effective. Changing conditions in society, such as increased support for renewable energy, have created opportunities for diversification.
The hope now is that land ownership can begin evolving in more than one direction towards a variety of ownership models. The Scottish Government has stated its commitment to "generating innovative and radical proposals on land reform", and this review is an important part of that.
One thing the group will be examining in particular is the community right to buy. This was intended to be a vehicle for community enterprise and engagement. However, the legislation facilitating it has been identified as too complex, and the opportunities to use it too scarce. The review group will be looking at ways to increase use of this right.
A comparison can be made with the crofting right to buy. Unlike the community right to buy, this does not depend on the land to be purchased having been put up for sale, although the legislation is still complicated to deal with. Uptake of this has likewise been low, with only one estate having so far been purchased under the legislation. However, the Agricultural and Rural team at Morton Fraser has been involved in a number of crofting community projects which have presented significant benefits to residents without them having to take ownership of the land. This suggests, as the group will no doubt find in their investigations, that there is much more to the democratisation of land use than just who owns it.
The group will also be considering extending the right to buy to urban areas. An article in The Guardian last year looked at the opportunity for Common Good land to be used for community orchards, providing fresh fruit to local people. This is another example, similar to the crofting projects mentioned above, where ownership would not be a pre-requisite for the project, although in an urban situation where land is at a premium, ownership would be an advantage.
Some commentators were surprised at the time that one of the first pieces of legislation enacted by the new Scottish Parliament provided for the abolition of the feudal system. However, this is indicative of the importance of land to the Scottish economy. This review presents the next stage in the renegotiation of that relationship between land and people to secure a more prosperous and sustainable future.
The call for evidence has now closed, and the group will be holding one more public meeting, on Islay on 20 February. More information about the review can be obtained from its page on the Scottish Government website.