As the SNP commences its third successive term in government, we take a brief look at some of the plans set out in the SNP’s manifesto that are likely to impact on rural landowners, occupiers and businesses in Scotland.
1. CAP Reform
Common Agricultural Policy (“CAP”) has undergone major reform over the last few years, with the system moving in 2015 from historic to area-based payments (safe to say the transition has not been without difficulties!). In 2014, it was announced how CAP will be implemented in Scotland between 2015 and 2020, however the next CAP negotiations will begin in 2017. The SNP has vowed to fight for “simplification, a fairer share of the budgets for Scotland, and for greater flexibility in how it is delivered” but more specifics are not yet available. The SNP is campaigning for the UK to vote to remain in the EU but if the outcome of the EU referendum on 23 June is that the UK will leave the EU, it is unknown what the future of agricultural support in Scotland will look like without the EU’s CAP.
The SNP Manifesto notes a commitment to continuing the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme and to campaigning for the UK Government to release the CAP convergence funds to Scottish Farmers.
2. Review of Crofting Legislation
The SNP plans to “modernise crofting law and make it more transparent, understandable and workable in practice”. The current legislation on crofting is undoubtedly complex. During the passage of the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2013 through the Scottish Parliament, many problems with the existing legislation that were outwith the scope of the Bill were identified (the Bill brought provisions for owner-occupier crofters in line with those for tenant crofters). Subsequently, the Crofting Law Group undertook a review, gathering details of the significant issues and problems within the existing legislation. A final report was submitted to the Scottish Government in November 2014 so the SNP’s modernisation of crofting law is likely to begin by reviewing the issues identified in this report and then taking forward some of the suggestions.
The SNP manifesto notes that a new entrant’s scheme for crofting will be introduced, the creation of new woodland crofts explored and a National Development Plan for Crofting published. It will be interesting to see the details of these proposals going forward.
3. Land Reform
As was anticipated, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act was passed before the May Scottish Parliamentary Election, receiving Royal Assent on 22 March 2016. This parliamentary term will see the terms of the Act being implemented and the passing of the secondary legislation that is required by the Act. Some have criticised the Act for giving too much power to the Government to make detailed law by secondary legislation; therefore the forthcoming secondary legislation is likely to contain detail that will have a significant bearing on what effect the Land Reform (Scotland) Act has on rural Scotland.
The SNP pledged in its manifesto to introduce a mandatory, public register of persons who have controlling interests in landowners and tenants and this is one of the areas that the Act left to secondary legislation. The anticipated regulations should clarify what is meant by a “controlling interest”.
The establishment of the Scottish Land Commission will be taken forward by the SNP - this will be a body corporate of five Land Commissioners and the Tenant Farming Commissioner whose function will be to review law and policy and to recommend changes.
The publication of the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement is expected soon. This is defined in the Act as a statement of principles for Land Rights and Responsibilities in Scotland and the Act requires this to be published within 12 months of the Act coming into force, and for it to be reviewed every five years.
4. Community Ownership
It is estimated that approximately 500,000 acres of land across Scotland is currently in community ownership and the SNP has a target of 1 million acres of land being in community ownership by 2020. It is, therefore, aiming to get a further 500,000 acres (over 200,000 hectares) into community ownership in the next four years. The SNP manifesto notes that achieving this will involve taking forward a strategy developed by the 1 million acres working group (a short life working group that commenced work in March 2015) and resourcing it through the £10 million Scottish Land Fund. The purpose of the 1 million acres working group is to improve existing information on community land ownership and develop a strategy for achieving the target.
The manifesto notes that through the Community Empowerment Act the SNP will seek to increase access to land for food growing purposes to develop allotments and community gardens. This may result in the acquisition of some land, particularly land on the outskirts of villages or towns.
In order to maximise the benefits of publically owned land to the nation the SNP will establish Land Scotland, a new land agency for Scotland, to “help manage Scotland’s publically owned land in the national interest”.
5. Rural Housing Fund
The Rural Housing Fund has been set up with a stated investment of £25 million over the next three years. The SNP manifesto states that the purpose of the fund is to build new, affordable houses, enabling the needs of older people to be met more appropriately and young people and families to stay or make their lives in rural communities. The fund is now open for applications from a range of applicants including community organisations, development trusts, private landowners and private developers. Applications from individuals will not be accepted. The fund has two components - the main one offers capital support (grant and loan) to enable the direct provision of new affordable housing and refurbishment of existing empty properties. A second, smaller component provides a contribution to feasibility studies.
The SNP has committed to planting 10,000 hectares of trees every year until 2022, to work to “hasten the pace of application and approval of planting” and to complete the devolution of the Forestry Commission. Its manifesto also pledges to support the planting of woodland that can help prevent flooding and assist in water basin management. Tree-planting in the UK has for many years lagged significantly behind the Government targets and industry requirements. The forest industry group Confor recently published its own manifesto, and called for an annual target of 13,000 hectares as a means of counteracting the historic shortfall. The cost and complexity of regulatory compliance has been cited as a hindrance to new planting on a sufficient scale and it will be interesting to see how this is addressed.
7. Wildlife Crime and Animal Welfare
The SNP will be considering the creation of new sentencing guidelines for wildlife crime and will undertake a wildlife crime prevention review and set up a Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit as part of Police Scotland. It will be considering Lord Bonomy’s review of Scotland’s hunting with dogs legislation.
Finally, we note that the SNP has pledged to deliver superfast broadband to all premises across Scotland. This is of huge importance to those living and working in rural Scotland.