The Scottish Government has announced that it has set a target deadline of 10 years for the Registers of Scotland to have all land in Scotland registered on the Land Register. 5 years is the target for all publicly owned land. This announcement follows a report by the Land Reform Review Group published on Friday 23 May. Announcing the registration project, Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse said "This is a vital underpinning step in Scotland's land reform journey and will ensure that at last everyone will know who owns Scotland."
At present, only around 26% of the total landmass of Scotland is held on a title registered in the Land Register.
The drive to provide a clear and complete list of who owns what land is in part prompted by the World Bank, which recognises that an efficient, effective and indemnified land registration system is one of the most important factors in achieving economic development and business growth. Completed registration will have a number of benefits for those who regularly deal with land in Scotland. For example, being able to identify landowners more readily allows, amongst other things:
• Easier assembly of land rights required for developments;
• Easier resolution of access issues;
• Identification of the parties from whom consents, discharges and rights, etc. are required.
The Land Reform Review Group is an independent review group set up in 2012. The full report sets out 62 recommendations focused on the public interest and making the most of land in Scotland and includes recommendations such as:
• Introducing a new law to limit how much land any one private owner can own in Scotland;
• Prohibiting any party not registered in the EU from being registered as an owner of land – if implemented this would impact on the practice of owning land in corporations registered offshore for tax purposes;
• A proposal that local authorities should be given the right to force the sale of vacant or derelict land;
• Introducing a system of land value taxation, which could be an alternative to council tax, but this appears to have been quickly ruled out by the Scottish Government.
The Scottish Government also announced that it will form a working group to develop the strategy for achieving a target of having one million acres of land in community ownership by 2020.
Reaction to the report has generally been positive. However, large landowners and their supporters have seen it is a fundamental attack on their property rights. The Scottish Land & Estates Group, which represents landowners throughout Scotland, welcomed the proposals relating to transparency of land ownership but warned that the 10 year deadline to complete the project was very ambitious. The Land Reform Review Group report titled "The Land of Scotland and the Common Good" can be accessed here.