Attack on bill

Land reform ‘will hit investment’ say owners

Sarah-Jane Laing: planned land reforms are ‘destructive’

Reforms of landownership which could see owners break up large estates have been described as an attack on property rights that will deter investment and delay net zero commitments.

A bill introduced to parliament yesterday includes measures that will apply to large landholdings of more than 1,000 hectares and prohibits certain sales until ministers can consider the impact on local communities.

This could require owners to break up the sale into smaller parts to help communities thrive.

The bill was introduced to parliament after it was reported that one of Scotland’s largest estates, covering nearly 30,000 acres in the Highlands, has been bought by the son of a Hong Kong billionaire. Auch and Invermearan estate is now under the ownership of a company controlled by Ming Wai Lau, the eldest son of Joseph Lau, a Hong Kong property tycoon who is one of the world’s richest men who wants to create “substantial tourist accommodation” on the land.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “We do not think it is right that ownership and control of much of Scotland’s land is still in the hands of relatively few people. We want Scotland to have a strong and dynamic relationship between its land and people.

“We want to be a nation where rights and responsibilities in relation to land and its natural capital are fully recognised and fulfilled. That was our aim in 2016 and it remains our aim today.

“Too often, people and communities feel powerless when the land they live on is sold with no prior warning – this Bill will help to change that.”

Mairi Gougeon: people feel powerless

It is the third proposed reform in little over 20 years and SLE said it is a “cocktail of bureaucratic and interventionist measures that will once again land the Scottish taxpayers with a multi-million-pound bill”.

Scottish Land & Estates said the bill is a “destructive and disproportionate” attack on land-based businesses that risks derailing the pursuit of net zero.

Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of SLE, said: “The Scottish Government is using outdated ideology to punish those rural businesses making a huge contribution to Scotland.

“Rather than taking a common-sense approach to reflect the challenges that people living and working in rural Scotland face, Scottish Ministers are pursuing a destructive and disproportionate agenda against land-based businesses.

“Some of the measures signal a huge U-turn by Ministers from utilising land to pursue net zero towards a full-on attack on the property rights of large farms and estates.”

She added: “Ministers would not countenance taking the same approach to any other business sector.

“They claim it is about addressing large-scale landownership, but the Scottish Government is the biggest landowner in Scotland and Ministers know full well that scale is needed to deliver many of the government’s own aspirations on forestry, peatland restoration and food production. The impact on people, jobs and nature will be significant.

“SLE supports increased transparency as well as continuing to ensure that land delivers benefits for us all. We see merit in land management plans but some of the other measures contained within the Bill are not required and are frankly unworkable.

“The government is taking an irrational approach to farms and estates over 1,000 hectares, which seems to be driven purely by a desire to break these up regardless of the outcome.

“The suggestion that a property going on the market should be lotted by government before being listed is absurd. The blizzard of regulations they are proposing around the transfer of landholdings will create conflict, cause market uncertainty and deter much needed investment.”

Ms Laing said that forcing a landowner or farmer with more than 1,000 hectares to consider a request from a community to lease the land is a “recipe for disaster and disappointment that will likely end up in legal challenges, costly delays, and a mountain of red tape.”

She said mechanisms already exist for communities to influence how land is used, such as local place plans, and added that sales of land to communities are already taking place on a “willing seller” basis.

“The Bill also includes new measures that affect agricultural landlords, who will face further hurdles on resuming land, and we are disappointed that retrospective changes are being introduced to previous legislation on tenancies.

“The proposals in the Bill to hand new powers to a Land and Communities Commissioner, which include fining landowners, goes way beyond the power of other commissioners of this kind.

““The reality is that large-scale farms and estates deliver day in, day out, for the Scottish economy and local communities, and this has been shown in the Scottish Government’s own research as well as our research on the contribution of estates to Scotland’s Wellbeing Economy – research that was accepted and embraced by government at the time of publication.”

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