Concentrated land ownership is having “significant impacts” on communities across rural Scotland, a new report reveals.
The Scottish Land Commission report was published today (20th March), alongside a set of recommendations to Scottish Government Ministers – chief among them is a statutory public interest test for equally significant land transfer.
Representing the most substantial investigation conducted into the impacts of this issue, the report is based on evidence about rural land ownership that shows how the concentration of social, economic and decision-making power significantly impacts communities across rural Scotland.
The report follows a call for evidence by the Commission last year, for anyone with experience of living or working in parts of Scotland, where most of the land is owned by a small number of people, to share their experiences.
More than 407 people, from landowners and land managers to community representatives and individuals, submitted evidence.
The main findings are:
- Most of the disadvantages associated with Scotland’s current pattern of land ownership relate to a concentration of social, economic and decision-making power, not simply the size of landholdings
- The advantages identified relate mainly to potential economies of scale
- In some parts of Scotland, concentrated ownership hampers economic development and causes serious and long-term harm to the communities affected
- The problems are not associated exclusively with any particular type of landowner – the Commission found a consistent pattern of evidence relating to land owned across the private, public, NGO and community sectors
- There are issues to address beyond ownership, specifically a lack of effective participation in land use change decisions
- The pattern of market and social power in concentrated land ownership has parallels with monopoly power in other sectors of the economy
- There is – currently – little or no method of redress for communities or individuals, where there are adverse economic or social impacts
Hamish Trench, CEO of The Scottish Land Commission, said concern about the impacts of concentrated land ownership in Scotland has long been central to the land reform debate.
He said: “The evidence we have collected shows clearly that it is the concentration of power associated with land ownership, rather than necessarily the scale of landholding, that has a significant impact on the public interest – for example, in relation to economic opportunities, housing and community development.
“Good management can of course reduce the risks associated with the concentration of power and decision making, but the evidence shows that adverse impacts are causing significant detriment to the to the communities affected.
“This points to the need for systemic change beyond simply a focus on good management.”
Informed directly by the gathered evidence, the Commission is today making initial recommendations to address the adverse effects identified, and to stimulate a more productive, diverse and dynamic pattern of rural land ownership.
Recommended statutory changes include:
- Public interest test for significant land transfer
- Requirement for a management plan
- Statutory Land Rights and Responsibilities Review
Other recommendations include:
- Promoting more diverse private ownership to help achieve land reform objectives
- Local engagement in land-use change
The Commission recommends the introduction of a public interest test and approval mechanism at the point of significant land transfer, an obligation for larger land holdings to engage on and publish a management plan, and a review mechanism to address adverse impacts on communities where normal responsible management approaches are not effective.
“The reforms we propose are a first step to address the significant issues identified in the evidence and move towards a more diverse and dynamic pattern of land ownership,” said Trench.
“Some of these reforms will require legislative change, and in the short term we have identified the need for stronger leadership within the land ownership sectors to address the risk and impacts identified and implement a programme of land rights and responsibilities good practice.
“These reforms seek to address the issues of concentrated land ownership using ways that are normal in other countries and economic sectors.
“It is common in international practice to have some form of approval measures at point of land transaction, and we are also used to regulating the concentration of market power and monopoly positions in other sectors of the economy.”
With the report out, the Commission is now to engage widely with stakeholders and the public on its findings of the evidence, its implications and their recommendations, through a series of events and public meetings culminating in a land reform conference in October this year.