Scotland is set to introduce a landmark legislation that aims to transform the way land is owned, used and governed in the country. The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced in the Scottish Parliament on December 7, 2023, is expected to bring about significant changes in the areas of land ownership, community empowerment, environmental stewardship and human rights.
Why is Land Reform Needed in Scotland?
Scotland has one of the most concentrated patterns of land ownership in the world, with more than half of the privately owned land held by just 432 entities. This has resulted in a lack of transparency, accountability and diversity in the land sector, as well as a range of social, economic and environmental challenges.
Some of the issues that the current land system poses are:
- Inequality and exclusion: Many people, especially in rural areas, face barriers to accessing land and its benefits, such as housing, employment, recreation and cultural heritage. Land ownership is also highly skewed along gender, ethnic and class lines, with women, minorities and low-income groups underrepresented and disadvantaged.
- Unsustainable development: The dominant model of land use in Scotland is based on intensive agriculture, forestry and sporting estates, which often have negative impacts on the environment, biodiversity and climate. Land use decisions are also often made without adequate consultation and participation of the local communities and the wider public.
- Human rights violations: The current land system does not fully respect and protect the human rights of the people who live and work on the land, such as the rights to food, water, health, education, culture and self-determination. There have been cases of land grabbing, evictions, harassment and intimidation of land activists and defenders, especially those who belong to indigenous and minority groups.
What are the Main Features of the Land Reform Bill?
The Land Reform Bill is a comprehensive and ambitious legislation that seeks to address the above-mentioned issues and create a fairer and greener land system in Scotland. The bill has four main parts, each covering a different aspect of land reform:
- Part 1: Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement: This part establishes a statutory statement that sets out the principles and objectives of land reform in Scotland, such as promoting human dignity, social justice, environmental sustainability and public interest. The statement will provide guidance and direction for land policy and practice, and will be reviewed and updated every five years.
- Part 2: Land Ownership: This part introduces a range of measures to increase transparency, accountability and diversity in land ownership, such as:
- A public register of persons who have a controlling interest in land owners and tenants, which will help to identify the beneficial owners of land and prevent the use of shell companies and tax havens.
- A limit on the amount of land that can be owned or leased by a single person or entity, which will help to prevent the accumulation and concentration of land power and wealth.
- A right of pre-emption for community bodies, which will give them the first option to buy land that is put up for sale, subject to certain conditions and exemptions.
- A right of acquisition for sustainable development, which will enable community bodies to compulsorily purchase land that is abandoned, neglected or causing harm to the environment or the community, subject to certain criteria and safeguards.
- Part 3: Land Use: This part introduces a range of measures to improve the planning, management and regulation of land use, such as:
- A national land use strategy, which will set out the long-term vision and priorities for land use in Scotland, based on the principles of sustainable development, public participation and human rights.
- A land use framework, which will establish a system of regional and local land use plans, which will translate the national strategy into specific policies and actions for different areas and sectors.
- A land use duty, which will require public authorities to have regard to the national strategy and the relevant regional and local plans when making decisions that affect land use.
- A land use levy, which will impose a charge on land owners and developers who benefit from an increase in the value of their land due to a change in land use or planning permission, which will help to capture and redistribute the unearned income from land.
- Part 4: Land Governance: This part introduces a range of measures to enhance the participation, representation and accountability of the people and institutions involved in land governance, such as:
- A land commission, which will be an independent statutory body that will monitor, review and advise on land reform matters, and will have the power to conduct inquiries, investigations and audits on land issues.
- A land tribunal, which will be a specialist judicial body that will hear and determine appeals, disputes and complaints related to land reform matters, and will have the power to issue orders, directions and awards.
- A land ombudsman, which will be an independent official that will receive and investigate complaints of maladministration, injustice and human rights violations related to land reform matters, and will have the power to make recommendations and referrals.
- A land rights and responsibilities charter, which will be a voluntary code of conduct that will set out the standards and expectations for the behaviour and performance of land owners, tenants, managers and users, and will provide a mechanism for resolving disputes and grievances.
What are the Expected Outcomes and Impacts of the Land Reform Bill?
The Land Reform Bill is expected to have a significant and positive impact on the social, economic and environmental well-being of Scotland and its people. Some of the expected outcomes and impacts are:
- Increased access and opportunity: The bill will enable more people, especially those who are marginalised and disadvantaged, to access and benefit from land and its resources, such as housing, employment, recreation and cultural heritage. This will help to reduce poverty, inequality and exclusion, and enhance social inclusion, cohesion and mobility.
- Improved sustainability and resilience: The bill will promote a more balanced and diverse pattern of land use and ownership, which will support the conservation and restoration of the environment, biodiversity and climate. This will help to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, and enhance the resilience and security of the land and its people.
- Enhanced democracy and human rights: The bill will strengthen the participation, representation and accountability of the people and institutions involved in land governance, and ensure that land rights and responsibilities are respected and protected. This will help to foster a more democratic and human rights-based culture and practice of land governance, and enhance the legitimacy and trust of the land system.
The Land Reform Bill is a historic and visionary legislation that aims to transform the way land is owned, used and governed in Scotland. The bill is expected to bring about significant changes in the areas of land ownership, community empowerment, environmental stewardship and human rights. The bill is a step towards creating a fairer and greener land system in Scotland, which will benefit the people and the planet.