Large swathes of land owned by single entity 'not a bad thing'

A body representing landowners in Scotland said a proposed bill could result in lengthy court battles.

Scottish Land and Estates say there is no evidence ‘big is bad’ for land ownership during bill consultation iStock

A body representing landowners has told ministers that large parcels of land owned by a single entity are not a bad thing, as a consultation on new land reform laws is set to close.

The Scottish Government is seeking to bring forward a new land reform Bill which would put in place a public interest test on sales of large swathes of land, or where one would be created in a bid to diversify land ownership.

A consultation document said a large-scale landholding would be anything above 3,000 hectares.

The same document said a failed public interest test could result in large holdings being broken into lots, with a single buyer unable to buy the whole unit or local community organisations being offered some or part of the land, with the initial sale only allowed to go through if the group decline to bid.

The test could also place requirements on buyers, including forcing them to draw up plans on how they will tackle climate change.

But Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) – a body which represents landholders in Scotland – has said it is not the case that large-scale land holdings are necessarily a bad thing.

With the Scottish Government hoping the Bill would benefit communities and the environment, SLE chief executive Sarah Laing said it could have “the opposite effect” and result in court battles over land sales that were stopped from going ahead.

“Scale of ownership, whether you are a public or private owner, is crucial to improving the environment through peatland restoration, renewable energy and biodiversity,” she said.

“Scale also provides the platform for vital economic activity in some of our most fragile areas. The Scottish Government has no evidence to support its big is bad position, in fact it has extensive evidence to the contrary.

“We already have a long-accepted mass of legislation that enables communities to acquire land, as well as the voluntary transfers of land and properties which continue to happen all over Scotland.

“Planning yet more laws and a public interest test that may well result in large-scale land sales and acquisitions becoming embroiled in legal disputes and red tape threatens to add millions of pounds to the cost of land reform to the Scottish taxpayer.

“State interference of this degree in the land market is a minefield and unnecessary, and will do nothing to help us get towards net zero.”

The consultation is due to close on Sunday.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We understand and fully appreciate the valuable contribution many responsible landowners across Scotland make to our economy and delivering our Net Zero ambitions.

“Our proposals aim to encourage and support responsible and diverse landownership, including ensuring that communities have more opportunities to own land, and have say in how land in their area is used.

“We will carefully consider the responses to our consultation as we develop these proposals for inclusion in the Land Reform Bill.”

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