• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Inside Track: Small print with a potentially massive impact

There is a lot in the 200 pages that make up the Scottish Government's Community Empowerment Bill, published last week, including a little-noticed section that might just have a profound impact on land ownership.

It reads: "Part 4 amends Part 2 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, extending the community right to buy to all of Scotland, and introduces a new Part 3A to that Act to make provision for community bodies to purchase neglected and abandoned land where the owner is not willing to sell that land."

An explanatory note clarifies this would be "for the purposes of the sustainable development of that land".

Another makes clear that "land" includes "bridges and other structures built on or over land, inland waters, canals, and the foreshore".

The Bill also "provides that eligible land is land which is wholly or mainly abandoned or neglected in the opinion of ministers." So what's it all about?

Since the land reform legislation 11 years ago, crofting communities have had the right to buy their local land whether or not the landowners wishes to sell, as long as ministers approve it as being in the public interest.

But the right to buy enjoyed by non-crofting communities in rural Scotland was only a right of first refusal and time to raise money in the event of a landowner deciding to sell land.

However, this new clause would extend to all Scottish communities the power to force the sale of land but only land that isn't being used.

It would be up to communities to persuade ministers that an area of land is abandoned or neglected and that community control would further sustainable development.

Limiting it in this way will disappoint land reformers who see community ownership as much more than tackling neglect, and will be likely to challenge the definitions.

On the other hand it should provide some relief to landowners, the vast majority of whom would deeply resent any suggestion they had abandoned or neglected their land.

What constitutes neglect or abandonment of land would be a matter of debate, as would sustainable development.

Indeed, it could be a matter for the Court of Session as landowners, even the demonstrably neglectful, are likely to resist attempts by communities to take over their land.

Perhaps a few sheep here and a shooting party there, a mountain bike track or some conifers would be enough to satisfy ministers and, ultimately, a judge that existing activity was furthering sustainable development.

But the Bill does seek to enshrine in the law of the land not only that communities have a legal right to make a case to take over privately owned land against owners' wishes; but also that on occasion landlords will have to justify their stewardship or risk losing it. Twenty years ago that would have been unimaginable.

This may herald new strife over Scotland's land. Equally it could mean co-operation and compromise with landowners incentivised to recognise the aspirations of local communities while accepting compensation.

Contextual targeting label: 
Environment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

241102