DAVID Ross reminds us that despite a supposed commitment to land reform, the Scottish Government has failed to deal with our highly concentrated pattern of ownership ( “Still much progress to be made on land reform”, Inside Track, The Herald, November 23).
Community right-to-buy legislation is a half-hearted policy whose extent will always be limited by the availability of public funds. Arbitrary judgments about maximum acreage per landowner and muddle-headed definitions of terms such as “sustainable development” or “abandoned, neglected or detrimental land” will provide fodder for lawyers, but will thwart progress.
Rather than fiddling around with bureaucratically-complicated micro-initiatives, the Scottish Government should look at the connection between land reform and fiscal reform and use its new tax powers to make radical changes. Already it has looked at land value taxation in the context of local tax reform, but has meekly decided to retain the council tax with some tweaks. Yet of much greater significance, the more recently acquired power to determine income tax rates and bands gives an opportunity to make sweeping reforms, by lifting the burden of taxation on work and enterprise and shifting it on to the rental value of land.
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The value of land is distinct from the value of the buildings on it. It is a publicly-created value, reflecting overall public demand for location, and is enhanced by the provision of publicly-funded services and infrastructure. It belongs back in the public purse as the prime source of public revenue, collected as an annual ground rent.
Once the ownership of land for gratuitous or speculative purposes becomes a financial burden on the owner, land-hoarding, whether in rural or urban areas, would be significantly discouraged. Coupled with a corresponding reduction in taxation on active production, such a system would pave the way for much greater diversity of ownership while lifting a millstone from the neck of our economy.
Orinsay, Station Road, Buchlyvie, Stirling.