As this term of the Scottish Parliament draws to a close before it breaks for the election, important and much anticipated land reform legislation has been passed. There will be a new Land Reform (Scotland) Act, as soon as Royal Assent is applied to the Bill passed by a clear majority of MSPs on Wednesday.
This picks up from the similarly named 2003 legislation. That older measure, with its rights of outdoor access and community rights to buy, has a somewhat narrower scope than this new measure. When Land Reform version 2016 and associated regulations are fully implemented, they will continue the 2003 theme by bringing in an additional right of acquisition for communities (to further sustainable development) and making some minor changes to access rights, but there will also be much more. Reforms to deer management, taxation of sporting estates, and agricultural tenancies are all in the pipeline, as are new provisions for community engagement, transparency of ownership, and a new Scottish Land Commission.
My tweeted reaction to Stage 3 can be found here. That gives you an idea of what Stage 3 brought in (e.g. a commitment to review small landholder legislation, and a tie-up of the community engagement guidance to be produced for a landowner’s new duty to consult with a community to the new community right to buy to further sustainable development) and what it did not bring in (community sale orders, taxation for derelict land, restrictions on non-EU entities owning land, and tweaks to the aforementioned right to buy for sustainable development that could have explicitly carved out land being used for agriculture from its scope).
Here are a selection of other reactions.
- Scottish Land & Estates.
- Community Land Scotland (albeit that press release was written in advance).
- Andy Wightman (land campaigner and Scottish Green Candidate), writing in the National.
- Global Witness, who hailed a “historic new law to end secrecy land ownership“.
On agricultural holdings in particular, NFU Scotland is to set up a Short Life Working Group “of all of the interests within the tenanted sector” to think about implementation of the reforms.
Of course, the new titular land reform legislation is not the only important land reform measure. Also approved last week was a measure for the private rented sector, which will bring in a new form of residential tenancy. Scottish Land and Estates reacted to that too, as did Shelter Scotland.
Meanwhile, last week also brought new draft regulations about community asset transfers, under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.
That flurry of activity might mark the end of the land reform story for this Parliament, but there is much more to come. This will definitely be in the form of regulations to build on the new framework; it could also materialise in the form of further primary legislation, depending on the political mix of the Scottish Parliament after the election.