Public interest test for land transfer ‘powerful tool’

A public interest test for the transfer of significant areas of land would be a “powerful tool” to reform land ownership in Scotland, the Environment Secretary has said.

New legislation to introduce the test was one of a series of recommendations made in a recent Scottish Land Commission report.

The report found concentrated land ownership appeared to be causing “significant and long-term damage” to communities in parts of Scotland.

A public interest test to prevent “excessively concentrated market power”, similar to regulations governing corporate acquisitions and mergers, is one of the commission’s proposed solutions.

In a Holyrood debate on land reform, Roseanna Cunningham said the Government would consider the report’s recommendations.

The Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform said the public interest test would apply to proposed land transactions over a certain size.

Roseanna Cunningham
Ms Cunningham spoke in a parliamentary debate on land reform (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

“This would enable the public interest to be considered before such transactions can take place and would help ensure the negative effects of scale and particularly concentration of ownership were kept in check,” Ms Cunningham added.

“This would certainly be a powerful tool to help stop and reverse the kind of ownership patterns that have hampered Scotland for so many years.”

Labour’s Claudia Beamish criticised the “inequitable and unjust land ownership pattern Scotland still has”.

“There should be limits to how much land can be owned by any one person – a difficult issue, but Scottish Labour supports this – unless it is shown to work in the public interest,” she said.

Conservative Edward Mountain accused the SNP and Labour of “obsessing” on land ownership, adding: “We do not believe that land reform is all about who owns what.

“It is more important what people do with the land that they own.”

Today’s @ScotParl debate on #LandReform already featuring tired Tory argument that “ownership” not relevant because real issue is how land is used. But ownership dictates usage so it is at the root of the problem and must be tackled, as @ScottishLandCom has said this week.

— Michael Russell (@Feorlean) March 21, 2019

Mr Mountain said: “We will support an individual’s property rights whether they own a house, a croft, a farm or an estate, it will make no difference to us.”

He said he had “deep reservations” about the recommendations in the Scottish Land Commission report and alleged some points were based on “unsubstantiated evidence”.

“The report has been written to support, in my opinion, pre-determined conclusions that do not reflect anything more than misconception of some of the members of the Land Commission,” he added.

Green MSP Andy Wightman said a key issue facing land ownership was “how to democratise land” and put forward an amendment calling for the term “community ownership” to be replaced by “common ownership” to include areas such as parish commons and land held by councils.

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