Annex 3: A Consultation on the Future of Land Reform in Scotland: Analysis of Consultation Responses (Pages 17 -22)
3. A DRAFT LAND RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES POLICY STATEMENT
The Scottish Government considers that the relationship between the people living in Scotland and the land of Scotland is of fundamental importance. The land of Scotland is viewed as a finite resource and the land rights that govern how the land is owned and used seen as crucial in influencing well-being, economic success, environmental sustainability and social justice in Scotland. The Scottish Government proposes a vision and set of principles to guide the development of public policy on the nature and character of land rights in Scotland.
Question 1: Do you agree that the Scottish Government should have a stated Land Rights and Responsibilities Policy?
3.1 This question attracted the highest volume of response of all questions in the consultation. 1018 respondents (87% of all respondents) provided an answer with the majority (87%) agreeing that the Scottish Government should have a stated Land Rights and Responsibilities Policy ( LRRP). Table 3.1 presents views by category of respondent.
Table 3.1: Views on whether the Scottish Government should have a stated Land Rights and Responsibilities Policy (Question 1)
|Respondent category||Agree||Disagree||Total no. of respondents|
|No. of respondents||%||No. of respondents||%|
|National non-government organisations||42||100||0||0||42|
|Private landowner organisations||20||47||23||53||43|
|Private sector and professional bodies||21||84||4||16||25|
|Community organisation sand representative bodies||21||100||0||0||21|
|Government and NDPBs||11||100||0||0||11|
|Local non-government organisations||8||n/a||0||n/a||8|
* Throughout the report percentages are only used when the number of respondents is more than 10.
3.2 The only category of respondent where there was significant disagreement with the proposal was private landowner organisations. The majority of landowners who responded to the consultation addressed this question with just over half of these (53%) disagreeing.
3.3 All campaign responses agreed with the proposal.
Question 2: Do you have any comments on the draft Land Rights and Responsibilities Policy ( LRRP)?
3.4 844 respondents (72% of all respondents) addressed this question. Comments varied from broad support for, or opposition to, the proposed overall vision and principles, to more specific, detailed views and suggestions relating to individual draft principles. Amongst the comments of individuals were those which concurred with the views of key stakeholders such Scotland's Rural College  , the response of which was referred to repeatedly.
Summary of general views in support of the overall LRRP
3.5 Respondents from a range of different respondent categories expressed their general support for the draft LRRP as a whole. Comments included:
"I think it is the most progressive set of proposals I've seen from any Government" (Ind).
"I welcome the draft statement and think it is valuable to have such a statement to guide future policy" (Ind).
3.6 Many respondents provided a general rationale to underpin their support. The most common statements were that the proposal constituted a "good start" and "a step in the right direction", with many respondents considering this to be long overdue. A recurring theme across a few sectors was that the draft provided a robust framework upon which new policy could be constructed. The draft was viewed by some supporters as future-focused and comprehensive, with the potential to reduce inequalities and promote transparency. 17 respondents provided their view that the draft was not ambitious enough.
Summary of views criticising the overall LRRP
3.7 Four main criticisms dominated responses. The most common criticism (emerging from supporters and opponents alike) was that phrases and words within the vision and principles were not clearly defined within the context of the proposal leaving them open to various interpretations.
3.8 A second prevailing criticism specified by 31 respondents (largely individuals and landowning organisations) was that in their view there is no evidence that land reform is required, with existing legislation working well. One private landowner organisation remarked:
"The vision proposed implies a current failure though this failure is not set out or demonstrated. The principles are clearly directed at changing landownership patterns but we are not aware of, nor is any presented, any evidence that such a change would, in itself, deliver benefits to the people of Scotland" (Moray Estates Development Company Ltd).
3.9 Related to the previous argument, a further 30 respondents provided their general view that the proposal fails to recognise the huge contribution currently being made by landowners in terms of responsible stewardship of large tracts of land.
3.10 One further repeated view (14 respondents) was that the proposal represented too much control by the Scottish Government, the perceived centralisation of powers creating potential for future misuse, and unwanted interference with landowners' rights to utilise their land as they deem most appropriate for both environmental and business interests.
Summary of further general reflections on the LRRP
3.11 A number of other general comments were made by supporters and opponents alike. A repeated view was that what was proposed did not constitute a policy in its own right, but rather comprised high-level aspirations. Without further detail, the principles were perceived to be ideological rather than practical goals. Comments included:
"The draft principles as noted appear to be 'high-level', in part subjective and hence potentially open to different interpretation. It would be helpful to see further specific proposals e.g. in terms of how it is suggested these objectives might be implemented and achieved to assist more informed comment" (Falkirk Council).
"To convert these from the abstract into the tangible there needs to be action to tackle both wider inequalities in society and the lack of capital availability to community groups and individuals" (Ind).
3.12 11 respondents emphasised what they considered was the need to position the LRRP within the context of other related policies such as those on land use, forestry and rural issues, and link them in a cross-cutting manner.
3.13 The issue of human rights emerged in various guises in responses, with a general theme to emerge that a rights-based approach to developing land reform policy is in keeping with international approaches, and the European Convention on Human Rights ( ECHR). The Common Weal campaign view was that the policy is consistent with international best practice and the rights-based approach of international development.
Specific comments on the proposed vision and principles
3.14 A multitude of very specific comments were made by respondents about aspects of the proposed vision and individual principles. A summary of the most prevailing and relevant views is presented in Table 3.2 overleaf.
Table 3.2: Summary of prevailing views on the proposed vision and principles
Vision: For a strong relationship between the people of Scotland and the land of Scotland, where ownership and use of the land delivers greater public benefits through a democratically accountable and transparent system of land rights that promotes fairness and social justice, environmentally sustainable and economic prosperity.
- Support for recognition of the relationship between people and the land.
- Need clarity on whether this applies to urban and rural land
- Meaning of "greater public benefits"?
- Determination of "fairness"?
Principle 1: The ownership and use of land in Scotland should be in the public interest and contribute to the collective benefit of the people of Scotland.
- General support that this refers to benefitting the many and not just a few.
- Perhaps add that this should also benefit future generations of people in Scotland.
- Perhaps add that the principle should balance the interests of local and national public interest.
- Need to define public interest - different groups may have conflicting interests.
- General view particularly from landowners that the principle is too "sweeping" and that attempting to place ownership and use of land in the public interest can lead to degradation and neglect of previously well attended land.
- General view largely from individuals that the needs of property owners should be balanced against a wider "public interest".
Principle 2: There should be clear and detailed information that is publicly available on land in Scotland.
- Much support from individuals in particular for this principle. Repeated calls for this information to be made freely available and readily accessible to all, with some form of interactive map a repeated suggestion.
- Recurring view that the principle will promote a transparent system of land rights.
- Other merits viewed as empowering communities and individuals to make more informed decisions; being able to establish who owns pieces of land; easier to identify relevant contacts over, for example, permissions to access land.
- A request from an individual that the information encompasses all water courses and lochs.
- Emphasis on the need to update the register regularly.
- Concerns expressed by a small minority over: costs of set up and maintenance outweighing benefits; need to protect rights of owners from potential abuse of information which is made publicly available; impact on the workload of local authorities; information may be available elsewhere so no need to pursue this.
Principle 3: The framework of land rights and associated public policies governing the ownership and use of land, should contribute to building a fairer society in Scotland and promoting environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and social justice.
- Relatively few specific comments regarding this principle. General support largely from individuals.
- Most frequent comment, particularly amongst landowners, was that "building a fairer society" is an abstract concept, with many advocating its deletion from the principle.
- Notion of "fair" may benefit one party over another; what appears fair from one perspective may not appear so from another.
Principle 4: The ownership of land in Scotland should reflect a mix of different types of public and private ownership in an increasingly diverse and widely dispersed pattern, which properly reflects national and local aspirations and needs.
- Support largely from individuals, some of whom expressed views in strong language, over so few people owning so much of the land in Scotland
- Suggestion made by a small number of respondents that a restriction on the amount of land one person can own should be implemented.
- Term "increasingly diverse" attracted criticism from some. Comments included: "There is a need for its terminology to be clear and meaningful. While not in argument with "fairness" per se this is an abstract concept that will have different interpretations to different groups and specifically how it is attained in both rural and urban Scotland" (Scottish Land and Estates). "....would question the merits of such a policy where multiple ownerships, as seen in a European context, can hinder rural and urban development and go against the economies of scale that are essential to viable modern agriculture" (Brodies LLP).
- Concerns that diverse ownership requires supporting into the future with ongoing funding and expertise, to prevent neglect.
Principle 5: That a growing number of local communities in Scotland should be given the opportunity to own buildings and land which contribute to their community's well-being and future development.
- Balance of views between those highlighting their agreement with this principle in particular, and those expressing caution.
- Repeated views that: this principle should be actioned only where there are clear benefits; consideration has been given to whether the funding could be better spent on other benefits for the public such as social services or educational.
- Repeated concern that this principle could lead to disputes within communities.
- Calls for the principle to encompass communities of interest in addition to those of place.
- Suggestions of adding other types of resources for community ownership such as water, wind, inland and seabed resources.
- Consider benefits to communities of leasing and management agreements as alternatives to owning.
- The principle should be linked to the Community Empowerment policy due to its relevance in delivery.
Principle 6: The holders of land rights in Scotland should exercise these rights in ways that recognise their responsibilities to meet high standards of land ownership and use.
- Much support expressed largely by individuals.
- Owners in particular emphasised that they already adhere to this principle.
- A recurring comment was to request clarification on meaning of "high standards" and seek information on who will determine these.
- A few requests for "responsibilities" to be made more explicit.
Principle 7: There should be wide public engagement in decisions relating to the development and implementation of land rights in Scotland, to ensure that wider public interest is protected.
- Some general support expressed largely from individuals.
- Two prominent concerns: legislation already exists which encompasses public engagement in such decisions; does not offer adequate protection for property owners.
- Concerns mentioned by only a few respondents: could become dominated by the vocal few in the community; could result in too much bureaucracy with worthwhile development proposals being lost; need to ensure community volunteers involved are adequately supported and empowered to take part.
- Relevance of "public interest" questioned by a few, with one suggestion that the word "public" is removed, leaving "wider interest".
Cross-cutting additional themes to emerge
3.15 Other significant cross-cutting themes which emerged less frequently included:
- Need for a reference to food and food security; forestry; and agriculture as underpinning rural economies.
- Include reference to access to land, in addition to land ownership.
- LRRP requires a review cycle, possibly every five years.
- Introduce and reference minimum standards of stewardship that landowners and managers are required to meet.
- Consider an appeal system to run alongside the LRRP (although some mention that there is already an appeal system for development decisions).