Land Reform in Scotland
Inspiration and Lessons to be Learned
Towards the Commons?
Land Reform Review Group- reporting in 2014The philosophy of this group helped to establish a different approach to land. They saw land as a crucial and finite resource that required owning and using in the public interest and for the common good. So instead of focusing on land ownership and rights as market matters and private rights, more emphasis is on where the public interest lies (Peter Peacock).
‘radical and ongoing reform to democratise land and ensure that it is owned and used in the public interest and for the common good’.Successful amendment proposed by Land reform campaigner, now Green MSP- Andy Wightman
BACKGROUND TO Land reform
Very unequal land distribution- one of the worst in Europe (50% or private rural land- 432 owners)History and culture: sheep and clearances and rise of sporting estates (economic and social injustice)Land reform movement: campaigners such as Andy Wightman, initiatives for community buy-outs, egEiggand Knoydart FoundationSuccess of SNP and the nationalist ideology- linked to the fact that many of the large landowners have been English
Land Fund (2000)- money from the government to help communities buy land from owners (was £5 million)Land Reform Act 2003Access- access anywhere without owners consentCommunity Right to Buy if the land came up for sale- first right of refusal. Only communities up to 10,000 (rural communities in north and west of Scotland)Crofting-right to buy even if the landowner is not willing
Community Empowerment Act 2015
Extension of right to buy to communities of any size, including urban areasRight to buy for land that is neglected, abandoned or in some way harms the communityCommunities can ask local authorities, government and other public bodies for land or properties that they think they can make better use ofLocal authorities must draw up data bank on all common good property they holdLocal authorities must provide more allotments and develop a food growing strategy
Land Reform Act 2016
LandRights and Responsibilities statementmust be produced: underpinned by principles of human rights, equal opportunities, reducing socio-economic advantage, diversity of land ownership and sustainability in relation to land.From the statement: “underlinesthe Government’s commitment to on-going and long-term land reform”, “help ensure that the land can support our ambitions for a fairer country where more people and communities can benefit from the land”, commits to there being a more “diverse pattern of land ownership”.
LandCommission to provide overview of policy and keep momentumgoing.One important report from this commission is Land: for the many, not the few? by Peter Peacock. It is thought that this is a key reform as it is an institutional driver which will oversee policy and initiate further developments.Anew Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land ReformRoseanna Cunningham who has a good record on climate change.
A Register of Controlling Interests in Land
Onepart of the 2016 Act is designed to boost transparency. Together with adrive to complete the map-based Land Register of Scotland by 2024, new rules relating to the disclosure of who has a controlling interest of a piece of land will make it easier to implement other parts of the act, eg community right to buy, community engagement.
Expansion of Community Right toBUy
easiertouseintroducesa clause whereby the community can purchase landeven if there is no willing sellerif the land can be used more sustainably or in the publicinterest
More reasons for communities to buy
thetransfer of land is likely to further the achievement of sustainable development in relation to thelandthetransfer of land is in the public interest;thetransfer of land is likely to result in significant benefit to the relevant community and is the only practicable way of achieving that significantbenefitnotgranting consent to the transfer is likely to result in “significant harm” to the community.
Guidanceto landowners on community engagementThe idea is that landowners need to consult with and involve local communities in discussions about land use. The problem is that there are no actual sanctions in the law.Removalof exemptions from non-domestic rates for shooting and deer forestsThis is an important tax change that could see changes in land use. Land owners are of course very against this.
Scotland is very different from other parts of the UK: owners, agricultural tenants and crofters. Just under a 25% of agricultural land was rented out for a year or more.Rightgiven to agricultural tenant to sell back tenancy to land owner or to sell to a new entrant toThis is considered to be very ‘complex’ and is also controversial. The general idea is to make it more difficult for landowners to get rid of leases on their land. So the lease can be sold back or passed to a new entrant into farming.
What next? Issues
Concern about how easy it will be to use some of the new criteria for community buy-out, eg sustainable development, what will cause harm etc.Amount in the land fund was doubled to 10 million but still not that much given the price of landNo one has yet applied to buy abandoned or neglected landNothing about limiting the size of land holdingsNo limits on non-EU foreign ownershipNo agricultural tenants’ right to buy
Focus on northern Scotland. Plans to have a South of Scotland Enterprise but this needs to have a Community Land Unit like in the Highlands and Islands.Position ofSNP and other parties. Thereis a lot of opposition to land reform so it will be difficult for the SNP to pursue more radical land reform if they lack the political will to take on the landowners.Landownersare questioning whether concentration of ownership and private ownership is in fact a bad thing. Private property as a human right.
Free-to-usenational land informationsystemanend to off-shore land ownership taxhavensaright for secure agricultural tenants to buy their farms (in certaincircumstances)givingchildren equal rights to inheritlandallowinglocal authorities to obtain land for higher quality housing at existing usevaluesensuringthat all vacant and derelict land is subject to non-domesticratesreplacingnon-domestic rates with a land valuetax
What place the Environment?
Sustainable development is a frequently mentioned as a reason for a community to buy land. Problem is how to define this.The recent planning bill has seen amendments defeated on protecting wild land.Local communities often see the work of conservationists as in conflict with their own interests.
Impacts: Community Right to Buy
Not a great increase in communities making bids, however, there are signs of interest in many different types of areas, eg community buy- out of Cairngormkkiresort, buying a empty railway station to turn it into a hostel.No case study yet to use the provisions of the legislation eg, harm to the community112,158 acres to562,230 acres from 1990 to 2017 (3% of total land)Aim is to have 1 million acres by 2020.
Change in attitudes, confidence
Galvinisea more radical land reform movement with higher expectations.Much support for view thatunequal land ownership is against human rights and holds back economic, social and culturaldevelopmentMoreaccepted that land use should relate to the common good and that there should be a national land usestrategy
Thereis a potential to use other legislation to reinforce land reform policy. For example, work on human rights in Scotland links directly to land reform. The current planning bill is also another area that needs to be used to reinforceenableland reform.
Scottish Land Commission
“TheScottish Land Commissionis working to create a Scotland where everybody benefits from the ownership, management and use of the nation’s land and buildings.”ThisCommission is already taking the lead in research. For example, they have produced a paper on challenging land ownership and are also now looking at the possible use of a land value tax.
Land is the most valuable asset in the UK: £5trillion, or just over half of the total net worth of theUKHow do we ensurethat the gains from rising landvalue benefitsociety as awhole?Research carried out by University of Reading for Land Commission
What is it? Why Tax land?
Annualcharge based on the value of a given parcel oflandBasedon the unimproved value of land, ignoring any property or infrastructure that might be onitThevalue of land is derived from its scarcity and itslocationTheselocational advantages are generally created by societyTaxationwould benefit the public and not thelandowner
More productive use of landsince the value of the tax will be thesame, based on its optimal value,even if the land is not used foranythingEfficient: land is in fixed supply so taxation should not affect supply (eg income tax affects supply of work)Hard to evadeMay help to stabilise the price of land as there is no incentive to hold on to land for speculative purposes. So this would make it easier for people to gain access toland
Possible uses of a land value Tax
Reducethe amount of vacant and derelict land inbyintroducing a penalty for keeping land idle and creating an incentive for it to be broughtback into productiveuse.This would only work if the land was being leftidle forspeculative purposes.Change land ownership patterns: not clear. May help by making land less valuable so not a source of speculation thereby lowering prices and making land more accessible.
Capturing increases in Land Value
Ensure that society benefits from increases in land values that have nothing to do with landownerLand prices increase because of improvements to area, eg CrossRail, tax is paid- helps fundcrossrailOften relates to house prices- return some of the profit made to society forinfrastructureto help with schoolsetcAnticipation of planning permission- planning permission for housing will increase landvalues and therefore cost of housing
Research found that the theoretical benefits were not delivered in practice.LandValue Tax is not widely understood so public acceptance will be an obstacle.Need full knowledge of who owns what, how the land is used and what the price of the land is. This is not available.Theplanning system would need to be able to specify a permitted land use for every parcel of land and confirm any development rights in order to value the land.
Technicalissues aroundvaluation: need forregular revaluations,what method to use, how todetermine theoptimaluse for any given parcel oflandInteractionwith other property taxes:ensurethat the cumulative effect of the new tax would not negatively affect development viability and other public policygoals
Towards land reform in the rest of theuk
Whatcan we take from the Scottish experience?Whatis different about England? Eg only 12% of land is upland-so more productive agricultural land and more urban areas.Think about first steps. We agree we want land reform, how should we start? What should a first Land Reform Act contain?
http://www.calummacleod.info(current head of Community Land Scotland)www.communitylandscotland.org.ukhttps://landcommission.gov.scot/https://landcommission.gov.scot/2018/12/report-examines-merits-of-land-value-tax-in-scotland/http://www.andywightman.com//www.johnmuirtrust.org