John’s recommendations to the Land Reform consultation

From the 2nd of December 2014 until the 10th of February 2015 the Scottish Government consulted on a range of measures intended to further land reform in Scotland. Below you can read the responses John gave to the consultation.

Land Rights in 21st Century Scotland

  1. Do you agree that the Scottish Government should have a stated Land Rights and Responsibilities Policy?

Yes

  1. Do you have any comments on the draft Land Rights and Responsibilities Policy?

The principles laid out in the draft policy are excellent, and if fulfilled would deliver greater equality and wellbeing. The challenge will be in ensuring those principles are fulfilled.

  1. Considering your long term aspirations for land reform in Scotland, what are the top three actions that you think the Scottish Government should take?

Action One:

Replace Council Tax with a Land Value Tax, as proposed by the Scottish Green Party and expanded in the report prepared for the Greens by Andy Wightman.

This would accelerate progress towards the principles of the draft policy by disincentivising large, unproductive private land holdings.

Action Two:

Complete the land registry. Aspirations to improve the pattern of land ownership cannot be fulfilled while we do not know who owns up to three-quarters of Scottish land.

Action Three:

Ensure full powers over the shore and seabed are devolved to Scotland, and further devolve these powers to local communities across Scotland, as has been proposed for Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

A Scottish Land Reform Commission

  1. Do you agree that a Scottish Land Reform Commission would help ensure Scotland continues to make progress on land reform and has the ability to respond to emergent issues?

Yes

  1. What do you think the advantages or disadvantages of having a Scottish Land Reform Commission would be?

Advantages:

The ambitious future laid out by the principles of the draft policy cannot be reached by a single piece of legislation. The only way to ensure that we stay on that path is with the oversight of a dedicated public body, independent of government.

Almost by definition land reform is a process which benefits those without power. There must be a strong institution protecting that process from those with power.

Disadvantages:

None.

  1. Do you have any thoughts on the structure, type or remit of any Scottish Land Reform Commission?

The Scottish Land Reform Commission should be independent of government, perhaps reporting directly to the Scottish Parliament in the manner of the Information Commissioner and the Commissioner for Children and Young People.

The remit of the Commission should include challenging general policies and specific planning decisions which conflict with the principles of land reform. It should counterbalance private interest on behalf of the public good and of environmental sustainability.

It should promote transparency in land sales, purchase and ownership.

It should promote the process of land reform, including the diversification of ownership and land use.

Limiting the legal entities that can own land in Scotland

  1. Do you agree that restricting the type of legal entities that can, in future, take ownership or a long lease over land in Scotland would help improve the transparency and accountability of land ownership in Scotland?

Yes

  1. Do you agree that in future land should only be owned (or a long lease taken over land) by individuals or by a legal entity formed in accordance with the law of a Member State of the EU?

Yes

  1. What do you think the advantages or disadvantages of such a restriction would be?

Advantages:

– Promotes transparency of ownership

– That transparency improves owners’ accountability for the use and transfer of land

– Minimises tax avoidance

– Restricts land price inflation

Disadvantages:

None.

  1. How should any restriction operate and be enforced, and what consequences might follow if the restriction is breached?

The registration of land in the Land Registry should be restricted to individuals and valid organisations. All transfers of land should take place via the land registry, so it would be impossible for an invalid organisation to take ownership of land. The consequences if such a condition were breached would be that the transfer of land was void.

Information on land, its value and ownership.

  1. Do you agree that better co-ordination of information on land, its value and ownership would lead to better decision making for both the private and public sectors?

Yes

  1. Do you hold data you could share or is there any data you would wish to access?

I hold no data on this subject.

All such information should be in the public domain, published proactively by relevant public bodies, and presented in an open format such that it can easily be searched, mapped or otherwise used by all.

  1. What do you think the advantages of disadvantages of wider and more flexible sharing of land information would be and do you have any recommendations about how this can best be achieved?

Advantages:

Advantages include greater transparency and accountability, the free contribution of multiple individuals and organisations to the understanding of land use and ownership in Scotland, and the increased ability of local communities to participate in decisions about land use and ownership.

Disadvantages:

None.

Recommendations for achieving better co-ordination of information on land:

– Urgent completion of the Land Registry.

– Maximum use of open-source formats, including publicly available APIs.

– Extension of Freedom of Information legislation to private organisations performing activities of a public nature, such as privatised public services. FoI exemptions such as commercial confidentiality should not be applicable to land use, value and ownership data.

Sustainable development test for land governance

  1. Do you agree that there should be powers given to Scottish Ministers or another public body to direct private landowners to take action to overcome barriers to sustainable development in an area?

Yes

  1. What do you think the benefits would be and do you have any recommendations about how these can best be achieved?

Clearly the public is best served the more land is used in a way that promotes sustainable development rather than merely private interest.

It is essential that sustainable development is well defined; sustainability includes but is by no means limited to environmental protection. Sustainable development also demands that land use advances social justice and inclusivity.

  1. Do you have any concerns or alternative ways to achieve the same aim?

A more proactive role for public sector land management.

  1. Do you agree that public sector bodies, such as Forestry Commission Scotland, should be able to engage in a wider range of management activities in order to promote a more integrated range of social, economic and environmental outcomes?

Yes

  1. What do you think the benefits would be and do you have any recommendations about how this can best be achieved?

The implication of the draft principles is that land stewardship requires a holistic view of current and potential land use. It is no longer sufficient for bodies such as the Forestry Commission to understand their role as pursuing a single, specialised land use. They must be diverse, responsible stewards of land.

Greater involvement of local communities in the land-use decisions of public sector landowners, especially national ones with their greater potential for losing touch with the local context, would help to ensure sensitive and progressive land management actions.

  1. Do you have any concerns or alternative ways to achieve the same aim?

Note that it cannot always be assumed that ‘local’ government (infamously less local in Scotland than in any comparable European country) is an acceptable proxy for local community involvement. What is needed is direct participation, not just formalised correspondence between different buildings of public officials.

Duty of community engagement on land management decisions to be placed on charitable trustees

  1. Do you think a trustee of a charity should be required to engage with the local community before taking a decision on the management, use or transfer of land under the charity’s control?

Yes

  1. What do you think the advantages or disadvantages would be?

Advantages:

This should be a condition met by all landowners; I see no reason either for charities to be specifically targeted or to be exempted.

Disadvantages:

Community engagement obviously entails a cost. The duty should be proportionate such that small charities are easily able to fulfil it. More onerous engagement should be expected of wealthy charitable trusts controlling larger land holdings.

  1. How should “community” be defined?

A community is a group of people, defined geographically, demographically, or by some shared interest (e.g. farmers), a significant number of whom have a substantial interest in the land at issue.

  1. What remedies should be available should a trustee of a charity fail to engage appropriately with the local community?

Remedies would include direction by Scottish Ministers under Proposal 4 and sanctions including, in serious or habitual cases, loss of charitable status.

Removal of the exemption to business rates for shooting and deerstalking.

  1. Should the current business rate exemptions for shootings and deer forests be ended?

Yes

  1. What do you think the advantages would be?

– Increased revenue, especially for rural authorities.

– Diversification of land use.

– Equanimity between these industries and others.

  1. What do you think the disadvantages would be?

None.

Common Good

  1. Do you agree that the need for court approval for disposals or changes of use of common good property, where this currently exists, should be removed?

No

  1. If removed, what should take the place of court approval?

Common Good land is held in trust for the people. If court approval were to be removed, the only just replacement would be a participatory decision-making process in which the people themselves are asked for consent.

  1. Should there be a new legal definition of common good?
  2. What might any new legal definition of common good look like?

31 Do you have any other comments on common good?

Not Answered

Agricultural Holdings

  1. Do you agree that the Scottish Government should take forward some of the recommendations of the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group within the Land Reform Bill?
  2. What do you think the advantages would be?
  3. What do you think the disadvantages would be?

Not Answered

Wild Deer

  1. Do you agree that further deer management regulation measures should be introduced to be available in the event that the present arrangements are assessed as not protecting the public interest?
  2. What do you think the advantages would be?
  3. What do you think the disadvantages would be?

Not Answered

Clarifying Public Access: core paths planning process

  1. At present, section 18 of the 2003 Act is silent on the issue of resolving objections to a core path plan consultation. Do you agree that access authorities should be required, in the interests of transparency, to conduct a further limited consultation about proposed changes arising from objections?

Not Answered

  1. Do you agree that section 20 of the 2003 Act should be clarified so that Ministerial direction is not required when an access authority initiates a core path plan review?

Yes

  1. Do you think that the process for a minor amendment to core path plan (as set out in section 20 of the 2003 Act) should be simplified to make it less onerous than that for a full review of a core path plan?

Not Answered

Assessing Impact

  1. Please tell us about any potential impacts, either positive or negative, you feel the draft Land Rights and Responsibilities Policy or any of the proposals for the Bill may have on particular groups of people, with reference to the “protected characteristics” listed above. Please be as specific as possible.
  2. What differences might there be in the impact of the Bill on individuals and communities with different levels of advantage or deprivation? How can we make sure that all individuals and communities can access the benefits of these proposals?:
  3. Please tell us about any potential costs or savings that may occur as a result of the proposals for the Bill, and any increase or reduction in the burden of regulation for any sector. Please be as specific as possible.
  4. Please tell us about any potential impacts upon the privacy of individuals that may arise as a result of any of the proposals contained in this consultation. Please be as specific as possible.
  5. Please tell us about any potential impacts, either positive or negative, you feel any of the proposals contained in this consultation may have on the environment. Please be as specific as possible.

Not answered.