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Land Reform (Scotland) Bill

The Scottish Parliament last night passed the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, with 102 votes in favour and 14 against.

The Bill as passed can be viewed here.

The legislation will have far reaching implications for the management of both rural and urban land in Scotland and will place new obligations on landowners in a number of areas. Among the key areas addressed by the Bill are:-

  • The creation of a land rights and responsibilities statement by Scottish Ministers, which will address principles such as furthering sustainable development and increasing diversity of landownership. Scottish Ministers would have around one year to produce the first statement, with the statement to be reviewed every five years.
  • The establishment of a Scottish Land Commission that will have an ongoing role to look at matters pertaining to land reform. The commission will have six members, who will have to agree a work programme and also consider any matter referred to them by Ministers. Scottish Ministers will nominate commissioners which must then be ratified by the Scottish Parliament.
  • One of the six commissioners will be a Tenant Farming Commissioner, who will prepare codes of practice on agricultural holdings matters. There is a duty on the commissioner to exercise his or her functions with a view to encouraging good relations between landlords and tenants.
  • Increased transparency about who owns and controls land, with the Bill providing a right of access to information on persons in control of land, and a power to make regulations enabling the Keeper of the Land Register to request additional information relating to proprietors of land. A move to prevent non-EU entities from owning land in Scotland was rejected. 
  • New guidance to be issued by Scottish Ministers on how landowners should engage with communities in decisions relating to land. The guidance will include information about the types of land and types of decision in relation to which community engagement must be carried out.
  • Intervention powers for Scottish Ministers to order the sale of land in the interests of sustainable development' following an application process by a community. It remains to be seen how this measure will work in practice but a community will have to prove to Scottish Ministers that the transfer of land will result in benefit to the community and is the only practicable way of achieving that objective and also harm will be achieved to that community if the application is not successful.
  • The reintroduction of non-domestic rates for shootings and deer forests. There is still much work to be done on the methodology of these rates, in particular how land will be rated.
  • New measures on deer management, which will include more involvement from Scottish Natural Heritage in the operation of deer management plans. Under an amendment introduced during Stage 3, how well deer is managed will have an effect on the assessment for non-domestic rates for a landholding as noted in the bullet point above.
  • A review of Smallholdings legislation to be provided by Scottish Ministers by 31 March 2017.
  • Alterations to agricultural holdings legislation, including the widening of succession and assignation to new entrants for existing 1991 Act secure tenancies. The new legislation provides the opportunity for a landlord to buy out a departing tenant before the tenant assigns the tenancy to a new tenant for value.
  • Significant changes to rent review processes.

The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent within six weeks. However, much of the detail around the measures listed above has yet to be finalised and will be subject to ongoing discussions with a range of stakeholders in the coming months.

CKD Galbraith can advise clients on measures affecting businesses as they start to come into force, and our experts are on-hand to provide advice of the implications of the new legislation.