Gorse bushes in flower in the Scottish Borders - with the river Tweed in the valley beyond© Andrew Wilson / Scottish Viewpoint/REX/Shutterstock

NFU Scotland has voiced serious concerns over plans to extend the powers of compulsory purchase to cover “sustainable development” under new legislation.

The issue centres on one part of the Forestry and Land Management Bill that covers management proposals and details of plans to devolve powers for Forestry Commission Scotland.

The Bill states that the Scottish government would grant compulsory purchase order powers to “further the achievement of sustainable development”.

Giving evidence on the Bill to the Scottish Parliament Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee on 6 September, the union said the definition was too vague and therefore gave too much power to potential developers.

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Speaking after the evidence session, an NFUS spokesman said the scope of the term sustainable development was too broad and needed further definition.

“As it stands the phrase sustainable development is open to interpretation and could cover a wide range of activities.

“We must have clarification of exactly what could be included so that there is a legal definition and examples of what can be purchased,” the spokesman said.

‘Blank cheque’

NFUS deputy policy director Andrew Bauer said the term was malleable and gave a blank cheque to developers.

“The major expansion proposed in the Bill could potentially see [orders] applied in a much wider range of circumstances – perhaps to allow renewable energy and tourism developments and to facilitate community ownership of land,” Mr Bauer said.

The Law Society of Scotland (LSS) has expressed legal uncertainty over the term “sustainable development”, he added.  

“By proposing to extend the already outdated compulsory purchase powers to further delivery of such a malleable concept, NFUS is concerned that the problems highlighted by the LSS will be compounded rather than remedied,” he added.

“However positive the intentions behind the proposal, the severe shortcomings of the compulsory purchase process and blank cheque that ‘furthering the achievement of sustainable development’ represents, mean NFU Scotland is opposed to the proposed expansion in these powers.”

Heightened tensions

NFU Scotland’s evidence to the committee also reflected heightened tensions over compulsory purchase laws after farmers were landed with repair bills in the wake of a major road development in Aberdeenshire.

The Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route is close to completion, but has left land with inadequate fencing and drainage, the union said in its written evidence.

In many cases the farmers have given up waiting on the government to provide suitable fencing and have had to carry out repairs at their own cost. That is unacceptable, the NFUS said.

It alleged that underpasses were left incomplete, water was polluted by run-off from the construction and replacement water troughs had been left uninstalled.

The evidence also said the compensation payment system had failed and farmers had waited more than two years, with no resolution and no compensation.

Meetings between farmer groups and government representatives to discuss the issues are planned to take place later this autumn.