21 June 2002

Draft legislation aims to protect tenanted sector

A HEALTHY tenanted sector where landowners feel able to let land with confidence and tenants have the security and opportunity to plan and invest in their business is the rationale behind the Draft Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Bill, published on Apr 16.

By introducing two new fixed-term tenancies, Scotlands rural development minister Ross Finnie, Mr Finnie believed such aims could be met.

After all, a healthy tenanted sector was important for stimulating Scotlands rural economy and revitalising rural communities, he said.

NFU Scotland and the Scottish Landowners Federation welcomed the new tenancy durations. But the inclusion in the Bill of the pre-emptive right to buy for those farmers with existing secure tenancies drove the two organisations to opposite poles.

Broad support

The union, with broad support from members, had actively campaigned for the move, which will give secure tenants first refusal on their farm if the landlord decided to sell.

But at the time, SLF convener Robert Balfour said including a right to buy in the Bill would have a detrimental effect. "The introduction of this threatens the very purpose of the reforms, which are intended to reinvigorate the let land market in Scotland."

That prediction has proved correct, according to Charles Dudgeon of FPDSavills in Edinburgh. He reported that since the draft Bill was published the market for letting land had dried up completely.

"The Scottish Executives intention of releasing more land for rent has been turned upside down because landowners are so uncertain about the proposal to allow secure tenants the right to buy," he said. "There is just no way that any landlord is going to let land at the moment because of that uncertainty."

His colleague, Robin Leslie Melville, added that existing farmers need to expand to survive. "But the dearth of farms available has restricted the ability of working farms to grow and benefit from economies of scale.

"The average age of Scottish farmers is now 57. Under the proposals it is impossible to work out where the next generation of farmers is going to come from," said Mr Leslie Melville. &#42