1 March 2002

Give tenants the right to buy land on market

By Shelley Wright Scotland correspondent

TENANT farmers with fully secure agricultural tenancies should be given the right to buy their farms if the land is put on the market, according to the results of survey conducted by NFU Scotland.

But 66% of the 2560 farmers and landowners in Scotland who responded to the survey rejected the idea that tenants should have an absolute right to buy their land regardless of whether or not the landlord wanted to sell.

Union president Jim Walker said: "Of those who responded to our consultation, 82% indicated they are in favour of a pre-emptive right to buy for secure agricultural tenants when the holding is put up for sale."

And it is not just tenant farmers who hold such a view, said Mr Walker. About 75% of the 940 landowners who responded believed a pre-emptive right to buy should be introduced.

The majority of respondents believed the selling price for a tenanted holding should be based on market value. Because market value in this case would involve a sitting tenant, the farmers buying their own holdings would effectively get about 40% reduction on the true market value.

It is estimated that 2000 farmers in Scotland have fully secure tenancies.

NFU Scotland will now press the Scottish Executive to include the pre-emptive right to buy in the draft Agricultural Holdings Bill, which is due to be released in April and will mark the start of tenancy reform in Scotland.

Scottish rural development minister Ross Finnie has already indicated that he favours giving secure tenants first refusal on their land if it is put on the market.

Mr Walker said the survey had also revealed a "significant minority" of tenants who feel they are treated badly by their landlord or the factor – the agent appointed by a landlord to run the estate.

Some of the complaints raised by tenants in the survey included landlords refusing to allow farmers to diversify because that would breach the terms of their tenancy.

"There are also cases of farmers whose landlords have allowed them to diversify into areas like bed and breakfast but who then demand a share of the profits," said Mr Walker. "This is totally unacceptable."

As well as raising these concerns with the Scottish Landowners Federation, the union plans to revamp its tenants working group within the next month to allow concerns to be dealt with more effectively. &#42