30 November 2001

Reform Bill is nationalisation

SCOTLANDS Land Reform Bill, which would give crofters the right to buy land even if landlords refuse to sell, is nothing short of nationalisation, say landowners.

The Bill, which also deals with countryside access, was published by Scotlands Justice Minister, Jim Wallace, on Wed (Nov 28). It would allow rural communities to buy their land when it came on the market, he said. Furthermore, crofting communities should be able to buy land "at any time".

Scottish Landowners Federation convenor Robert Balfour described the right-to-buy as a nightmare scenario.

"This is not the familiar right-to-buy like people buying their council house," he said. "Ministers should be honest enough to call it nationalisation."

Substituting private investment by landowners with public funds to help crofting communities buy their land was a "socialist message" that the government no longer wanted private investment, Mr Balfour added.

Chance for change

Donnie Maclennan, chairman of the Scottish Crofting Foundation said: "We welcome the bill and the opportunity for change it gives us. We would hope that most takeovers would take place through co-operation and negotiation, and only in the most difficult circumstances would there need to be a forced buyout".

But the SLF and NFU Scotland are deeply concerned about access proposals, especially on landowners liability. NFU Scotland president, Jim Walker, was pleased that changes to the draft Bill could force local authorities to establish a core path network, but said liability remained a key concern.

"The Bill should emphasise that people who take access do so at their own risk. And people who take access also need to be clear that they have a liability if they cause damage. But despite repeated ministerial reassurances, the Bill simply fails to be clear enough." &#42