9 August 2002

Tenancy Bill slated

By Shelley Wright

Scotland correspondent

A GOLDEN opportunity to introduce meaningful tenancy reform in Scotland has been missed, says the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

The draft Agricultural Holdings Bill, which could become law by next spring, fails to introduce the flexibility in letting land that Scottish agriculture needs to survive and creates a climate of fear and uncertainty by introducing a pre-emptive right for secure tenants to buy their land if the landlord decides to sell, says RICS.

The draft Bill proposes the introduction of short limited duration tenancies for up to five years and long limited duration tenancies for over 15 years, but nothing in between.

Andrew Hamilton, chairman of RICS Scotlands agricultural holdings working party, said: "The Bill does not do nearly enough to promote flexibility. On the contrary, it introduces an astonishingly complex set of tenancy arrangements."

Farm Business Tenancies in England and Wales offer more flexibility and should be used as a model in Scotland, he suggested.

"We want reform of agricultural tenancies. But the draft Bill misses a great opportunity to introduce a new, simple system, going instead down a route that is far too complicated."

Although dissatisfied with the proposed tenancy durations, the RICS maintains the introduction in the draft Bill of a pre-emptive right to buy for those with existing secure tenancies has shattered all confidence in the letting market and should be withdrawn.

Research carried out for RICS by Aberdeen Universitys land economy department, published last week, showed 88% of landowners oppose the pre-emptive right to buy, while 82% of tenants were in favour.

Neil Dunse, who was involved in the research, said that landlords had some sympathy with giving tenants the right to buy their farms. But the overwhelming opposition to the concept was based on a fear that, if introduced, the next step could be introducing an absolute right to buy for all tenants, regardless of whether or not a landlord planned to sell.

Equally, although tenants could see benefit as individuals in owning their land, many believed any extension could be damaging to the tenanted sector as a whole, reducing the amount of land available to let. &#42

"The ongoing uncertainty surrounding a right to buy is having a detrimental impact on the tenanted sector," said Mr Dunse. "Even though the Bill is still in draft form, there is evidence of investment being put on hold and land not being put on the letting market."