SCOTLAND’S FARMERS have given a mixed reaction to the Scottish Executive’s consultation on planned changes to crofting law.
Back in March, rural development minister Ross Finnie unveiled the Draft Crofting Reform Bill. Its aims were to simplify and update crofting law which would, said Mr Finnie, help ensure the future of crofting.
“The crofting way of life is unique to the Highlands and Islands. I am determined to see it develop in a sustainable way, to ensure it can be enjoyed for generations to come,” he said.
The draft Bill would, for the first time since 1955, allow the creation of new crofts.
It would also streamline the regulation on the sector, allowing crofters to benefit from renewable energy projects, and would better balance the rights of crofters and landlords, said Mr Finnie.
But the Scottish Crofting Foundation, in its response to the consulatation, says there are underlying contradictions in the Bill which must be resolved before the legislative process can go any further.
Ena McNeill, chair of the SCF, said: “Crofting potentially has a very bright future and an important role to play in retaining population and attracting young and active people to the Highlands and Islands.
“Unfortunately the Bill does not meet a coherent vision for crofting. And it fails to address some of the main issues giving rise for concern in crofting communities, in particular the unconstrained market for croft tenancy transfers and the scope for speculation on croft land at the expense of the crofting system.
The SCF has urged ministers to establish a clear, agreed vision for crofting and identifiable objectives before the Bill is passed to Parliament.
And it wants to see more support for crofters in maintaining viable, land-based crofting activity, in developing alternative food markets and in developing crofting community-led housing projects.
NFU Scotland, in its submission to the consultation, has insisted that it is vital that the link between crofts and agriculture is maintained and that farming remains the mainstay of crofting life.
The union also believes that crofting tenancies must be held by individuals and that croft tenants should not be able to form a limited company to hold the tenancy of the croft.
Both the union and the SCF have called for further clarification and discussion before the Bill proceeds.