26 November 2001
Battle over Scottish land bill
By Adrienne Francis
A SCOTTISH Land Reform Bill giving crofters greater rights has provoked renewed debate over land ownership.
Proposed reforms may worsen the strained relationships between landowner and crofter, writes Peter Smith in the Financial Times.
The Bill deals with access to the countryside and a general community right to buy when land becomes available.
Extended rights for crofters will allow the formation of communities to acquire compulsorily the land they operate on, reports the FT.
This extension will include the salmon farming and mineral rights on land abutting common grazings, it adds.
Robert Balfour of the Scottish Landowners Federation said the issue of accountability must be addressed and communities must be accountable.
“If the taxpayer is asked for more money every time they need it, the public will want to know this money is not being diverted from public services.”
Croft owners believe the landowning classes have deliberately held back the development of country estates to retain activities such as hunting.
Shane Rankin, Crofters Commission chief executive, said the legislation will present opportunities as well as threats to crofters.
Each individual community must make its own choice, when it comes to purchase, he added.
Jim Wallace, deputy first minister in the Scottish Parliament, claims crofters will have to pay the market price for the rivers.
They must also prove they can manage them before winning the right to force landlords to sell, he added.
John Watt, of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, says crofting communities will have to jump administrative hurdles to exercise their right to buy.
The draft bill promotes the rights of 11,000 crofters who have access to about one-fifth of the total area in the Highlands and Islands.
The paper reports that 100 landowners own more than half the privately owned rural land of Scotland.
The Scottish Parliament will publish the Land Reform Bill later this week.