Early legislation on land reforms a certain thing

23 April 1999

Early legislation on land reforms a certain thing

ONE certainty about the new Scottish Parliament is that there will be early legislation on land reform.

Labour, SNP, and the Liberal Democrats are all determined on that front and there are only limited differences in the approach.

Only the Tories stand out against moves towards compulsory purchase and community rights to buy, and their voting power will be small.

Labour describes its "radical land reform agenda" as the centrepiece of a sustainable development programme. "We will bring forward early legislation to abolish feudalism and give a guaranteed right of access, subject to a code of responsible behaviour," its manifesto states.

Labour would provide a legal right, and taxpayer funds, for communities to buy the land on which they live. "We will support compulsory purchase powers in the public interest to ensure a communitys right to buy." All crofting communities will have the right to buy their land, and barriers to the creation of new crofts will be removed.

The Labour manifesto also contains plans for new codes for responsible land management, with implementation to be the responsibility of local authorities.

The SNP goes a little further on that score. It wants to establish a pilot scheme for what are called locality land councils to control decision making on land use and ownership.

The party also wants lottery funding to establish a land bank to support community purchase of land. Communities would be given first right of refusal when land was for sale.

Community contracts to "establish a bond of trust between residents and landowners" are planned by the SNP which would support compulsory purchase in cases of wilful neglect and persistent bad management.

Liberal Democrats support Labour plans on land reform, adding a land bank to give long-term finance, term tenancies with a minimum of 15 years, and a right of pre-emption for tenant farmers if the holding is placed on the market.

Conservatives do not see land reform as a priority. "If the parliament has time and resources to spend on the problems of rural Scotland, it should be urgently addressing the crisis in Scottish farming," the partys manifesto states.

The need for a measure of land reform is accepted but not local land councils, compulsory purchase, or land and sporting taxes. "State interference will make ownership of land less attractive to private individuals leading to loss of investment and employment," the Tories claim.

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