The Scottish Government have announced the introduction of its new Land Reform Bill, which aims to make meaningful change to the property landscape of Scotland’s rural and island community.  Its focus is to address a perceived inequality in landownership in Scotland.  It sets out plans to break up landholdings of over 1000 hectares when they come on the market, providing more opportunities for communities to own land, with the nature and climate crises in mind.

The Current Landscape

At present, the vast majority of Scotland’s land is held in the hands of relatively few people – approximately half of Scotland’s rural land is owned by less than 0.01 percent of the population.  This has led to over-concentrated ownership throughout the rural and island communities, raising questions over the sustainability of rural economies.  The situation has created localised monopolies, making it near impossible for local communities and their businesses to compete.  Whilst community purchases of urban land and properties have become popular, community purchases of rural land have not occurred at the same frequency.  This could potentially be due to the steep increase in the price of land and the large sizes of land that appears on the market.

These large landowners are often not easily identifiable, not local and often do not consult their local communities prior to putting land on the market, resulting in a very low degree of transparency to large sales of land at present.

The new legislation, if passed, will result in the dilution of concentrated ownership by creating more opportunities for land to be owned or leased by the community.  In addition, transparency measures will mean that the local community will be forewarned of large estate sales.

What Does the Bill do in Practice?

The Bill’s measures will apply to large landholdings of over 1,000 hectares.  If the owner of a piece of land that is greater than this size puts it on the market, then under the Bill Ministers will have the power to intervene and assess the impact that the sale of the land as a whole may have on the community.  If found that it has little or no benefit to the community, it is likely Ministers will essentially break up the land into smaller fragments so they can be sold to different landowners rather than one.

Under the Bill, communities will be given advance notice of their right to buy these pieces of land that come on the market, encouraging the utilisation of Community Right to Buy laws.  Potential benefits include the generation of income that could be re-invested locally and an increase in local jobs and business opportunities which could improve their sustainable development. The Bill contains provisions to allow a pause on the sale of certain land for up to two years, to give the community the chance to enact their right to buy and to allow them time to raise funds.

The Bill even imposes new obligations on landowners who are not selling their property.  Landowners will have to produce Land Management Plans outlining how their large landholdings will deliver community benefit and engage with local communities about the use of their land, to support compliance with the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement published in 2022 by the Scottish Government.  Large landowners will essentially have to show how their land contributes to policy priorities such as addressing climate change.

What Happens Next?

The exercise of Community Right to Buy powers over large landholdings has been limited in the past due to estates often being too expensive or impractical for the community to own.  By breaking up land into smaller fragments for sale, the Bill will allow communities the opportunity to purchase just the areas that are relevant to them.  It will encourage communities to use the land to generate income for locals and develop community projects which will deliver for the climate and nature crises.

Following the publication of the Bill, campaigners from Community Land Scotland are calling for 10% of Scotland to be community owned by 2030.  This figure currently sits at 3% and it will be interesting to see if the Bill assists in reaching this target in practice.

At the time of writing, the Bill has been introduced to the Scottish Parliament and its proposals will face scrutiny in the coming weeks.  If the Bill is passed, our rural clients may soon be encouraged to join together with other members of their communities to utilise their Community Right to Buy on a more frequent basis and increase the amount of land that they could use to benefit the environment as well as their local community.

Author(s): Gordon Wallace, Emma Taylor

To find out more about how our Commercial Property team can help, please contact Gordon Wallace at or call on 01224 332435.

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