Call for a 'public interest test' for big land sales
By John Sleigh
The Scottish Land Commission recommended giving the public a say when landowners sell holdings over a defined size.
The proposal comes as part of suite of SLC recommendations which aim to support the land and carbon markets so they work to the public’s benefit, alongside the second part of a major report into Scotland’s changing land market, which played a part in shaping the Commission’s advice.
The findings showed the scale of the shift in the market over 2021, with two thirds of estate sales taking place off-market, and half of the estates being purchased by corporate bodies, investment funds or charitable trusts. High timber prices and favourable policy has also seen significant increase in investment from commercial forestry.
Chief Executive of the SLC, Hamish Trench said: “Scotland has an opportunity to attract significant investment into its land and natural capital. Doing this in a fair and effective way is key to making a just transition to net zero.
“Carbon and natural capital are shining a fresh spotlight on Scotland’s land but the issues are not wholly new.”
The recommendations to ScotGov address Scotland’s longstanding pattern of concentrated land ownership and include a public interest test at the point of significant land transactions.
Against a trend of increasing off-market sales, the Commission also proposes that the intention to sell large landholdings should be publicly advertised ahead of time to improve market participation.
The Commission proposes stronger leadership across public, private and voluntary sectors to introduce new forms of collaborative governance and ownership to increase community participation and build on the strengths of each sector to share risk and benefit.
Tax and fiscal policy could also be a key catalyst in influencing market behaviour, with recommendations to adjust the way public grants are targeted and consideration of the role that tax can play in securing long-term public benefit.
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Mr Trench added: “The Commission’s recommendations set out practical steps that can be taken to shape these markets and realise the opportunities on the ground. They help deliver on the Scottish Government’s land reform programme and its commitment to establishing high integrity, values-led natural capital markets.
“We are addressing not just the risks and opportunities of immediate changes associated with carbon but how the ways we own and manage Scotland’s land can adapt to other new influences, investment and value in future.
“Our advice is for all parties involved in the land sector, who together can shape a responsible approach to Scotland’s land to benefit all.”
The Commission will also be publishing a protocol on responsible practice for investment, alongside further work looking at ways to secure community benefit from natural capital.