Call for land reform in Scotland to be transparent and workable

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Scottish Government proposals for land reform need to be coherent, clear and workable, according to the Law Society of Scotland. Submitting its response to the consultation on the future of land reform in Scotland, the society said that careful consideration should be given to ensure that pre-existing legislation it taken into account. While the Scottish Government has laid out proposals for a potential Land Reform Bill and the setting up of a Land Reform Commission, it is unclear at this stage what the remit or structure of such a Commission would be. ‘A new Scottish Land Reform Commission seems an appropriate way forward for progressing land reform in Scotland,’ said Paul Connolly, convener of the society’s property and land law committee. ‘We would suggest that if this proposal were to move forward, that there should be further engagement with stakeholders. Any such Commission must also ensure that it remains independent from executive influence and represents the interest of all stakeholders, such as agricultural tenants, crofters and charities,’ he added. The consultation also considers improving the transparency and accountability of land ownership in Scotland by limiting those who can own or take a long lease over land to legal entities registered in a European Union Member State. ‘We are concerned about this proposal. Restrictions such as these could be easily by-passed by non-EU companies setting up shell companies in the EU, for example a non-EU company could set up a UK registered company,’ said Connolly. ‘This would not necessarily fulfil the Scottish Government’s policy objectives of achieving greater transparency regarding the real land owner. It could also affect not only commercial land, but residential and agricultural land as well, thus having a potentially serious impact on business, and reducing investment,’ he explained. The consultation also proposes to impose further obligations on charities that own land, such as imposing a duty to consult with the local community before taking a decision on the management, use or transfer of land under their control. Stephen Phillips, convener of the society’s charity law committee, pointed out that there are already a number of regulatory obligations that are imposed on charities. ‘We see no reason why further obligations should be imposed on them,’ he added. ‘Under the proposals, a high street charity shop, for example, may be under an obligation to consult with the local community before it undertakes everyday repairs, such a roof repairs. This just seems wholly unnecessary and cumbersome in practice, and potentially expensive for charities without proportionate benefit to local communities,’ he concluded. Continue reading →

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