Author: Comms

Addressing Scotland’s pattern of land ownership can unlock economic and community opportunities

A new report published today (Wednesday 20 March 2019) finds that concentrated land ownership is having significant impacts on communities across rural Scotland.

The Scottish Land Commission report, titled Investigation into the issues associated with Large Scale and Concentrated Land Ownership in Scotland.  It is published alongside a set of Recommendations to Scottish Government Ministers, who asked the Commission to examine these issues.

Representing the most substantial investigation conducted into the impacts of this issue, the report is based on robust evidence about rural land ownership that shows how the concentration of social, economic and decision-making power significantly impacts communities across rural Scotland.

The report follows a call for evidence by the Commission last year, for anyone with experience of living or working in parts of Scotland where most of the land is owned by a small number of people, to share their experiences.

More than 407 people, from landowners and land managers to community representatives and individuals, submitted evidence. The main findings in today’s evidence report are that

  • Most of the disadvantages associated with Scotland’s current pattern of land ownership relate to a concentration of social, economic and decision-making power, not simply the size of landholdings
  • The advantages identified relate mainly to potential economies of scale
  • In some parts of Scotland, concentrated ownership hampers economic development and causes serious and long-term harm to the communities affected
  • The problems are not associated exclusively with any particular type of landowner – the Commission found a consistent pattern of evidence relating to land owned across the private, public, NGO and community sectors
  • There are issues to address beyond ownership, specifically a lack of effective participation in land use change decisions
  • The pattern of market and social power in concentrated land ownership, has parallels with monopoly power in other sectors of the economy
  • There is – currently – little or no method of redress for communities or individuals, where there are adverse economic or social impacts.

Speaking about the report, Hamish Trench, CEO of The Scottish Land Commission said,

“Concern about the impacts of concentrated land ownership in Scotland has long been central to the land reform debate. This evidence report allows us to move on from debating whether ownership is an issue, to understanding what the issues are and how they can be addressed.

“The evidence we have collected shows clearly that it is the concentration of power associated with land ownership, rather than necessarily the scale of landholding, that has a significant impact on the public interest, for example in relation to economic opportunities, housing and community development.

“Good management can of course reduce the risks associated with the concentration of power and decision making, but the evidence shows that adverse impacts are causing significant detriment to the communities affected. This points to the need for systemic change beyond simply a focus on good management.”

Recommendations

Informed directly by the evidence that has been gathered, the Commission is today making initial recommendations to address the adverse effects identified, and to stimulate a more productive, diverse and dynamic pattern of rural land ownership.

Recommended statutory changes include:

  • Public interest test for significant land transfer
  • Requirement for a management plan
  • Statutory Land Rights and Responsibilities Review

Other recommendations include:

  • Promoting more diverse private ownership to help achieve land reform objectives
  • Local engagement in land use change

The Commission recommends the introduction of a public interest test and approval mechanism at the point of significant land transfer, an obligation for larger land holdings to engage on and publish a management plan, and a review mechanism to address adverse impacts on communities where normal responsible management approaches are not effective.

Speaking about the recommendations, Hamish Trench said,

“The reforms we propose are a first step to address the significant issues identified in the evidence and move towards a more diverse and dynamic pattern of land ownership.

“Some of these reforms will require legislative change, and in the short term we have identified the need for stronger leadership within the land ownership sectors to address the risk and impacts identified and implement a programme of land rights and responsibilities good practice.

“These reforms seek to address the issues of concentrated land ownership using ways that are normal in other countries and economic sectors. It is common in international practice to have some form of approval measures at point of land transaction and we are also used to regulating the concentration of market power and monopoly positions in other sectors of the economy.”

The Commission is to engage widely with stakeholders and the public on the findings of the evidence, its implications and their recommendations, through a series of events and public meetings culminating in a land reform conference in October 2019.

 

 

Practical on-farm amnesty days call for tenant farmers to act now

A series of meetings held across Scotland have called for tenant farmers to act now to record and agree improvements as part of the tenant amnesty.

Last week saw the conclusion of a round of meetings, held by the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (STFA), supported by the Scottish Land Commission, which demonstrated and explained to tenant farmers how to carry out the amnesty for tenant’s improvements. 

Tenant farmers have until June 2020 to consider if they have improvements to notify their landlord about and the practical meetings held over the last few months opened up discussion with tenants and land agents about the process.

The meetings took place on farms across the country and provided practical examples of tenant’s improvements and fixtures alongside practical discussion about the nature of the improvement and if they were eligible for the amnesty.

The meetings also provided step by step guidance on going through the amnesty process and explaining what evidence and information is required to demonstrate that the improvement was carried out by the tenant.

Commenting on the importance of the amnesty Tenant Farming Commissioner, Bob McIntosh said:

“The meetings have been a good opportunity to encourage tenant farmers to begin the amnesty process and to prepare a definitive list of improvements that may be eligible for compensation at waygo.  Tenants may be able to claim for the improvements even if some procedures weren’t followed when they were initially made.

“It is really important to emphasise that this amnesty is only taking place for three years – and we’re half way through already.  If tenant farmers have not started, they need to get started now.”

STFA Chairman Christopher Nicholson said:

“Completing the tenants’ amnesty is one of the most important tasks most tenants will ever undertake. Not only will this regularise and record improvements, but identifying tenant’s improvements and fixtures will be essential for the new rent test due to be rolled out in the next year or so.

“The amnesty has the full support of the industry so it is surprising that such a small number of tenants seem to be taking advantage of the amnesty and we would urge all tenants to get involved before it is too late,’

More information about the amnesty can be found on www.landcommission.gov.scot/tenants-amnesty-campaign

Land value capture to have a proactive role in place making

Ways in which Scotland can successfully harness land value capture to create places where people want to live are being explored by the Scottish Land Commission.

Focus on how to capture the increase in the value of land due to publically created uplifts such as improved infrastructure, planning permission and wider societal changes has increased with the current policy debate in Scotland around the Planning Bill. 

There is a call to give planning authorities the ability to acquire development land at values closer to its existing use.  Planning authorities will then benefit from the uplift in land value generated when the sites receive planning permission to fund investment in the infrastructure required to support the development.

To inform this debate the Land Commission has published the sixth paper in its Land Lines discussion series.  The paper ‘Local authority land acquisition in Germany and the Netherlands: are there lessons for Scotland?’ looks at the experience of other countries, in particular the Netherlands and Germany, and suggests what lessons Scotland might learn from this experience.  The paper’s author, Professor Tony Crook, examines how local authorities could capture more of this “development value“, using it to facilitate improvement.

The report findings suggest that the key difference between practice on the continent and Scotland lies more in the overarching approach to planning and land assembly than the detail of the compensation arrangements used to support it. 

The Commission is looking at land value capture to help deliver well-planned sustainable communities in places people want to live and at prices they can afford to pay.  To work towards this they have identified five connected opportunities to explore how the uplift in land values can be shared to greater benefit:

  • More effective use of existing mechanisms to fund different types of infrastructure in different areas
  • Availability of highly skilled multidisciplinary teams in both the public and private sector
  • Greater use of planning policies to shape land values by clear and consistent application of planning policies to reduce the difference between existing use value and full market value
  • Investigate the potential of land pooling and the opportunity presented by the “masterplan consent areas” proposed in the current Planning Bill to deliver this
  • Investigate the use of local property taxation to capture more of the uplift in land values generated from wider societal change to help fund infrastructure and place-making.

Commenting on the report, Shona Glenn, Head of Policy at the Scottish Land Commission said that the debate about how to capture the uplift in land value associated with planning permission for public benefit is a long standing one and a debate that is now once again, very topical.

“It is important that we learn from what has worked elsewhere and adapt it to the local context, so that we can help to deliver well-planned, sustainable communities

“Effective solutions to capture the uplift in land value for the public benefit need to combine looking at compensation and compulsory purchase with wider changes designed to support place-making and a more proactive role for planning authorities.”

The Land Commission’s next steps are to review the most effective ways in which to capture the increase in land value and specifically the opportunities for land pooling and assembly as a means to help deliver it.

Tenant Farming Commissioner publishes Buccleuch Report

Scotland’s Tenant Farming Commissioner, Bob McIntosh, has today issued his report into the handling by Buccleuch Estates of negotiations with agricultural tenants over their farm leases.

The Tenant Farming Commissioner (TFC) was asked by Buccleuch Estates to look into concerns raised at a public meeting regarding a number of terminations of Limited Partnership arrangements and a Short Limited Duration tenancy.

The TFC reviewed five cases, looking at how the Estate had dealt with the cases and whether they were handled in accordance with good practice and relevant published codes and guides.

The TFC found that no actions by the Estate were in contravention of agricultural holdings legislation but that best practice was not always followed and that some of the discussions and negotiations could have been handled more sensitively by the Estate.

Bob McIntosh said:

“There are some valuable learning points from this exercise which have relevance for all landlords and tenants. The ending of non-secure tenancies has the potential to be a sensitive issue, particularly where past practices by the landlord may have led tenants, and general partners in an limited partnership, to feel that they have more security of tenure than is actually provided.

“When entering into such arrangements, and throughout the duration of the agreement, it is important that landlords and tenants are clear with each other about their expectations and aspirations for the future and that the outcome of these discussions is recorded so that unpleasant surprises for either party are avoided.

“It is also important, that where action by a land owner is likely to have major implications for land use, for communities and for the circumstances of individual tenants, the exercise is well planned with a good communications and engagement plan.

“Landowners must be able to pursue legitimate business interests but should heed the principles set out in such publications as the Scottish Government’s Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, the Landowners’ Commitment published by Scottish Land and Estates and the Scottish Government’s ‘Guidance on Engaging Communities on Decisions Relating to land’.

“It will not always be possible to find outcomes that suit all stakeholders but consideration of the external impacts is likely to at least influence the process, and timing, by which change is brought about.

“The primary purpose of the Tenant Farming Commissioner is to promote good relations between landlords and tenants in the agricultural holdings sector.  This report highlights the importance of proactive engagement by landowners and land managers with tenants and communities when significant changes are planned.”

Read the full report here.

Report points way to using land value increases to deliver new housing and development

A report published today points the way towards effective approaches for Scotland to use publicly created increases in land value to help finance the infrastructure needed to deliver new housing and other development.

Written for the Scottish Land Commission by a team from Heriot-Watt University, the report reviewed the UK’s historic experience of land value capture and identifies what lessons current policy makers could take from this experience.

The report concludes that previous attempts at introducing land value capture have failed largely due to the absence of political consensus. Connected to this, schemes need to be well resourced and seen to be fair, to command public consent.

However, with politicians of all persuasions now talking about the issue, it may now be possible to shape an approach that works.

The value of land is heavily dependent on the use to which it can be put and the amenities and infrastructure in the surrounding area.

The value of well-connected land, with planning permission, located close to public amenities is typically much higher than land without such advantages and typically arises because of the public sector granting planning permission or investing in infrastructure.

Talking about the report, Hamish Trench, Land Commission Chief Executive said that ever since development rights were nationalised in 1947, a debate about how to capture for public benefit, the uplift in land value associated with planning permission and public investment in infrastructure, has waxed and waned.

“The shortage of affordable housing currently afflicting many parts of the UK means that this debate is well and truly back in the ascendant – but in looking for solutions, it is important that we learn from the past.

“Our purpose in looking at land value capture is to help deliver well-planned sustainable communities in places people want to live and at prices they can afford to pay – something everyone can get behind. Really this is about reinvesting some of the land value in unlocking development. A solution may well involve a range of approaches suited to the different market conditions and geographies across Scotland. In many parts of Scotland – and elsewhere in the UK – market demand for housing is relatively low so there is not a large value to capture.

The ability of public authorities to acquire land at or near existing use value has underpinned some of the more successful attempts at capturing land value both in the UK (New Towns) and elsewhere in Europe.

“Changes to the rules of compulsory purchase and compensation could be part of the answer to capturing publicly created uplifts in land value” explains Mr Trench “but our work so far suggests that effective solutions will need to look beyond this. Changes will need to be designed to support the delivery of wider place-making objectives and be combined with a more proactive role for public authorities.”

The Commission’s next steps will be to work with partners in the sector to explore different models of using publicly created uplifts in land value to finance investment in enabling infrastructure and to investigate further the questions of market and existing use value.

Today’s report is one in a series of pieces of research on land for housing and development, a priority area of work for the Scottish Land Commission.

Read the full report here.

Read the Commission’s briefing paper here

Scottish Land Commission publishes James Hutton Institute new entrants report

Land access is a critical barrier for new entrants to agriculture in Scotland according to research published today.

The report, prepared for the Scottish Land Commission by The James Hutton Institute, suggests that existing farmers and landowners are well placed to offer greater opportunities to new entrants – and enhance their own businesses at the same time.

A priority area of work for the Land Commission is agricultural holdings and how to create and sustain a thriving agricultural sector in Scotland. The James Hutton Institute was commissioned to investigate new models and structures to increase the availability of land for new entrants; provide practical guidance on existing joint venture models; identify barriers to succession and retirement; and develop a baseline for measuring success.

The report by McKee et al. explores:

  • Current experience and understanding of joint venture options such as contract farming, partnerships, share farming, agricultural tenancies, and leasing/licensing
  • The potential for tax interventions, with a particular focus on income tax relief in relation to tenancy creation/length
  • English, Welsh, and Irish experience of land matching services
  • The development internationally of farm incubators for new businesses.

In particular the report highlights the need to address issues around the balance of risk and reward on the part of existing farmers/landowners when implementing these models, the profitability of new entrant farming businesses, and the need for trust and relationship building in developing joint ventures.

Speaking about the report, Tenant Farming Commissioner (TFC), Bob McIntosh, said

“One of the biggest issues facing new entrants to tenant farming is the lack of access to land. For Scotland to have a successful farming sector there needs to be new entrants to drive innovation and best practice.

“This report explores a number of ways for increasing the availability of land. Working with NFUS and Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service, we will be holding a series of workshops in late summer, looking at the options available to existing farmers and landowners, such as joint ventures and share farming, to offer opportunities for new entrants.”

Further information on the dates for the joint workshops, will be published on the Scottish Land Commission’s website.

To download a copy of the James Hutton Institute report (Increasing the Availability of Farmland for New Entrants to Agriculture in Scotland), click here.

Review makes recommendations to improve relationships between land agents, tenants and landlords

In a report to Scottish Ministers about the conduct of agents of agricultural landlords and tenants, Scotland’s Tenant Farming Commissioner (TFC), Bob McIntosh, has made several recommendations aimed at reducing the number of occasions when landlords and tenants are dissatisfied with the conduct of an agent working for them or for the other party.

The report was a requirement arising from the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 and reflected concern that inexperienced or insensitive agents may be adversely affecting the relationships between landlords and their tenants. The work involved independent surveys of landlords and tenants throughout Scotland with the aim of determining the overall level of satisfaction with the conduct of agents. Instances of dissatisfaction were followed up in more detail and the results of the surveys were shared with the key organisations representing landlords, tenants and agents to help form the recommendations.

Landlords and tenants were generally satisfied by the conduct of agents working on their behalf but less so with that of agents acting on behalf of the other party. Overall, 17 per cent of both landlords and tenants were dissatisfied with the conduct of an agent and dissatisfaction was generally linked to behaviour rather than to any lack of technical or legal knowledge on the part of the agent. The key reasons for dissatisfaction were:

  • Poor communication and inadequate recording of the outcome of meetings
  • Unnecessarily aggressive or condescending behaviour
  • Lack of transparency openness and honesty
  • Lack of awareness of the impact of a single transaction on the long term relationship between landlord and tenant.

The TFC has made nine recommendations for action with most of them relating to the need to improve interpersonal skills through more training, assessment and feedback mechanisms. He has also recommended that the professional bodies representing the majority of agents should increase awareness of, and ease of access to, their complaints procedures and should consider whether their published standards strike the right balance between the duty to a client and a duty to wider professional standards and societal values.

Bob McIntosh said

“It is clear that most agents perform their duties in a professional manner but the actions of a small minority can have a disproportionate effect on the reputation of the agent, their employers or their profession. It is important therefore that everyone involved from training establishments, employers, the professional bodies and the agents themselves, consider the recommendations carefully and take action to ensure that there is continuous improvement leading to a reduction in the instances of dissatisfaction’’

Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity said:

“I am grateful to the Tenant Farming Commissioner for completing this important piece of work and am heartened that he has found both that relationships between tenants and landlords are generally good and that problems with the conduct of agents are not widespread. However, I recognise, as he does, that some problems do exist and there is no room for complacency. I welcome the recommendations, and I look forward to seeing how they are taken forward by the sector.”

Read the full report here.

Discussion paper looks at how land reform in Scotland can further realise human rights

The importance of economic, social and cultural human rights in the land reform agenda is highlighted in a new discussion paper published today Tuesday 8 May, 2018 by Scotland’s land reform body.

The paper ’Human Rights and the Work of the Scottish Land Commission’, is the fifth in a series of independent discussion papers from the Scottish Land Commission, aimed at stimulating discussion about making more of Scotland’s land.

The paper’s author, Dr Kirsteen Shields examines how a human rights-based approach to land use and land governance might enable Scotland to make better use of its land. She explores how The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 embodies an understanding of land as a national asset to serve the common good and illustrates how the Act has already advanced human rights in Scotland by

  • strengthening community rights to buy
  • improving transparency of ownership and
  • protecting the rights of tenants and small farmers.

She also considers four concrete examples that directly link to the four pillars of the Land Commission’s work and considers the positive human rights impact that land reform could make in each.

For example, Dr Shields draws on international experience to argue that redeveloping Scotland’s vacant and derelict land could progress human rights by creating space for affordable homes (progressing the right to housing) or community greenspaces (progressing the right to health).

And she illustrates how the Land Commission’s work can help improve human rights for tenant farmers by ensuring that the sector is better regulated and introducing new codes of conduct that clarify the rights and responsibilities of landowners and tenants.

Speaking about the discussion paper, Dr Shields said,

“Land reform has enormous potential to contribute to the realisation of human rights in Scotland….There was previously a common misunderstanding that the human rights dimension of land reform was the right to property.”

Dr Shields points out that these are “neglected areas of land governance that will require new legal pathways and real cooperation to navigate.”

Chair of the Scottish Land Commission, Andrew Thin, said,

“Human rights underpins all areas of the Commission’s work and it is inherent in Scotland’s framework for land reform.

“The emphasis on the realisation of economic, social and cultural human rights will run through all of our work over the coming years with a particular focus on tackling constraints in the availability of land for housing, addressing issues of land ownership, democratising land use decision making and creating a better functioning system of tenanted farm land.“

Discussion paper looks at increasing availability of agricultural land for new entrants

A simpler and more intelligible framework is now required in Scotland to open up the farming letting sector again and promote farming as a viable option for the next generation.

That’s the message in a new paper, ‘Encouraging agricultural lettings in Scotland for the 21st Century’, the fourth in a series of independent discussion papers from the Scottish Land Commission, aimed at stimulating debate about making more of Scotland’s land.

The framework needs to include both simpler tenancy law and a more commercial, business-minded and flexible approach to unlock more land for farm lettings.

In the paper, the author Jeremy Moody, maps the decline in the tenanted farming sector over the past century and the current, complex environment of different and sometimes overlapping, rules.

He assesses the past and current issues facing landlords and tenants including the perception among landlords that land letting is ‘high risk and low return’ and considers wider questions around the political climate and future changes in the context of Brexit.

The paper puts forward a number of proposals including a new income tax relief as an innovative way of addressing increasing land availability. This tax-based approach, seems likely to release more land; evidence from the Republic of Ireland suggests a significant increase in lettings there, following the adoption of a similar relief in 2015.

The paper’s author argues that letting is declining in Scotland despite a strong demand for access to land from new entrants and existing farmers needing to expand or improve the viability of their enterprises.

The Land Commission’s Tenant Farming Commissioner, Bob McIntosh, said:

“For a thriving tenant farming sector there needs to be a steady flow of new entrants to drive innovation and best practice, improve efficiencies and contribute towards the economic vitality of the sector.

“The Commission is looking at ways to stimulate the tenant farming sector and increase the availability of agricultural land. We commissioned this paper to encourage debate around the different approaches and incentives for letting of land.  We will discuss it at the next meeting of the Tenant Farming Advisory Forum in July and we’d welcome written responses by email, ahead of that meeting.

“The different approaches need to be considered alongside the work we’re doing on the current succession and retirement options for farmers and landowners.”

Speaking about his paper, Jeremy Moody said that promoting a positive attitude among both tenant farmers and landowners, “…depends on good quality relationships, with sympathy between the parties and positive approach by advisers. The approach should be to see that a good relationship for farming land should be mutually beneficial.”

Read the Land Lines discussion paper here.

New Codes of Practice to support community engagement by landowners

The Scottish Land Commission has announced today that it is developing a series of Codes of Practice for land owners, land managers and communities.

The Codes of Practice will set out what is expected for landowners, land managers and communities in engaging on decisions to do with land use. The Codes will support practical implementation of the ‘Guidance on Engaging Communities in Decisions Relating to Land’ published today, Wednesday 18 April 2018, by the Scottish Government.

The Commission is encouraging all land owners, and those with control over land, to adopt a proactive approach to engaging with communities in their plans for the land. The Codes will set out the expectations of what is reasonable and provide detail on how land owners and communities can have regard to the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement.

The first Code will be published in the summer and will focus on how landowners, land managers and local communities engage.

Chair of the Scottish Land Commission, Andrew Thin, said:

“The Scottish Land Commission is working to increase the accountability of land ownership and promoting an open approach to decision making, all of which is a vital part of modernising our system of land ownership

“We are building on what already works well in the tenant farming sector by using good practice outlined in the Codes to provide clarity to all parties.

“Working closely with stakeholders we intend to develop Codes that are short, clear, practical and fair to all parties, setting out clear expectations of what normal and reasonable behaviour is. The Codes will also provide a mechanism to notify the Commission of an alleged non-compliance by an interested party.

“Along with the Codes we will also be providing guidance and practical advice to land owners, land managers and communities through newly appointed Community Engagement Advisers, to support improved engagement and accountability.”

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said:

“The Scottish Land Commission’s work to produce new Codes of Practice will greatly support the Scottish Government’s guidance for engagement between land owners and communities – resulting in greater collaboration on decisions about land.”