Call for ongoing dialogue on land reform

NFU Scotland is urging legislators to continue to consult with farmers and crofters as the Land Reform Act continues to take shape.

With a large amount of work to complete before regulations are finalised, the Union is keen that due diligence is undertaken in terms of consultation with all interests represented in the land reform debate.

In particular, the Union wants a functioning, healthy and vibrant tenanted sector to be delivered. It believes the Act has some aspects which could assist this, and provide confidence to both those who rent and who let land. In addition, it wants further reassurances for farmers and crofters over the impact that aspects covering community engagement and community right to buy might have.

Speaking at a conference on Land Reform hosted by the University of Aberdeen, NFU Scotland Vice President Andrew McCornick said: “The passage of the Act has been an unsettling time for agricultural landlords and tenants.

“In order to function well, both landlords and tenants must have confidence in their agreements and a changing of mindsets and professional practice will go a long way to ensuring that the creation of a healthy, vibrant tenanted sector does not require further legislation in this area.

“The next steps on that path has seen the Scottish Government recently open the public appointment process for the important posts of Tenant Farming Commissioner and members of the Scottish Land Commission.

“By working collaboratively with key stakeholders, the industry has already seen positive benefits from Andrew Thin’s interim appointment as the independent advisor on tenant farming. Whoever takes on this new permanent position will play a pivotal role in the future of agricultural tenancies in Scotland, acting with impartiality between landlords and tenants but challenged by views that are often entrenched.

“It is equally important that the new Land Commission recognises the importance of agriculture and food production in underpinning the economy of Scotland and we would wish to see appointees to have a good knowledge and experience of land management issues. It’s much more important to focus on how land is used rather than bluntly focussing on who owns it.

“On the wider issue of community right to buy, included within the Act, farmers and crofters continue to seek reassurances over what this might mean for them. We support the approach taken by Scottish Government, which will allow for provisions under the Community Empowerment Act to bed in before further consideration of proposals to extend Community Right to Buy provisions under the Land Reform Act.

“It must be recognised that land can, in many cases, be transferred to a community via negotiation where there is a willing landowner, but that a landowner may also have very genuine reasons for not wanting land to be transferred. Local community aspirations must be clear and deliverable before any land is transferred under right to buy.

“Farmers and crofters play a vital role in rural communities and it is important that their role is recognised. Forthcoming guidance for engaging communities in decisions relating to land will provide communities with the opportunity to have a greater understanding of land management practices. That presents an opportunity for a community to appreciate the importance that everyday farming activities have on the economic viability of holdings.”