‘RADICAL” proposals that change the way land is managed and owned in Scotland were unveiled by the Scottish Government yesterday.

Scottish Government ministers claim the Bill will allow more people in Scotland to benefit from the land and will see a vast increase in the amount of land owned by communities.

Tory politicians called the new proposals an “ideologically driven” land-grab.

Contained in the Bill are measures to end the rates exemptions for shooting and deerstalking estates that have existed since 1995. The Government said there was wide support for this move that will bring estates into line with other ratepayers.

Key to the bill is the promise to make sure that better information and “greater transparency” on the ownership of land is available through the land register.

Other measures include improvements to both systems of common good land and right to roam, and a modernising of Scotland’s tenant farming legislation.

Regulators will be given more power to deal with landowners when they fail to take their deer management responsibilities seriously.

Launching the Bill at Carluke Development Trust, Land Reform Minister Dr Aileen McLeod said: “Through the Land Reform Bill we want to ensure that future generations have access to land required to promote business and economic growth and to provide access to good-quality, affordable food, energy and housing.

“The introduction of the Bill is a significant step forward in ensuring our land is used in the public interest and to the benefit of the people of Scotland.

“It will also end the stop-start nature of land reform in Scotland that has limited progress.

“At the heart of these proposals is the principle of responsibility that comes with all land ownership, and while there are many exemplary landowners in Scotland, the message is clear – it is no longer acceptable to own land in Scotland and not take the public responsibilities that come with that ownership seriously.

“I know this Bill will be good for the people of Scotland, encourage greater public interest and participation in land, and help our communities reach their potential,” she concluded.

David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land and Estates, which represent landowners, said: “The publication of this Bill will result in fundamental and far-reaching changes to the way that land is managed and owned in Scotland.

“Land-reform campaigners continually say that too much land is owned by too few people. In reality, this legislation will have an impact on tens of thousands of people across Scotland who own and manage all sorts and sizes of land holdings.

“We have been very disappointed that in this debate private landownership is pitted against community ownership and landowners are seen as being against reform. This is wrong.”

Jennifer Dunn, from the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, welcome the end of the rates exemption on shooting estates: “It makes absolutely no sense that for the past two decades rural post offices, pubs, shops and other businesses have had to pay tax while sporting estates have been exempt.

“Shooting estates can cause considerable environmental damage as well as trading in cruelty and we are pleased that, in future, they will contribute to the public purse.

“However, we are actively lobbying to make sure the interests of Scotland’s wildlife are included in the debate around land reform, and look forward to being a part of the debate around land ownership in Scotland.”

Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg warned that the move could result in job losses: “We know what we do benefits Scotland’s countryside, its wildlife and communities and we know the integral part we play, in the public interest.

“As we have said all along, our objective is to try to protect, as best as we can, the jobs of rural workers and their families, and this remains the goal.

“Good can come from land reform but we must ensure that working people are not caught in the crosshairs of the negatives and we will continue to engage with Scottish Government on how the new ratings systems will work, with a view to preserving fragile employment.”

The new Bill was welcomed by Labour and the Greens.

Sarah Boyack said that there were many benefits to land reform. “Communities in both urban and rural Scotland have much to gain from proposed new opportunities to buy and access land to further sustainable development,” she said.

“Crucially, this legislation will also be the opportunity to strengthen tenant farmers’ rights.”

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser was furious: “These proposals once again demonstrate this central-belt Scottish Government is out of touch with the priorities of rural communities.

“People living in rural Scotland want to see a strong economy, more jobs created, better broadband and local services improved.

“Instead, the SNP is ignoring the evidence and pursuing an ideologically driven agenda, which will jeopardise the rural economy.

“The Scottish Government has been warned this will cost jobs, but has ignored those warnings.’’

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