Community Land Ownership

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 30th September 2021.

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Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, and I commend Rhoda Grant for bringing this very important subject before the Parliament.

The motion highlights the vital significance of the climate change challenge that we all face and the need to transition to net zero in a fair and sustainable manner. I sit on the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, and the scale of the challenge that we face was highlighted when we took evidence from the United Kingdom Climate Change Committee, which told us that the UK will have to invest £50 billion a year in the transition to net zero—of course, Scotland will have to invest a pro rata share—if we are to deliver on our climate change targets. It was also made clear that that amount of money and scale of funding simply cannot come from the public sector alone. The transition to net zero will in large part—not in small part—have to be driven by private sector investment across all areas of the economy, including agroforestry and peatland restoration.

That brings me to the motion. The need for private sector investment at scale was also recognised in the Scottish Government’s climate change plan, which called for

“significant increases in forestry and widespread peatland restoration”.

Quite rightly, the plan encouraged collaboration between

“carbon buyers, landowners and ... intermediaries ... to increase the woodland carbon market by at least 50% by 2025.”

I would imagine that there is cross-chamber consensus on the need to meet those targets.

Rhoda Grant mentioned some of the private sector investments that have been made in recent months. It is important to highlight the benefits of such investments. For example, Standard Life Investments has a project to restore woodland and peatland areas over almost 1,500 hectares and to plant 1.5 million trees, with between 50 and 100 people working on the project over the next six years, using land that has no existing agricultural or other value. Such land use and the benefits that come with that investment are to be encouraged.

It is not just the private sector that is directing money and investment towards such areas. The Scottish National Investment Bank has invested £50 million in a managed forest growth fund, which aims to capture 1.2 million tonnes of CO2 over the next 20 years.

Those are just some examples of how public and private investment can help to deliver necessary reforestation, rewilding and peatland restoration, all of which will be vital to meeting our net zero targets. Without such investments, the public sector would not have the capital available to meet the necessary targets.

I understand the concerns raised by Rhoda Grant about unintended consequences, what the trend might lead to and the potential impacts on local and community land ownership. There may also be implications for public policy. However, additional land market regulation and controls, as set out in the motion, are not the answer. A mix of legislative and regulatory frameworks already provide safeguards for community benefit—benefits that deliver jobs, housing and wider amenity value—helping to deliver what we all want to see in a thriving rural economy: more jobs, more housing and more economic activity.

There is a range of other factors. Local planning consent, community councils and central government regulations all need to play a part in ensuring that everyone derives a benefit from those investments. We also have the woodland carbon code, which sets out that land projects can only be eligible for support if they would otherwise not be economically viable.

I see that I am up against the clock, so I will wrap up. The scale of investment required to meet the net zero targets presents huge opportunities for Scotland across community and public land ownership and will bring much needed investment and jobs to rural Scotland.