Land Ownership

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 21 February 2024.

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Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

2. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its plan to diversify land ownership in Scotland. (S6O-03087)

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government is committed to an on-going programme of land reform based on the principles set out in the “Scottish Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement 2022”. Those principles include bringing about a more diverse pattern of land ownership and tenure, and giving citizens more opportunities to own, lease and have access to land.

Our forthcoming land reform bill will build on our record of success in diversifying land ownership, particularly in terms of the steady growth that we have seen in community ownership. Among other important reforms, the bill will include new measures to regulate the market in large-scale landholdings through the introduction of a public interest test and requirements for community bodies to receive prior notification of sales or the transfer of such holdings.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for that reply, but

“Community ownership of land has flatlined since 2016/17 when the last piece of Land Reform legislation was introduced—only 16 hectares of land went into community ownership in 2021/22. Less than 3% of Scotland’s land is in community ownership and patterns of private landownership remain highly concentrated.”

Those are not my words, but the hard-hitting conclusions of Dr Josh Doble of Community Land Scotland.

The Government’s record on land ownership is dismal, from scrapping the dedicated land fund to feathering the nests of the wealthiest landowners, the biggest land speculators and some of the worst carbon polluters. Why will the cabinet secretary not think big and act radical, break up the private land monopolies, halt the extraction of wealth and spread the common ownership of our land?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I categorically refute the assertions that Richard Leonard has made in his response to me, some of which are factually inaccurate. The member referred to our scrapping the land fund, which is not the case. We have not scrapped the land fund in Scotland, because we recognise what a vital tool that is in enabling communities to take ownership.

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I t is this Government that has driven forward the land reform agenda, and we have the proposals to continue on our land reform journey by introducing a bill that will help with the diversity of land ownership that the member talks about—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Leonard, we need to hear so please desist.

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

—and which we recognise as being hugely important.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I have had several requests for supplementary questions.

Photo of Audrey Nicoll Audrey Nicoll Scottish National Party

A range of powers and processes is key to diversifying land ownership and how that land is utilised to provide infrastructure development and regeneration projects that are in the public interest. How does the Scottish Government intend to deliver its commitment to reform and modernise the compulsory purchase system in Scotland, so that it is clearer, fairer and faster for all parties?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

The member is absolutely right. We have a number of powers available to us when it comes to community ownership, across various pieces of legislation, but we also have other tools such as compulsory purchase, as the member has outlined.

Indeed, the Government has committed to taking forward reform in relation to compulsory purchase orders. I can advise the Parliament that the Minister for Local Government, Empowerment and Planning has appointed an advisory group to support that process. That group, which comprises experts and practitioners, will be co-chaired by Roseanna Cunningham and the Scottish Government’s chief planner. It will be tasked with identifying opportunities for reform to inform our approach to legislation in the future. The first meeting of that new group is set to take place next month.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

Achieving net zero relies on significant action in areas including tree planting, the restoration of peatland and improving biodiversity, all of which are acknowledged as being best achieved through delivery at scale and over a long term. What measures is the cabinet secretary proposing to address the potential challenges created by having a larger number of smaller landowners to co-ordinate, as well as the potential gaps in expertise, funding and succession planning among new individuals and organisations that are taking ownership of more pieces of land?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I would not necessarily agree with what Brian Whittle has set out. As well as the large-scale tree planting and peatland restoration that the member has talked about, what is important is the integrated land uses that we can have and our encouraging more of that planting at a smaller scale. We have made various changes to try to do that, such as the forestry grant scheme, and all of that work, collectively, makes a difference. It is not a case of either/or, but of how we encourage peatland restoration or tree planting in smaller businesses, on farms and crofts, and stitch that work into the fabric of our landscape, as well as the work that can be done co-operatively on a larger scale.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

What work has the Scottish Government done to evaluate its powers to implement a land value tax and how much revenue such a tax could raise?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I am happy to set that out. In 2017, the Scottish Government asked the Scottish Land Commission to look at the potential for introducing a form of land value tax in Scotland. One of the key findings of that work was that

“although the theoretical case for the introduction of a land value tax is strong, there is a lack of empirical evidence that land value taxes have actually delivered the theoretical benefits attributed to them.”

The Scottish Land Commission went on to outline that, to date, no country has ever replaced the existing taxes on land and property with a single tax, and that

“most people accept ... the idea” that

“a single tax is not practical” at the moment.

However, we remain committed to exploring options. We have had proposals in relation to other methods of tax that we should be considering, and I assure the member that we are looking to consider those options further and to ensure that we deliver on our commitments to taking a fair and progressive approach to taxation.