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SNP ‘gambling with the future’ of rural Scotland, warn Scots landowners

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A crackdown on landowners is backed up with ‘no evidence’ and amounts to ‘gambling with the future of rural Scotland’, it was claimed yesterday.

The Scottish Government’s Land Reform Bill will give SNP ministers unprecedented powers to block land sales and demand large sites be broken up into smaller plots.

The threshold for interventions will be 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) – far lower than the original plan to set the limit at 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres), and low enough to include sites such as farms.

Ministers will also have the power to impose ‘community engagement obligations’ on landowners and will give community groups a greater opportunity to register their interest in purchasing the land.

The proposed Bill relies on ‘conjecture rather than evidence’

Landowners have said the proposed Bill has left firms fearful, with tens of millions of pounds of deals on hold and others even withdrawing from signing contracts amid huge uncertainty.

In a submission to Holyrood’s net zero, energy and transport committee, rural business body Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) highlighted ‘critical flaws’ in the Bill.

It said: ‘No evidence appears to exist for the Scottish Government’s threshold of 1,000 ­hectares, 3,000 hectares, or any other defined scale, as a rationale for implementing ­onerous policies and legislation.’

The submission added: ‘Key measures in the Bill to break up large estates rely too heavily on conjecture based on impressions rather than evidence.’

Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of SLE, yesterday said of the Bill: ‘There is growing evidence that management of land at scale has positive outcomes for the environment and communities.

‘Some of the measures proposed present serious concerns not only for owners of land but also for people, jobs and nature.’

Ms Laing warned that some businesses have ‘tens of millions of pounds worth of investment on hold’, while SLE also rang the alarm bells amid land ­acquisition deals being ­withdrawn amid the Bill’s introduction.

SLE added that the ­proposal to interfere with the sale of large land­holdings by ­giving ministers the power to split up land ­jeopardised projects supported by government.

Crawford Mackay, partner at rural property consultancy ­Galbraith, said the proposals could ‘bring in an array of legal, financial and technical implications and unintended consequences for the Scottish land market’.

He said: ‘As drafted, the proposals include restriction on the disposal of small areas of land within villages, where a member of the community may wish to extend their garden or business.

‘The proposals are also likely to ­capture the sale of residential developments, where every house sale would require the prior approval of Scottish ministers.’

The proposals could force someone selling an estate larger than 1,000 hectares – or 2,471 acres – to split it into smaller lots.

SLE said there was no rationale behind the figure and the threshold could be changed to affect more landowners.

A government spokesman said the Bill ‘aims to increase transparency of land management’ and ‘allow more communities the opportunity to take on ownership of land’.

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