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Moving forward…

Hamish Trench

Scottish Land Commission CEO, Hamish Trench, looks at the discussions and engagement following publication of the Commission’s report on scale and concentration of land ownership.

In March this year the Land Commission published a major report on scale and concentration of land ownership in rural Scotland. Addressing one of the core drivers for land reform, this has attracted welcome and wide-ranging responses and comment.

We made recommendations for some significant changes that would address the concentration of power, safeguard the public interest and improve the accountability of land use decision making. Some of these require statutory measures, while there is also much that can be done within land ownership sectors through good governance and practice.

I’ve been pleased by the level of discussion and engagement this report has stimulated. Over the last few months we have been speaking, and listening, with a wide range of stakeholders.  There is huge inherent value in being able to discuss openly around the table the issues of power and participation that emerged as central themes in our report on land ownership. We held a number of workshops bringing together different perspectives to discuss both the findings and the recommendations in our report. These discussions also drew out some of the significant connections between land ownership and the opportunities for delivering the healthy and dynamic rural environments, economies and communities we want in Scotland.

Ministers have asked us to progress these recommendations. Over the coming year we will continue to develop these recommendations into options and proposals for practice, policy and legislative change. As we do this, we will continue to engage widely and keep a focus on the ways in which land reform can help unlock wider economic and social opportunities.

Even in recent months, the relevance of land ownership and use continues to come to the fore. The Scottish Government has committed to a net-zero climate target for 2045, with significant implications for land use change. Expanding Scotland’s forest cover, restoring our peatlands, making the most of renewable energy assets and long-term carbon management all require a proactive approach to land ownership and use and a clear framework for the public interest in land.

The pressing need for housing in rural and remote Scotland continues to rise on the agenda. The new planning act requires the National Planning Framework to consider the desirability of resettling rural areas, and to connect to the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement.  A new Ministerial group will also consider population challenges, including a focus on ensuring benefits of population growth are spread across Scotland. That the rural housing challenge requires a multi-faceted response combining planning, funding and infrastructure issues is not in doubt. Neither is the recognition that land availability, in the right place at the right price, is core to securing long term renewal of remote rural populations. Land ownership is key to making this happen.

Now, more than ever, it is evident that our framework for land ownership and use is part of the solution to major public policy challenges. It would be odd if we didn’t think of land – one of our most fundamental assets – as being core to Scotland’s ambitions for inclusive growth. The ways in which land reform can help unlock economic growth and public value will be the focus for our conference later this year ‘Scotland’s Land and Economy’ at Dynamic Earth on 2 October.