Yesterday the Scottish Parliament passed the radical and wide-ranging Land Reform Bill – a piece of legislation that is at the heart of the SNP’s agenda for transforming Scotland.
Land reform is far from an abstract issue. When urban communities are blighted by abandoned buildings or derelict land, or where rural communities are unable to develop the infrastructure they need to flourish, land reform matters.
The Bill takes important steps to improve transparency around who owns land, to get rid of unfair tax exemptions for big estates and to support community buyouts. This follows last year’s Community Empowerment Act which strengthened the rights of local communities who want to take ownership of land and buildings and put them to better use.
Our initial proposals for reform have been bolstered through the parliamentary process – with the Scottish Government lodging over 200 amendments itself and welcoming another 30 amendments from across the parliament.
Our vision is for land to be owned and used in a way which delivers greater public benefit – through a democratically accountable and transparent system of land rights.
Yesterday I announced that a new Scottish Land Fund will open on April 1, and will be trebled to £10m a year. The previous Land Fund awarded £9 million over three years to 52 communities throughout Scotland.
There are currently 500,000 acres of land owned by communities around Scotland. Community ownership allows local people to use the land around them for a variety of productive purposes – from tourism and business units to recreational space and allotments.
Land is amongst Scotland’s most valuable assets and owning land can help communities realise their aspirations and dreams, make a real difference to long term sustainability and build stronger, resilient and supportive communities.
We are seeing a new dawn for community ownership in Scotland – this Bill will allow more communities than ever the opportunity to be involved in decisions about land that affect them.
Aileen McLeod MSP is Minister for Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform