THE DIRECTOR of a top land management firm today welcomed the Scottish Government’s intentions on the Land Reform Bill, but warned that changes may not be fit for purpose, with the tax payer left to foot the bill.
Malcolm Taylor, director at Bell Ingram, urged decision makers to be aware of the various complexities and legalities on the subject and asked that more sector expertise be incorporated into the final Bill should it become law.
It follows The Scottish Government’s publication of “radical” proposals aimed at widening land ownership.
Speaking from the firm’s offices in Perth, Mr Taylor said: “We welcome the efforts of the Scottish Government to introduce a Land Reform Bill for the future management of Scotland’s land both rural and urban.
“However, there are concerns about the costs, the legal burdens and the complexities of the proposed reforms.
“It is easy to say that the ‘Devil is in the Detail’ but in this case it really is”.
He added: “We are not convinced the full implications of the changes have been identified and weighed up against the benefits and we would hope that the correct level of consultation is carried out with the right subject matter experts – should this Bill be taken forward.
“Whatever the views individuals and groups have on Land Reform, there is no avoiding the issue that, as proposed, the contents of the Bill have significant costs attached, which the ordinary tax payer in Scotland will have to fund.
“It is also questionable if the proposals will actually deliver the Government’s vision. There is a real risk that the division between rural and urban land use and management will become greater.”
The Land Reform Bill proposes to change the 2003 Agricultural Holdings Act, establishing a new Modern Limited Duration Tenancy (MLDT), sweeping away the old Limited Duration Tenancy law.
The minimum duration is 10 years, with the opportunity to convert from a five-year SLDT (Short Limited Duration Tenancy) by agreement. The opportunity to have a five-year break clause may offer encouragement to new entrant letting and generally a simpler process for agreements to terminate.
Malcolm continued: “There is a clear inference that the involvement of lawyers and other professional advisors and agents is going to increase, which will ultimately increase the cost of owning and managing and indeed tenanting land in Scotland.
“The Agricultural Tenancy proposals in particular will place an even greater burden on the Land Court. Appeals and legal debate will only increase costs to both landlords and Tenants, and threaten to drive the gulf between some tenants and landlords even wider.
“The removal of the 5 year SLDT (Short Limited Duration Tenancies) to all but new entrants is a major concern and this will simply reduce the area of land available for let. What we need is for greater flexibility for agricultural tenancies.
“We welcome the proposal for an amnesty for tenant’s improvements, but the proposals for Assignation of Tenancies is, again, likely to increase the burden on the courts.
“We need a far more flexible system of letting land because as things stand we will not achieve a viable tenant farming sector which is what the politicians want.”
The Bill also proposes to end tax relief for shooting estates and force the sale of land if owners are blocking economic development.
Malcolm added: “We would question whether the Government has actually fully considered the full costs of appointing Commissioners and implementing its other proposals. We should not forget that sporting rates were suspended because of the cost of administering and collecting the rates.
“There are now fewer Assessors in Scotland and unless the Rating Legislation is altered it is unlikely that there will be any significant income from this proposal.”
Established over 116 years ago, Bell Ingram has 130 professional staff across 11 UK offices, including chartered surveyors, estate and forestry managers, architects, planners, GIS specialists and estate agents.