EFFORTS TO deal with the 'monopoly power' some large landowners wield over parts of Scotland are at the heart of a discussion paper newly published by the Scottish Land Commission.

Promising to kickstart the modernisation of land ownership in Scotland, the paper floated three specific proposals intended to counter what it describes as as the 'adverse effects' of having so much land held in so few hands – and stressed that, in other countries and economic sectors, such mechanisms were completely normal –

• The requirement for significant land holdings to publicly engage on, and publish, a Management Plan;

• A Land Rights and Responsibilities Review process, a practical means of review where there is evidence of adverse impacts;

• A new Public Interest Test that could determine whether significant land acquisitions create risks of concentrated power.

SLC chief executive Hamish Trench said: “History has given us a pattern of land ownership in which localised ‘monopoly’ power can and does exist. This creates risks that run counter to the needs of a modern, dynamic economy. The measures explored in this paper are proposed as targeted and proportionate ways to address these risks.

“The proposals are based on measures that are quite normal in other sectors of the economy and have parallels across Europe in the ways countries regulate land ownership," said Mr Trench. "Our research has shown that Scotland is unusual in not having similar measures to safeguard the public interest.

“These proposals are part of an ongoing programme of reform," he added. "They will not transform the patterns of land ownership on their own. That will require wider reforms, for example on taxation, as well as non-statutory action, all of which the Land Commission is addressing in our current work.

“They do offer an effective next step in modernising land ownership, ensuring the ways our land markets work keep pace with society’s needs and expectations, supporting a fair and dynamic economy.”

However, the chairman of Scottish Land and Estates, Mark Tennant, was unimpressed, saying that what the discussion paper proposed was 'disproportionate' to deal with the 'very isolated' issues arising from concentrated land ownership.

“We have now had 20 years of intensive land reform legislation in the Scottish Parliament. During that time, land businesses have embraced massive change and there are so many positive outcomes from multiple ownership models including public, private and community. They are all playing their part in delivering Scottish Government policy in key areas such as renewable energy, farming, forestry and housing," said Mr Tennant.

“This new discussion paper does not reflect the great changes that have taken place. The report is rich in emotive description but does not offer new thinking on its key findings. Where there are issues raised, it is in everyone’s interests that we move on from vague opinions and feelings to crystal-clear evidence of negative impacts that can be verified and acted upon.

“Landowners of any type or scale may be delivering government objectives but that may not sit well with a local community," he noted, in what may well be a reference to the political drive for more tree planting. "This paper does not address the conflict which often exists between the Scottish Government’s view of what is in the public interest and how a local community would define it.

“If there is a negative issue in a particular location that is causing concern, there is an argument for very targeted intervention," conceded Mr Tennant. "However, so many remedies already exist and it would be disproportionate to bring in legislation that could affect a whole business sector for very isolated issues. We have already seen the consequences with proposals that could adversely affect the short-term lets sector."