Hard facts ‘a must’ in Bute tenancy debate, say landowners

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The organisation which represents 2,500 landowners through Scotland says it is important that politicians and decision-makers are presented with ‘clear, hard facts’ in the debate over farm tenancies.

Scottish Land & Estates (SL&E) facilitated the visit of three members of the Scottish Parliament’s rural affairs, climate change and environment committee to the Bute Estate, which is owned by the Mount Stuart Trust, on Monday and Tuesday.

The visit, which formed part of the Committee’s fact finding tour, concentrated on issues surrounding farm tenancies. It provided the opportunity for the estate to underline its management practices, and highlight its commitment to supporting tenant farming on the island.

Farm tenancies form a central strand of the Bute Estate’s activities, along with tourism, let housing and forestry enterprises, which together employ 126 people in the peak season.

The delegation saw at first hand the challenges presented to the estate and its farmers brought about by changes in farming practices, such as the need for larger farm units and modern farm buildings.

SL&E issued a press release on Tuesday afternoon stating the following points:

* The estate has a policy of letting all agricultural land, and has a programme of investment to put farm buildings which are no longer fit for modern farming to other economic uses.

* Traditional secure tenancies make up around half of all the farm lets on Bute, covering about 70 per cent of the overall let land area on the island. The remainder of the let land is under limited partnerships, limited and short duration tenancies and grazing lets.

* Nine farms on Bute have become vacant since 2008 due to retirement or the natural expiry of a lease due to death; in five cases, tenants approached the estate asking for a retirement package.

* In all cases compensation was paid for waygo items and tenants’ improvements, whether or not notice had been served in the statutory form, and in all five retirement packages the tenants used external valuers or agents.

* The overall cost of the retirement packages and waygo payments has been in excess of £1 million, while tenants’ compensation is calculated using a formula contained in section 55 of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 2003.

* All the farms have since been re-let. In 2009, five units were offered on the open market totalling about 2000 acres, giving applicants the opportunity to apply for the land as an LDT or SLDT. Following this process the estate let 2 of the farms to young farmers (in their 20s) under 15-year LDTs and the remainder under five-year SLDTs. No in-go was paid by the incoming tenants. At the end of the tenancy the landlord will pay a waygo compensation payment towards any improvements.

* All land re-let since 1997 has been to existing island farmers. Many original units have been divided to satisfy demand from existing tenants and to be equitable in recognising need.

* The Estate’s policy with regard to its agricultural tenants and let land can be summarised as follows:

- To meet its obligations to its tenants, to enable tenants to develop sustainable businesses and to meet current economic challenges which are particularly prevalent in the livestock sector, Mount Stuart aims to carry out regular three-yearly rent reviews. to introduce a forum for regular meetings at Whitsun and Martinmas for all tenants as from 2012, and to reinstate the lapsed landlord/tenant forum between the estate and NFUS and representative farmers.

The Bute Estate’s resident agent, Andrew Nicol, said: “Since I was appointed in July 2011, I have been getting to know all the tenants and there are excellent farmers on Bute.

“I am looking forward to working collaboratively with them to maximise the opportunities for farming on the island.”

“I hope that the MSPs gained a useful insight into the part the farm tenancies play in the sustainability of Mount Stuart as a whole, given the enormous contribution it makes to island’s economy.”

Douglas McAdam, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, added: “Agricultural holdings legislation is complex and emotive.

“However, it is important that everyone with an interest, particularly politicians and decision-makers, have clear, hard facts at their disposal.

“The industry as a whole will benefit from a more evidence-led approach.”

Local councillor, farmer and Bute Estate tenant Robert Macintyre: “I welcome the involvement of the Scottish Government’s rural affairs committee in the ongoing debate about the relationship between landlords and their farming tenants in Scotland.

“Farmers on this island, who are nearly all tenants, have been concerned with their future prospects for some time.

“This led to a survey being conducted by the Bute branch of NFU Scotland.

“I am told there was a 67 per cent response, so around 30-35 farmers took the time to complete the form.

“This was a very open exercise, with the results being given to both the Scottish Government’s rural affairs committee and Scottish Land and Estates, and also a copy was given to the Mount Stuart Trust.

“I would hope, as a result of the findings of the survey, a better relationship can be established between the Mount Stuart Trust and its tenants.”