Community land chief calls for more radical reform

“Millions more acres” of land in Scotland should come under the control of local people, according to the chairman of Community Land Scotland.

David Cameron has called for a review of land reform in Scotland to look at a radical re-balancing towards community land rights over private rights.

Mr Cameron, speaking at a seminar of human rights interests organised by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, said further land reform was “unfinished business that Scotland needs to address if we are to live in a more socially just and collectively prosperous Scotland”.

Calling for an increase in the number of community land owners across Scotland, Mr Cameron said: “Should access to our natural resources and economic opportunity not be shared more widely, shouldn’t our land assets be more equitably managed and controlled, more of it owned by local communities and accountable to those communities?

“From my perspective one is inevitably drawn to the conclusion that there needs to be a further re-balancing of the rights of the individual and the rights of communities.

“It [land reform] is unfinished business that Scotland needs to address if we are to live in a more socially just and collectively prosperous Scotland.”

In a direct reference to recent statements from private landed interests, Mr Cameron added: “This is not about fighting battles of the past, land reform remains a cause of present and the future.

“For those who argue we should move on from such ideas, that somehow Scotland has done land reform, we did it in the Land Reform Act shortly after the new Scottish Parliament was formed and there is nothing more that should be done - they must be wrong.

“Despite the very welcome and exciting progress toward change that has been made by the new generation of community owners, it still remains modest by any standards.”

The Bute Community Land Company completed the purchase of 161 hectares of land at the north end of the island in the summer of 2010.

BCLC had originally hoped to buy seven hundred hectares in the Rhubodach area from owners Lord and Lady Attenborough, but was forced to scale back its plans due to difficulties in obtaining the public sector funding required.

The remainder of the seven hundred acres - most of it used for commercial forestry - was sold on to the island’s major landowner, the Mount Stuart Trust, although BCLC retained access rights to the land as part of the deal.

The issue of land ownership on Bute was put back in the spotlight last month after Rob Gibson MSP, the convener of the Scottish Parliament’s rural affairs, climate change and environment committee, called Johnny Bute “an absentee laird”

Mr Gibson also said the actions of the Mount Stuart Trust had led to a fear among Bute tenant farmers that they could be individually targeted by their landlord, and accused the Trust of making “no attempt whatsoever” to do anything with its empty properties on the island.

The trust’s chief executive, Connie Lovel, responded by accusing Mr Gibson of conducting “a personal attack” on the organisation’s staff.