Scottish Land Commission looking for increased land ownership accountability

Increasing the accountability of land ownership and promoting an open approach to decision making is the goal of the Scottish Land Commission.

The Commission has welcomed the open approach recently adopted by Buccleuch Estates by holding a public meeting this week to address people’s concerns about their actions and plans for land.

Chair of the Scottish Land Commission, Andrew Thin, said: ‘We welcome the decision by Buccleuch Estates to hold a public meeting setting out more information about their plans and to respond to the feedback and views received. The issues and context will vary widely across Scotland but we encourage all land owners to consider a similarly proactive approach to engage people in future plans and address issues where they arise.

‘The Commission has a clear objective to increase the accountability of land ownership and land use decision making and we see this as a vital part of modernising our system of land ownership. To support this we will be developing codes and guidance as well as providing practical advice to land owners and communities encouraging improved engagement and accountability.’

The Land Commission’s tenant farming commissioner, Bob McIntosh, has been asked by Buccleuch Estates to look into concerns raised at the public meeting regarding the handling of negotiations with agricultural tenants over their farm leases.

Discussions are being held with farming tenants

Bob said: ‘The primary purpose of the Tenant Farming Commissioner is to promote good relations between landlords and tenants in the agricultural holdings sector.

‘The chief executive of Buccleuch Estates has asked me to review how Buccleuch Estates staff have acted when dealing with some recent end of tenancy situations. I will look in to these cases to consider whether they were handled in accordance with good practice and relevant published codes and guides. I am assured that I will have full access to estate staff and records.

‘My role is entirely independent and impartial. I would encourage those tenants who are unhappy with the way their situation was handled to contact me so that I can arrange to meet with them in order to fully understand their concerns. All discussions will be in confidence.’

Last month, the Buccleuch Estate announced it was in discussions with tenant farmers interested in buying the farms they occupy on secure tenancy agreements.

Buccleuch initiated discussions with 11 tenants who have officially registered an interest in buying their farms, or indicated an interest to do so, on the Eskdale and Liddesdale Estate. Letters were sent the remaining 13 tenants on secure tenancies offering the opportunity to meet with the Estate Manager to understand their future aspirations.

John Glen, chief executive of Buccleuch, had said: ‘Buccleuch keeps its in-hand and tenant farming operations constantly under review. Since 2000, Buccleuch has sold 22 farms to tenants across the South of Scotland.

‘Such sales enable the tenants to make positive choices for their future, and the Estate to reinvest the capital released into new projects, such as Glenmuckloch pump storage hydro and Dalkeith Country Park, strengthening the rural economy. We are excited by the opportunity that this affords both parties.

‘Tenants who do not wish to consider purchasing their farms will continue to enjoy the security of tenure of their 1991 Act agreements.

‘These discussions follow those already held to convert Limited Partnership tenancies into sales to tenants, conversion to appropriate modern Limited Duration Tenancies and minor pockets of land use change.

‘We remain a very active farmer ourselves and that will not change.’