Land Reform fantasies

There’s a conference in Inverness today about the community right to buy. I should probably be there but I can’t afford to take a day off work, the train ticket is over £40 and I’m kinda skint right now. The meeting is also focussed on the Highlands and Islands Enterprise area. Nothing wrong with that but I think it’s high time we made more effort to inspire land reform beyond the north and west.

The Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, spoke at the gathering and claimed that “the legislation has been successful so far.” I’m not so sure. Whilst five communities have acquired land under the Act, many more have been frustrated at the bureaucracy and complexity of the legislation and the incompetence with which Ministers have handed the whole process. For example, 60% of successful applications do not even meet the statutory requirements of a competent application and yet have been accepted. As a consequence, four registrations have been overturned on appeal by the landowner – a direct result of administrative incompetence. Decision making has been inconsistent. One application was refused on grounds that another applicant was later informed was acceptable. One applicant missed the chance to buy because Ministers took 66 days to decide that a grid reference used to locate the centre of land shaded clearly on the map was deemed to be a reference only to that spot … ??!! This application was refused but a subsequent application was accepted despite breaking almost every rule. To cap it all, communities have to go through the whole ridiculous process every five years. See my 2006 Two Year Review for more details

The Scottish Government’s press release today is headed “Land reform success exceeds expectations“. What expectations? It is also riddled with errors. For example, it claims that the legislation was passed in 2004 (it was passed in 2003). It claims that community bodies have submitted “over 112 applications to purchase land and almost 80 applications have been approved.” This is misleading – these applications are to register an interest in land, not to purchase it. It states that the first communities to extend their interest “will do so in late 2009.” It is 23 March 2010 today.

There’s only been five successful acquisitions with another three in process. More (seven) have failed to acquire land within the timescales set. Hard to see how all of this exceeds expectations.

The Act is such a complex, legalistic piece of legislation that it provides numerous opportunities for nit-picking and fine legal arguments. This keeps bureaucrats and lawyers in business but does nothing to empower communities.

Ministers have refused to review the legislation despite Roseanna Cunningham herself demanding that this be done every four years when she spoke in the final debate on 23 January 2003. [Note – as I review this website in November 2003, I cannot find the source of this claim. She did raise it but it does not appear in the final debate].