The Land Reform Review Group 10 Years Later


Ten years ago today, the Land Reform Review Group (LRRG) published its Final Report.

In July 2012, Scottish Ministers appointed the LRRG with the following remit:-

The relationship between the land and the people of Scotland is fundamental to the wellbeing, economic success, environmental sustainability and social justice of the country. The structure of land ownership is a defining factor in that relationship: it can facilitate and promote development, but it can also hinder it. In recent years, various approaches to land reform, not least the expansion of community ownership, have contributed positively to a more successful Scotland by assisting in the reduction of barriers to sustainable development, by strengthening communities and by giving them a greater stake in their future. The various strands of land reform that exist in Scotland provide a firm foundation for further developments. The Government has therefore established a Land Reform Review Group.

The Land Reform Review Group has been appointed by Scottish Ministers to identify how land reform will:
Enable more people in rural and urban Scotland to have a stake in the ownership, governance, management and use of land, which will lead to a greater diversity of land ownership, and ownership types, in Scotland;
Assist with the acquisition and management of land (and also land assets) by communities, to make stronger, more resilient, and independent communities which have an even greater stake in their development;
Generate, support, promote, and deliver new relationships between land, people, economy and environment in Scotland

It was chaired by Dr Alison Elliot and had Dr Sarah Skerrat and Dr James Hunter as members. Following the resignations of Skerrat and Hunter, John Watt, Ian Cooke and Pip Tabor were appointed as members with Robin Callander as Specialist Adviser. A group of advisers were also appointed.

The Group published its final report The Land of Scotland and the Common Good ten years ago on 23 May 2014. Some further details including the Groups’ interim report can be found at my dedicated webpage from the time.

The Group’s final report contained 62 recommendations ranging over a wide spectrum of topics from housing and water resources to common property and taxation. It represented the most comprehensive and analytical report on the topic of land reform to be published since the Scottish Parliament was established. The report is still recommended reading for anyone interested in land policy in Scotland.

The work of the Group was taking place at around the same time as an Agricultural Holdings Review and a Wild Fisheries Review.


What happened to those 62 recommendations?

Scottish Minister set out a response to the LRRG recommendations as part of the consultation on the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill which ran from 2 December 2014 to 10 February 2015 (See Annex B at foot of this page).

Of the 62 recommendations, Ministers responded as follows:-

  • 10 were rejected (although one of these on improving the governance of common property – essentially the law of the tenement – has since been picked up by the Scottish Law Commission who are currently consulting on the matter).
  • 6 recommendations called for actions that were at the time (according to Ministers) already underway;
  • 7 were taken forward and implemented as part of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016;
  • 19 were implemented
  • 37 were never implemented.

Some of the recommendations were relatively minor (removing title reservations to minerals in title of Edinburgh Castle). Some were expressed in quite general terms and so whether they have been implemented or not is a matter of judgement. Among the most significant recommendations were the following:-

  • complete the land register
  • restrict title to land to legal entities registered in the EU
  • reform succession law to remove distinction between heritable and moveable property
  • safeguarding extant commons
  • statutory right of pre-emption
  • reform crown property rights
  • reform common good law
  • introduce compulsory sale orders (still under consideration)
  • introduction of major land assembly powers
  • establish a housing land corporation
  • a new tenancy for private renters (implemented)
  • improve land information
  • develop a national land policy
  • review non-domestic rates exemptions for agriculture and forestry
  • re-introduce sporting rates (implemented)
  • reform Part 3 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 – the crofting community right to buy
  • improve the legal framework for small landholders (underway in current Land Reform (Scotland) Bill)
  • remove registration requirements for tenant farmer right to buy (implemented but now being reversed in current Land Reform (Scotland) Bill)
  • reform the law of the foreshore

Of the above 19 proposals, 2 have been implemented, 1 is still under consideration, 1 is being delivered by current Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, and 1 is being reversed by the same Bill. The remaining 14 have not been implemented.

Ten years later, it is disappointing that these 14 proposals have been abandoned, that no work has been done to take them forward and that none have been incorporated into the current Land Reform (Scotland) Bill.

On the Sunday following publication of the LRRG report, Ministers made their first big announcement in response to the recommendations. The then Minister Paul Wheelhouse committed to complete the Land Register within 10 years by 2024 and to have all publicly owned land registered by 2019. Neither of these commitments have been delivered.

The Land Register covers 53.5% of the land mass of Scotland as of March 2024. Although most public land has been registered (the bulk is land owned by Scottish Ministers and managed as part of the National Forest Estate), some has not (the Trotternish Estate on the Isle of Skye for example). Most local authority owns land is not on the Land Register and Crown Estate Scotland has not completed the registration of all of the foreshore owned by the Crown.

Two further recommendations were committed to but have not been delivered.

The LRRG recommended a short-life working group to develop a strategy for achieving the target set by Scottish Ministers to have one million acres of land in community ownership by 2020. The group was established but the target itself was quietly abandoned. There are currently around 525,000 acres of land in community ownership.

Finally, John Swinney announced in March 2015 that a Scottish Land Information Service (SCOTLIS), “one-stop digital database for land and information services” would be delivered by a taskforce by 2017. This apparent fulfilment of another of the LRRG’s recommendations was never delivered. Instead, a slimmed down partial ScotLIS incorporating only one source of information (the Land Register) was launched by Registers of Scotland (who own the trademark to SCOTLIS). A fuller account of this failure can be obtained from this report I wrote in February 2023.


It is hard to escape the conclusion that no amount of independent reviews and other sources of advice and recommendations will make a difference. Despite the excellent work of the LRRG, it appears that land reform that tackles the structural features of landed power instead of dealing with partial alleviation of symptoms remains as far off as it has ever been.