The much anticipated Crofting Register has now gone live, having opened on 30 November. The new map-based Register will be maintained by the Registers of Scotland, though the Crofting Commission will be involved in checking and scrutinising applications to the new Register.
The Register will initially be voluntary for a year until 20 November 2013, when it will become compulsory. During the period of voluntary registration the Crofting Commission intends registering around 100 common grazings.
The map-based Crofting Register will show defined extents of crofts and common grazings against the OS map. The register will also contain information on the tenant or owner-occupier crofters, and the landlord. The register can be viewed directly on http://www.crofts.ros.gov.uk/register/search.
There are a number of triggers of first registration including subsequent transfers of owner-occupied crofts, an assignation of a tenanted croft, a new letting, and matters which change the land's status (eg. resumption or decrofting).
Once a croft is registered, subsequent events must be registered, or depending on the particular event, notified to the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland, so that the entry for the croft is kept up to date. The Keeper will notify the Crofting Commission when a croft is first entered in the Register and the Commission will send a certificate of registration to other interested parties. Interested parties may challenge the registration in the 9 month period following registration.
The new Register has generally been welcomed as it should provide more certainty to crofters, landlords, and those dealing with land in the crofting counties alike. There are some criticisms with the extra costs and regulatory requirements falling mostly on the crofters. Furthermore, with crofts being mapped for potentially the first time, it is natural that disputes could arise over boundaries. Furthermore, and curiously the purchase by a crofting tenant of their croft from the landlord will not trigger a compulsory registration.
Whilst the registration fee is set at Â£90, there will be discounts for group registrations within townships. Furthermore, group registration where neighbouring crofters have already agreed their boundaries should alleviate some of the tensions the new Register may bring.
For those that are seeking to develop on croftland the new Register will generally be welcomed as it should bring more certainty. The effect the Register will have on how renewable energy developments on croft land progress on croftland will be interesting. For example, a Section 19A "Scheme for Development" consent from the Land Court is becoming a popular route for taking forward a development on croftland, rather than always using the traditional route of resumption. Indeed, part of the thinking behind the Scheme for Development legislation was to facilitate these developments.
However, whilst a resumption of croftland triggers a first registration or subsequent registration in the new Register, a Section 19A consent does not. A developer or lender may see this as a disincentive to using the Section 19A route rather than resumption. This is perhaps one area where the Scottish Ministers could consider having an additional trigger.
Finally, whilst some are heralding the new Register as the answer to all their queries on croftland in the crofting counties, it should be remembered that it does not contain all the information that the Crofting Commission maintained and it will take sometime before the new Crofting Register is fully populated. Accordingly, enquiries relating to crofts should still also be made to the Crofting Commission, rather than simply searching the Register by itself.