Every month, lawyers from Harper Macleod - the biggest Scottish law firm with an office in Shetland - share their insights on issues which can affect local businesses and individuals.
Calum MacLeod, a Partner at Harper Macleod who specialises in rural property, takes a look at some of the big issues affecting those to whom land matters.
With the recent introduction of new Land Reform legislation, Brexit implications looming and a new board elected for the Crofting Commission there's been some uncertainty in the rural sector. Throw in a general election and it's worth looking at the landscape for agriculture and crofting. The overall hope is that the next year will bring greater clarity and confidence to the sector.
Land Reform Legislation
The effect of the Scottish Land Reform Act is starting to be felt by landlords and tenants. Tenant farmers are one group who might feel that the new legislation brings them additional opportunities as their right to assign or bequeath tenancies have been strengthened; the right will enable tenants to assign to a wider pool of people, rather than direct descendants. Tenants with a 1991 Act tenancy will have a pre-emptive right to buy where a landlord decides to sell the property where previously a tenant had to register their interest.
One notable change brought in by the new Land Reform legislation is the establishment of the Scottish Land Commission, based in Inverness, which became fully operational on 1 April. The Commission's purpose is to ensure that ownership, management and use of land in Scotland contributes to the collective benefit of everyone. There are five Land Commissioners and one Tenant Farming Commissioner (TFC) appointed. The Land Commissioners will review any laws and policies, recommend changes and provide information and guidance. The role of the TFC is to improve relationships between landlords and tenants of agricultural holdings. The TFC is responsible for establishing codes of practice, providing guidance to landlords and tenants and promoting the use of these codes.
Brexit kick-started a national debate on the future of farming. In the lead up to and after last year's referendum, pro-Brexit UK Farming Minister, George Eustice, promised a more "sensible, proportionate and coherent approach to regulation", removing some of the awkward regulations from the EU. At least 60% of British farmers signed up to leave the EU despite the financial subsidies provided through the Common Agricultural Policy. The government has pledged to maintain this support, but only until 2020.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) is attempting to support a case for farm subsidies to continue after the UK leaves the EU. Collectively, food and drink manufacturing employs one in eight people in the UK, so whatever government emerges from the upcoming general election will need to think carefully about putting in place a new agricultural policy.
Following last year's dispute with the common grazers on the Isle of Lewis a new board has been elected and met for the first time on 28 March 2017. The new board includes six commissioners, including Andy Holt for Shetland. It will be interesting to see whether the newly elected board will rebuild the crofting community's confidence and herald a positive future. Hopefully the board can fix some of the difficulties in legislation and resolve some of the difficulties in how crofting is currently regulated.
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This article originally appeared in the Shetland Times