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Wednesday, 28 November, 2001, 17:03 GMT
New row over land reform plans
Highland Bothy
Land access is at the heart of the new row
Landowners and ramblers groups have clashed again over plans to widen access to Scotland's countryside and boost community ownership schemes.

The new Land Reform Bill, which was unveiled by Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace on Wednesday, aims to promote "responsible access to land".

It also gives rural communities the opportunity to buy land when it is put on the market and allows crofting communities to buy land at any time.

Although ramblers and crofters' groups welcomed the proposals, they received a mixed reaction from opposition parties and were condemned as a "socialist agenda" by landowners.

Legislation which allows communities the opportunity to manage and develop their assets in a sensible way is welcomed by the commission

Iain MacAskill, Crofters Commission
Robert Balfour, the convener of the Scottish Landowners Federation, said his members had no difficulty with communities wanting to own land where they lived.

But he said: "They have done nothing significant to change the prospect of expropriation of private property just because some other people want it.

"Why don't they just be honest and say it's land nationalisation and it's a socialist agenda?"

Mr Balfour also said he was "most concerned" that no land access code had yet been published and complained the bill would not alter landowners' liability.

He said: "They have done nothing and it doesn't go far enough. We need changes to the law because if someone trips up and breaks their leg the landowners could be sued for it."

Public consultation

Ramblers and crofters groups broadly welcomed the proposals within the bill but still expressed concern that some elements of the legislation were "too complicated".

Dave Morris, director of the Ramblers Association Scotland said: "We are pretty pleased with what we have seen.

"There have been some substantial changes which reflect the result of the public consultation and also the petition to parliament of 150,000 signatures."

Why don't they just be honest and say it's land nationalisation and it's a socialist agenda

Robert Balfour, Scottish Landowners Federation
Mr Morris said some aspects of the bill still needed to be simplified, particularly in relation to access to land where crops were growing.

Iain MacAskill, chairman of the Crofters Commission, said: "Crofters increasingly see the need to have more control over their own future and to influence how their community and environment will develop.

"Legislation which allows communities the opportunity to manage and develop their assets in a sensible way is welcomed by the commission."

The chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage, John Markland, said his organisation "very much welcomed the revised bill".

He said: "It is a strong starting point to modernise our arrangements for access to the countryside for open-air recreation.

'Radical reforms'

"Modernised access arrangements will help land managers by clarifying the law and providing for better management of access.

"They will also help support the many benefits to the rural economy which arise from people visiting the countryside for open-air recreation."

Opposition parties welcomed many proposals contained in the legislation but said it was a "missed opportunity" that shied away from "radical reforms".

Roseanna Cunningham
Roseanna Cunningham: "Utter U-turn"
Scottish National Party justice spokeswoman Roseanna Cunningham said there were still "areas of concern" and accused the Scottish Executive of performing an "utter u-turn" on the issue of land access.

She said: "Local authorities still retain too much power to close down access to land or exclude particular activities from the right to access.

"Some of the restrictions on access remain too tight - for example will the ban on exercising access to golf courses for recreational purposes mean that kids will be banned from sledging on them in the winter?

"I have a real concern about what effect the bar on commercial activity might have, for example, on mountain guides and companies that run walking holidays."

Ms Cunningham said her party fully supported the community right to buy proposals but viewed it as a "small step forward" and called for more radical reforms.

Robin Harper
Robin Harper: "Token Bill"
Scottish Green MSP, Robin Harper, also welcomed several elements of the legislation but said it amounted to a "token Bill that will achieve little".

He said: "Two thirds of Scotland's rural land is owned by only a thousand or so individuals and this Bill is unlikely to change the situation significantly for a very long time.

"What is worrying is that the hand of the landowners is present in the bill and they've been able to use their influence to prevent more radical legislation."

Mr Harper said even if the bill became law, in 50 years "we will notice hardly any difference in Scotland's pattern of land ownership, the most concentrated in Europe if not the World".

The National Trust for Scotland said it welcomed the basic principles of the bill.

Chief Executive Dr Robin Pellew said: "The trust is pleased to see that the access proposals in the bill reflect the recommendations of the Access Forum better than those in the earlier draft.

"The proposed right of responsible access to land and water acknowledges Scotland's long tradition of access to the countryside."

See also:

28 Nov 01 | Scotland
Access pledge in land plans
24 Aug 01 | Scotland
Land reform splits Lib Dems
18 Aug 01 | Scotland
Islanders consider community buy-out
13 Aug 01 | Scotland
Call to help residents buy island
10 Aug 01 | Scotland
Isle be yours - for 3.85m
16 Jul 01 | Scotland
Land reform warning to ministers
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