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Thursday, July 8, 1999 Published at 18:15 GMT 19:15 UK

UK Politics

Wallace unveils land reform plans

Landowners have eased their opposition to reform

Proposals giving communities the right to buy land on which they live and work have been unveiled in the Scottish Executive's Land Reform White Paper.

And the BBC has learned that up to £10m of Lottery funding could be made available to help them.

BBC Scotland Environment Correspondent Louise Batchelor on the reforms
The proposals, which also seek to enshrine in law the right to roam, were broadly welcomed by politicians and community groups.

But while the Scottish Landowners' Federation said it wished to view the planned legislation constructively, it stressed there were pitfalls which must be overcome.

[ image: Jim Wallace: Fair proposals]
Jim Wallace: Fair proposals
Scotland's Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace, who outlined details of the White Paper, said it offered a "modern and fair approach" to land issues.

But despite sources suggesting up to £10m may be offered to communities, Mr Wallace was only prepared to outline the principles behind the legislation and not the cost.

The White Paper is the first stage in a five-year rolling programme of land reform and will give communities the right to register an interest on land where they live.

When they know an estate is up for sale, they will then have six months in which to organise a bid at the market rate for the property.

Purchase price

Under the terms of the White Paper, the purchase price would be determined by a government-appointed valuer.

Mr Wallace launched the White Paper in Abriachan, near Inverness, where the community has bought a local forest.

He said: "It will be up to rural communities themselves to decide whether they want to exercise their new right to buy.

"Communities will be able to register an interest in the land where they live and/or work and that land will not be sold without giving them the opportunity to purchase it."

He added that a power of compulsory purchase would exist to safeguard rights.

[ image: Plans include rights of public access]
Plans include rights of public access
On the issue of rights of access, Mr Wallace said: "Our plans will introduce a statutory right for the public to enter upon land or water, for the purposes of recreation and passage, provided that they exercise this right responsibly."

However, he stressed that legislation would ensure rights of privacy and trespass were not contravened.

The Scottish Landowners' Federation said projects like the Abriachan sale should be welcomed as lessons in "community self-determination"

But it voiced concern over the "price fixing" of land for community groups - forcing sales of property at prices less than those paid by the original owners.

Convenor, Andrew Dingwall-Fordyce, said: "We believe it to be manifestly unjust that a right to buy is created at the expense of individual liberty such as delayed sale.

"We also have fears that a form of blight will be created.

BBC Radio Five Live's David Miller on the land reform White Paper
"The owner of land in which a community interest has been registered may feel discouraged from future investment in that property because of uncertainty over the whole process should he or she wish to sell."

A spokesman for Ramblers Scotland said it welcomed the "high priority" the Scottish Executive is giving to the right to roam proposals for public access to land.

And he said he hoped the proposals would produce the best public access provisions of any country in Europe.

The Scottish National Party's spokesperson for land reform, Roseanna Cunningham, cautiously welcomed the White Paper details.

She said: "The proposal to support land buyouts we absolutely support. The difficulty we have is, what about all the communities where that isn't the appropriate way forward?"

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