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Wednesday, 28 November, 2001, 14:08 GMT
Access pledge in land plans
Gigha scene
Mr Wallace promised greater access to land
Proposed legislation aimed at widening access to Scotland's countryside and giving rural communities the right to buy land have been unveiled.

A number of proposals in the draft of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill have been dropped following concerns expressed during the consultation phase.

Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace said there would be no new criminal law of trespass and local authorities would not be allowed to exclude the public from their land.

This bill strikes the right balance between encouraging wider, responsible access and ensuring that those who live on the land can do so without undue interference

Jim Wallace, deputy first minister
However, Mr Wallace insisted said the "main principles" of the bill had not changed.

The minister promised that the bill would create a "right of responsible access" to land.

Rural communities would have the ability to buy land when it goes on the market and crofting communities could buy land at any time.

Speaking in Edinburgh, he said: "We have devoted time to making sure these proposals are fair, workable and effective."

Jim Wallace
Jim Wallace: "Fair proposals"
The minister said there had been a huge response to the draft proposals following their launch in February.

The bill proposes a right of access to land, including water, for recreation activities but on condition that this is exercised responsibly, and with some limitations.

Landowners and farmers said walkers would be allowed excessive freedom to roam their land - while some outdoor enthusiasts did not think the reforms went far enough.

The minister said an attempt had been made to meet landowners' concerns over liability for injuries suffered on their land and there would be more clearly defined duties for councils in upholding access rights and maintain pathways

Mr Wallace said: "I believe that this bill strikes the right balance between encouraging wider, responsible access and ensuring that those who live on the land can do so without undue interference.

Community body

"The changes we have made strengthen the purpose of the bill, which is to provide certainty and security for those wishing to enjoy the pleasures of the countryside without constraining land operations."

He said the bill would improve the prospects for communities seeking to buy land.

The minimum size of "community body" stipulated in the provisions has been cut from 30 to 20 people, and there would be ministerial discretion available for tiny communities.

Communities will not now have to buy any other land included in the sale by the owner and landowners would have more protection against the "cherry picking" of land by residents.

Coastal scene
There will be further consultation
The scope for appeals would be widened to ensure new laws comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Wallace said recent experience in the case of the west coast island of Gigha showed how difficult it could be for communities to stage a buyout at very short notice.

In the case of crofting communities, the requirement that more than 50% of a crofting community should vote in a ballot has been removed and the outcome could be decided by simple majority.

The wider local community could not exercise the right to buy without the support of the crofting community.

It was announced that the Scottish Parliament's Justice 2 Committee would be the lead committee considering the bill at stage one, with other committees participating.

Interested individuals and bodies would be invited to submit written evidence to the committee by 21 December.

The BBC's Andrew Cassell
"Arguments over land are centuries old"
BBC Scotland's Louise Batchelor reports
"People enjoying the great outdoors will have more of a spring in their step from today"
See also:

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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