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 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 17:18 GMT
Q & A: What will land reform mean for Scotland?
A radical reform of Scotland's land ownership has been passed by MSPs after the longest legislative session in the parliament's history.

But when did the debate start and what will it all mean for rural Scotland and the public's access to the countryside?

Here, BBC News Online Scotland outlines the key questions and answers in the debate.

When did plans for land reform in Scotland begin?

The land reform policy group, chaired by Lord Sewel the then UK minister for agriculture, the environment and fisheries, was set up in October 1997.

It was tasked with looking at the costs and necessary legislation needed to implement land reform.

Scottish Natural Heritage was also asked to take part in the review. It looked at what legal changes would be necessary if access was to be given to ordinary members of the public.

What was decided?

The policy group published its report in January 1999 and recommended a whole raft of measures including proposed legislation regarding agricultural holdings, crofting, conservation, community ownership of land and access.

What is the community right to buy?

A community in a rural area must first establish a recognised group of people who can also apply for charitable status.

They then register with the minister their interest in the land they would like to purchase. This is logged and runs for five years, although interests can be re-registered.

The landowner has a right to appeal against the registration.

The registered community has an automatic right to buy the land they have registered only if the owner decides to sell. If that happens the minister will appoint an independent valuer who is tasked with establishing what the market value is for the land.

The community and the landowner can write to the valuer outlining their own judgments on how much the land is worth before a final figure is decided. Both parties may appeal to the lands tribunal over the valuation.

If the community goes ahead with the purchase they will have to find the funds to pay. They may receive help from the Community Land Fund which is supported by the National Lottery.

Are there special rights for crofters?

The Scottish Executive was so keen to preserve the life of small crofting communities that in the third part of the bill it addressed the issue of land ownership for crofters.

Unlike the rural community buy outs, crofting communities will have the right to compulsorily purchase their land from the owner.

They will have to register an interest with the minister and prove their case. They will have to be particularly rigorous when it comes to proving that a salmon river should be included in their land registration.

When it comes to financing the project, crofters will be on their own. They can, like community buy-out groups, apply to the Community Land Fund for help.

What about access to rural land?

The bill states that everyone has the right to cross open land for recreational purposes as long as they do so in a responsible manner.

A fierce debate is ongoing into what land can be accessed. The bill states that land with buildings, schools, caravan sites, golf courses, bowling greens and playing fields where sporting activities are being played will be exempt.

The bill states that Scottish Natural Heritage will have to draw up a code outlining "responsible access". This will be known as the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

It will be the duty of local authorities to make sure the code is being complied with. They will also have to keep open and free from obstruction any route subject to access.

When will the changes happen?

The Land Reform Bill was voted through by a majority of MSPs on Thursday, 23, January. Royal Assent will be sought next month, but there will be some details which will not be finalised for some time.

The access code will not come into being until some time next year, following a series of consultations, and the rules on the community right to buy element of the bill will not be finalised until later this year.

See also:

23 Jan 03 | Scotland
22 Jan 03 | Scotland
23 Apr 02 | Scotland
28 Nov 01 | Scotland
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