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Community Land Scotland

Scotland’s land reform journey is stalling

18 December 2023

An opinion piece written by our Policy Manager, Dr Josh Doble and published in The Scotsman on 14th December 2023: Scotland’s land reform journey is stalling – can the new Land Reform Bill achieve what it is setting out to do? (

Scotland’s experience of land reform is often described as a journey, if that is the case then our journey is stalling and all but ground to a halt. Community ownership of land has flatlined since 2016/17 when the last piece of Land Reform legislation was introduced – only 16 hectares of land went into community ownership in 2021/22. Less than 3% of Scotland’s land is in community ownership and patterns of private landownership remain highly concentrated. Progress has slowed dramatically because the existing legislation is not working and soaring land prices make ownership the preserve of a privileged elite.

The Scottish Government will shortly be introducing a new Land Reform Bill to Parliament; current indications are that it will have no meaningful impact. Potentially influential reforms only apply to land over 3,000 hectares – only 1.1% of land transactions (8 in total) between 2020-2022 would have been impacted. Legislation applying to such a meagre amount of Scotland cannot deliver significant reform.

When community rights to buy land were first introduced in 2003 it was a landmark statement by the new Scottish Parliament which could pursue a more progressive and socially just agenda, moving Scotland away from its archaic and unjust system of landownership. Communities moved to own land and assets around them and transform their futures.

A portrait of the Community Land Scotland Policy Manager, Josh Doble who has short blonde hair, blue eyes, light stubble and is wearing a mustard jumper.

20 years on the once pioneering legislation is no longer fit for purpose and is tripping up communities. Those opposed to community purchases have learned how to play the system. From 2018 to 2022 there were 5 successful applications on average annually, however from 2003 to 2017 there were triple this number. Since 2017 none of the necessary ‘late’ applications that allow communities to respond to unexpected sales have been approved. The legislation is failing communities in Scotland’s most resource deprived areas, where dealing with onerous legislation and bureaucratic systems can be even more challenging. We will be publishing evidence on this in the New Year.

Scottish land prices are soaring, driven by speculative investor interest in commercial forestry, carbon credits and land banking. In areas of the south of Scotland land prices have increased by over 450% in just four years. Scotland’s lack of regulation over the land market fuels investor speculation – the public interest in the potential use of the land doesn’t figure.

Communities cannot afford inflated land values, and the current Land Fund cannot cope with a land market that can see small estates selling for multiple millions. Welcome increases planned for the Land Fund annually don’t begin to keep pace with market forces. Bold, robust legislation and regulation can ask important public interest questions to impact the speculative buying up of Scotland.

The Scottish Government has said it wants to diversify Scotland’s land ownership, to combat the private land monopolies, stop wealth extraction and build community wealth, and deliver a just transition to a low carbon future for the coming generations. Few would want to see these ambitions thwarted by legislation lacking the necessary imagination and ambition for real change.


Dr Josh Doble is Community Land Scotland’s Policy Manager