Campaign demands fairer land ownership
A CAMPAIGN questioning the “fairness” of land ownership launched across Scotland yesterday.
Our Land is a month-long initiative created by Common Weal, Women for Independence and land reform campaigners Andy Wightman and Lesley Riddoch and aims to highlight problems caused by a land ownership system that “allows a handful of individuals, quangos, insurance companies and trusts based in offshore tax havens to dictate the price, availability and use of land” in Scotland.
Campaigners are urging the public to join their call for reform by taking part in a photographic series highlighting “dereliction in cities and emptiness in the countryside”. Individuals are invited to add images of disused or misused land in an effort to create a thousand-strong album.
Riddoch says the Land Reform Bill put forward by the Scottish Government in June “will not address the problems of stifled local development, unaffordable housing, chronic uncertainty and general cap-doffing and looking over the shoulder before people speak out about land-based problems”.
She added: “All these difficulties arise from a tiny minority of the people owning almost all the land – in cities as well as the countryside – and very often being the housing provider and employer of local people as well as their landowner.”
The action begins on the same day as the grouse shooting season, the Glorious Twelfth, to highlight how much land is held by a few hundred wealthy parties.
Robin McAlpine of Common Weal said: “The quasi-feudal way land is owned in Scotland affects rural and urban communities.
“It is often seen as an issue of justice and it is, but it is also a crucial issue of housing, of economic development, of food and of poverty. Fifty per cent of private land is owned by 432 landowners, from large sporting estates to empty buildings and derelict land in our towns and cities.
“It affects everyday lives by pushing up the cost of housing – 40-50 per cent of new-build costs are the cost of land. That is very different in most other European nations.
“The inability to buy means long-term residents are turned into short-term tenants with very little security or ability to plan or improve their homes.
“In large parts of the Scottish countryside locals know they will never ever be able to buy land for a business, community development, affordable housing for their own children or modest weekend hut. That isn’t good enough.”
Wightman is pictured in part of the failed Waterfront development in Granton, Edinburgh.
The land was acquired for more than £3 million in 2008 and, following the financial crash, was sold to the British Virgin Islands-registered Sapphire Land Ltd for £327,916 in 2012.
The British Virgin Islands is designated a “secrecy jurisdiction” so no information is available about who controls the company. Offshore companies are often used to launder money and evade tax. Currently only 26 per cent of land is registered and many landowners are based outside Scotland for tax avoidance purposes.
Wightman said: “In December, the Scottish Government proposed to bar companies like Sapphire from owning land in Scotland in the Land Reform Bill but the proposal has since been dropped.
“This U-turn on an offshore tax haven ban for landowning companies shows why more public pressure is needed now before the Land Reform Bill progresses through Holyrood during the next year.”
Protest on derelict land in Arbroath on Saturday, August 29, 11am.
The land is located in Arbroath on the site of the old Seaforth Hotel. The hotel burned down in 2006 and since then has been left vacant. It is currently zoned as hotel/leisure land and the owners cannot get planning permission as they want to build house/flats.
A summer ceilidh at Kirkpatrick Durham Village Hall on Saturday, August 29, from 7.30pm. It will be an evening of music, dancing and frivolity. Tickets will cost £6 and are available via the CD and Glenkens SNP Facebook page, or by calling 07902 714 340. Come and meet local member Aileen McLeod MSP.
Taking place on Thursday, August 27, in the New Glasgow Society at 1307 Argyle Street, Glasgow, this is a talk with Morven Gregor and Gerry Loose from the Carbeth Hutters Community Company about their involvement in the Carbeth buyout. It starts at 6pm. Tickets are £5 (SEDA members £3), available on the door or from the SEDA website.
A day of Scottish land reform events. One looks at Isle of Skye – Crofting: Past, Present and Future, another focuses on The Young Crofters, Crofting’s New Voices and there will also be a guided walk to the abandoned township of Greulin in Kilmuir, led by local resident and renowned Gaelic singer, Anne Martin.
Walk and talk your way up Stac Pollaidh, Ullapool on Sunday, August 30. Our landscapes are unique and beautiful. Does it matter who owns them? As the Land Reform Bill passes through the Scottish Parliament, we wonder what land reform can do and what it should aim to do.
Mass walk along part of the proposed community link between Strathpeffer and Dingwall. There has been longstanding interest in linking the communities of Strathpeffer and Dingwall via a safe walk/cycle route. We will meet at the Victorian Station on Saturday, August 29 at 12 noon and take a ramble from there.