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EDINBURGH-The Scottish Executive plans to push through a land reform package that will give tenants the right to buy out landlords. Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace unveiled the first draft of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, a key part of the ruling Labour Party’s plans for Scotland.

Aimed at rural communities of more than 20 people, it allows them to buy land when it goes on the market and rules that crofting communities can buy land at any time.

Many landowners, tenants, including crofters, and property professionals met the Bill with disbelief. Landlords risk a market collapse and crofters forced to buy land could lose crucial government grants.

Guy Galbraith of estate agent FPDSavills voiced the concerns of many in the property industry. ‘FPDSavills is disappointed that many constructive proposals tabled during the consultation period have not been embraced,’ he said. ‘The right of communities to cherry pick farm and estate sales is of great concern, with the potential to leave a seller with a property which is no longer viable both in terms of income generation and marketability.

‘The legislation increases the risk of local negotiations taking the place of the formal procedures set out in this legislation, which may increase the chances of local abuses arising.’

Last month, the Scottish Executive “strongarmed” – says one local – the islanders of Gigha into buying their own island. Islanders reluctantly accepted nearly £4 million ($5.8 million) from the Executive and other sources to make them a flagship crofting buyout project. At 3,400 acres, Britain’s largest privately-owned island lies off the Mull of Kintyre in Argyll.

Gigha islanders had been told to find the bulk of the money themselves. By the Sunday before the sale deadline, however, they had raised just £4,000 ($5,800). There was a vote at a meeting of Gigha islanders held in August in the island’s Community Hall. Just 14 said they wished to buy with 29 against the purchase. After the vote, one of the islanders commented: ‘Now we only want to be left alone to get on with our lives’.

The obstinate march of the legislation through the Scottish Parliament has created a climate of fear in the Highlands. Many landowners and crofters are scared of making public statements about the Bill in case they find themselves its first target.

‘Don’t go quoting names,’ said one landowner. ‘Nobody can afford to be seen to be putting their head above the parapet.’

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