Today, the Scottish Government announced the establishment of a “Land Reform Review Group” that will oversee a “wide ranging review of land reform in Scotland”. If this happens it will be very worthwhile.

However, the remit and membership of this group are yet to be agreed with Scottish Ministers and it is unclear how wide the remit will be. If it is simply to undertake a technical review of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, it will be of very limited value when the real issues concern inflated land values, affordability of housing, succession law, tax avoidance, secrecy, absentee landlordism, theft of common land, land registration laws, common good etc. etc. etc.

Whether any of this gets looked at depends on two things.

The definition of the term “land reform” and the remit for the group. Let’s crowdsource ideas on both of these. Please leave comments on:-

1. a definition of land reform and

2. a remit for the Land Reform Review Group.

I will moderate comments strictly to these two questions.

My interview on Radio Scotland Newsdrive at 1750 today 24 July 2012.

UPDATE 25 July 2012 Rob Gibson MSP has issued a press release welcoming the establishment of the Group. From his comments it appears that the review will focus on community land issues. The “Overview of Evidence on Land Reform in Scotland” published by the Scottish government also restricts itself to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Given too that a review of the Act was the focus of the SNP manifesto commitment, this all suggests that the remit of the Review group is not going to be a review of land reform but a review of one piece of legislation. Since the remit has yet to be published, however, it is still impossible to be sure.

UPDATE 27 JULY 2012 Professor Peter Dale OBE who is a past President of the International Federation of Surveyors 1995-99 and currently their Honorary President has contributed a useful summary of what land reform means. It is an analysis that I agree with. In my view land reform is about the reform of power relations and how that power is derived, distributed and exercised form the core of any serious land reform project. Here is what Peter has to say.

“The words ‘land reform’ often mean almost whatever you want them to mean and depend on to whom you are talking.

Unless I have missed it, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 does not define the term, it merely lists those examples of land reform that the Act addresses. It is as if you had a Health Reform Bill that didn’t address health, only some service delivery such as patient waiting times.

Land is a diverse concept that depends on whether you are looking at it from a legal, financial, land use or social perspective i.e. its ownership, value or use. Reform may concern the changing of land rights (land tenure reform), the redistribution of ownership or use rights (including land consolidation and land reallocation, i.e. reforms to the pattern of ownership), alterations to land use (e.g. physical changes in agricultural practice or through inner city development), changes to land tax (that bring about changes in land ownership, value or use), or changes in how land is managed, etc.

In summary, the term ‘land reform’ embraces all those processes that alter the pattern of land ownership, land rights, land values or land use within a specified area.

Professor Peter Dale 26 July 2012

 

28. March 2012 · Comments Off on Craighouse Campus · Categories: Edinburgh, Land Registration, Land Use, Land Values, Who Owns Scotland

Proposals for the development of Craighouse Campus in Edinburgh were reported in the Scotsman today. The developers. Craighouse Partnership is proposing to build 116 houses on the site. A local campaign, Friends of Craighouse, has been opposing the proposals. I do not have a view on the proposals but was curious as to who owned the site.

It turns out that it is owned by Craighouse Ltd., a company incorporated in the Isle of Man (No. 006516V) and with its registered office at Fort Anne, Douglas, IM1 5PD, Isle of Man. The title is available here and a plan here. In a letter written by the developers, Sundial Properties to the Friends of Craighouse, they assert that this company is 100% owned by Mountgrange Real Estate Opportunity Fund. The Fund in turn is 90% owned by overseas investors.

This development adds to a growing list of property in Edinburgh owned by companies registered in offshore tax havens. I do not think it is acceptable that owners of land in Scotland should be allowed to record titles to land in the name of companies registered in tax havens. The Land Registration etc. (Scotland) Bill is currently going through Parliament and is the ideal opportunity to crack down on tax avoidance. I outlined the arguments in this post and have submitted evidence to the Scottish Parliament Committee.

Fergus Ewing, the Minister in charge of the Bill has indicated he is not interested in making any such provisions in the Bill. The Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee has, however, recommended in its Stage 1 report (paras 214 – 219) that the Scottish Government should consider options for cracking down on the scope for tax avoidance.

 

28. November 2011 · Comments Off on Who pays the costs of fighting the fire? · Categories: Democracy, Finance & Money, Fiscal Policy, Governance, Land Values

A dramatic fire has been raging all afternoon at the Gusset building at 120-130 Morrison Street, Glasgow. The property has lain derelict since it was bought for £4,200,000 by Straben Developments Limited of Belfast, Northern Ireland in September 2007. (title documents here plus plan).

Reports claimed that over 100 firefighters were in attendance and at the height of the blaze, there were 16 fire engines in attendance. These public sector workers did the City of Glasgow proud in managing to control the blaze and ensuring the safety of the public. Remember that on 30 November 2011.

But, equally serious is the fact that fire and rescue is a public service that is paid for by the taxpayer and the council tax and business-rate payers of Glasgow.

Straben Developments, however, are exempt from paying business rates on their £4.2 million investment. So, while they sit on their asset which I am sure is fully insured, they pay nothing towards all the services of the City of Glasgow that work to ensure their land and property is protected. Over the four years since 2007, the company has saved over £500,000 in land tax.

It is high time such exemptions were abolished or (better still) a land tax was introduced to prevent such buildings lying derelict in the first place and to make sure the owners pay their fair share towards the costs of those brave firefighters and their equipment which so quickly came to try and put out the fire that broke out this afternoon.

UPDATE DEC 2011

Folk are asking why do they pay no rates? Well, first of all if you want to check for yourself, go to the Scottish Assessor’s portal and type in G5 8BE. The page is here. Valuation is £300,000.

The Scottish Government provide a brief guide to Non-Domestic Rates here. The reason why this property pays no rates is either because it is an empty industrial building and/or that is is Category B listed. (see paragraph under “Empty Property Relief”). All empty factories, warehouses and listed buildings enjoy 100% relief at all times.

NOTE – John Swinney announced in the 2011 spending review that he would be “introducing legislation to reform empty property relief from April 2013 to support regeneration and introduce incentives to reduce empty shops in town centres” Quite what this might mean for industrial and listed properties granted 100% relief is not clear.

UPDATE 2 JUNE 2012

I now learn that, while Straban Developments have paid no business rates since 2007, Strathclyde Fire and Rescue paid over £2 million in business rates in 2011/12.

UPDATE AUGUST 2015

After the fire, the Scottish Assessor amended the rateable value to £0. This is a consequence of the bizarre definition in land valuation law that for a property to have a rateable value there must be some form of non-domestic usage in the form of property – a building, shop, some shooting etc – taking place. Land qua land is not rateable as such. Since Straban Developments acquitted the property in 2007, it has avoided paying a total of £1,085,700 in non-domestic rates as a direct consequence of the bizarre rules as to who should pay taxes on on land and property.