Am Bratach No. 317
March 2018

Challenge to “wild land” map under new planning bill

Community Land Scotland (CLS) has called for Scottish planning reform to balance the so-called “wild” land map of Scotland with a parallel map of formerly inhabited places. “While not wishing to recreate the land-use patterns of former times, CLS has an ambition for the reoccupation of at least some of Scotland’s unpeopled places,” the organisation has said. “At present, this would seem an unlikely proposition, partly, in our view, because land use planning policy does not really contemplate such a possibility.”

Community Land Scotland was due to give oral evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee on February 28 as part of the stage one scrutiny of the Planning (Scotland) Bill currently going through parliament.

To support its argument, the land body draws on the example of the 1892 royal commission set up to establish the extent of land in use for sporting purposes which might otherwise be cultivated or occupied by crofters. The commission created a series of maps plotting land use throughout the crofting counties, marking out areas which might be set aside for new holdings or added to additional ones. Its recommendations were never fully followed through.

Patrick Krause, chief executive of the Scottish Crofters Federation, believes this issue is still of relevance to modern Scotland. He said: “As Community Land Scotland so eloquently points out, vast tracts of our land are empty but the remnants of buildings bear testament to the once thriving communities that were cleared. It would be right and just to resettle this land. Many people want to move to rural locations but there is a desperate shortage of available land. SCF have called for the creation of 10,000 new crofts and the resettlement of once occupied land would be a sensible way to satisfy this demand. If our government is being genuine in its declared desire to see Scotland’s land used by more people, it has to use this opportunity to legislate for it.”

Rob Gibson, former MSP for Caithness and Sutherland, has also publicly supported Community Land Scotland’s suggestions and believes the 1892 commission’s map should form a starting point. He said: “If the 1892 recommendations had been implemented, crofters would be due more community benefit from modern renewables. If we’re talking about land for reclamation, it goes hand in hand with the modern developments for which we would use land, some of which would include woodlands and forests as well as renewable energy. It might be an extension of land to existing communities, so that there’s more potential to make an income of various sorts.”

In a written submission on the planning bill, Anders Holch Povlsen’s Wildland Ltd, which owns five estates in north-west Sutherland, said that the natural and scenic heritage of Scotland “should be the key material consideration when considering industrial scale development proposals in such designated areas”. Mr Povlsen’s call for a judicial review of the Scottish government’s decision to allow a wind farm development at Creag Riabhach on the Altnaharra Estate was overturned in court last August.

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