Today saw the release of the Draft Crofting Reform Bill consultation paper.

On first inspection it appears the Scottish Government is set to impose tough new rules on planning and residency of crofting land as part of sweeping changes to help keep crofters farming.

The plans put out to consultation today, would introduce tight rules requiring crofters to be resident on or near the croft and to work the land. It will also introduce an occupancy requirement for houses built on land taken out of crofting in an attempt to reduce the damaging effect of speculation on crofting land. There is also a positive attempt to help crofters raise finance based on their tenancy without the need to decroft, using the Croft Register as a form of security for private lenders.

Launching a consultation into the draft bill, Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham demanded an end to the ‘corrosive effect of absenteeism, neglect and speculation’ and called for a system which allowed crofters to shape their own destiny.

She said:

“Crofting offers a unique model of rural development that will help deliver sustainable economic growth in some of our most remote communities. The proposed Bill will help set crofting on course for a stronger, brighter future. These empowering changes will create a system of crofting tenure that does not languish in the past but is fit for the 21st century and is one capable of taking communities from strength to strength.”

The Scottish Crofting Foundation (SCF), the only member-led organisation dedicated to promoting crofting has greeted the Draft Crofting reform Bill consultation paper released today with enthusiasm tempered with caution.

SCF Chairman Neil MacLeod said

“We are all aware that there needs to be an overhaul of crofting legislation, regulation and, critically, the support for crofting. We are looking at this consultation with optimism and at first glance it is a thorough document which attempts to address issues that came out of the Committee of Inquiry on Crofting. There are positive aspects such as the welcome move towards a more democratic governing body, but there are areas over which we will be examining possible consequences and which may need recommendation for modification. We will be widely consulting our membership on their views to inform our position.”

The consultation will address the governance of crofting, the formation and maintenance of an accurate register of crofts, the possibility of standard security on tenanted crofts to raise loans without de-crofting, an occupancy requirement for houses on de-crofted land and effective regulation concerning absenteeism and neglect.

SCF Parliamentary spokesman Norman Leask said

“The most important thing is to hear what crofters think. It is gratifying to see that the Scottish Government will be out and about to hear crofters’ views. The SCF will be gathering opinion from our members whom we ask to write, phone, email, attend local meetings, come to our meeting in Dingwall on June 23rdor visit our stand at shows. This is ground-breaking legislation and it is essential that your views are known.”