The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has urged the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group (AHLRG) not to lose sight of the importance of maintaining security of tenure and encouraging investment in tenanted farms.

The AHLRG has just concluded a final round of public meetings where they tested their thinking in in front of mixed audiences of landlords and tenants.  Tenant reaction to these meetings has been mixed with many expressing disappointment that some of the more progressive ideas have become watered down.

STFA Chairman Christopher Nicholson who attended several of the meetings said: “There has been some good stuff coming out of the Group’s thinking.  They are on the right track in the proposed changes to rent reviews.  Improved compensation for tenant’s improvements is welcome as are greater rights of succession and assignation for family members.  Our calls for an ombudsman have been heeded and it looks as though the Group now recognise that the ombudsman must have statutory powers and codes of practice must be mandatory.

“However, there seems to be doubt emerging over the future of plans for open assignation of 1991 tenancies which the Group had hailed as a potential solution to many of the problems found in the tenanted sector.  STFA welcomed this initiative as a way of encouraging much needed investment in tenanted holdings whilst providing older tenants a route to retirement to allow new blood access to secure tenancies.

“The much diluted proposal to limit assignation to lifetime Limited Duration Tenancies is seen as a short term-fix signalling the demise of the secure sector which has been the backbone of Scottish agriculture for the last sixty years. Food production is just as important now in Scotland as it was when security was introduced and there are people who want to be part of that economy and security is an essential ingredient for investment.

“It must be in the public interest that tenanted land under secure tenure is preserved as a resource for future generations.  Turning the clock back to the days before security of tenure when tenants were at the beck and call of their landlords is a bleak prospect and one which will only add fuel to the demand for ARTB.  More importantly, the review will miss the opportunity to breathe life into a stagnant tenanted sector and rural communities by failing to put the farming ladder back in place and encouraging innovative projects for new entrants such as share farming.

“We know of many landlords who are supportive of open assignation of secure tenancies, recognising the measure as a long term solution to key problems which have vexed the tenanted sector for decades.  Such pragmatism has been welcomed by tenants and curbed calls for an ARTB during the course of the review.  However, there is a very powerful minority of landlords in the background who vehemently oppose such reforms. We believe this opposition to be short sighted and risks further deep discord in the sector.”