Royal Highland Show 2024

21 Jun 2024 8:30am - 11am

Royal Highland Show 2024 rural breakfast briefing energises audience with land reform and sustainability debate.

Jun 2024
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8:30am - 11am

Are the millions of pounds being poured into new net zero infrastructure an opportunity or a threat to the rural sector?

That was the topic under discussion in The President’s Marquee at the 2024 Royal Highland Show on the morning of Friday 21 June as more than 140 guests gathered for a breakfast briefing co-hosted by Bidwells and Shepherd and Wedderburn.

Audience members got the opportunity to hear from and quiz a panel of industry experts about key legislative changes on the horizon and solutions to encourage sustainable investment and development.

The event was chaired by Emma Robertson, accredited Specialist in Agricultural Law and Rural Property Partner at Shepherd and Wedderburn. 


She was joined by high-profile industry leaders including keynote speaker Sir Edward Mountain MSP, Convener of the Scottish Parliament Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee; Clive Meikle, Head of Grid and Infrastructure at Bidwells; and Hamish Lean, Partner and Head of Rural Property at Shepherd and Wedderburn.

Sir Edward kicked off the session by giving his views on the policy considerations needed to ensure that key issues such as meeting the critical housing shortage and electrification of the power grid and transport networks were balanced carefully with vital agricultural and environmental land management considerations.

The Convener of the Scottish Parliament Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee also treated the audience to a whistlestop guide through the various pieces of legislation currently being considered in the Scottish Parliament which could impact the rural sector - including the Circular Economy, Housing, Climate Change and Land Reform bills.

Politicians have come up with many renewable energy and sustainability targets but have been much less successful in finding ways of actually delivering them
Sir Edward commented.

“2045 may seem like a long way off, but it’s really not in political terms if you want to create and implement effective legislation.

“Tensions have become high between the rural sector and the energy sector in certain areas due to competing policy interests created by politicians. 

“But there are also practical considerations, for example getting renewable energy from where it is generated to the grid via new infrastructure is an issue that has a direct impact on rural communities.

“What we need to do is listen to those living in those areas and working alongside these projects day-to-day to find remedies that work for all parties involved in land management, and then set realistic targets that can be delivered in a way that we can afford them.”

Clive Meikle, Head of Grid and Infrastructure at Bidwells, highlighted that the rapid push to meet net zero targets was already having a significant impact on rural areas.

There is virtually no part of the country that is not affected by the issues presented by connecting new grid infrastructure. It’s happening all over and huge areas of land are being set aside in preparation for it.

“While the work is necessary in the long term, the kind of options many developers are seeking often cover particularly large areas in order to give them maximum flexibility and can be in place for five or more years before they are enacted. This creates a lot of uncertainty for landowners.

“We are keen to see policies that allow for all parties who may be impacted by major infrastructure projects to engage earlier and give everyone more clarity on what is involved and how they might be affected. This would allow projects to move forward more quickly and prevent misunderstandings arising between communities, developers and landowners.”  

Hamish Lean, Partner and Head of Rural Property Partner at Shepherd and Wedderburn, outlined the potential upsides and downsides of proposed land reform policy and gave the audience an insight into the statutory agreements and powers that might be invoked when major infrastructure projects pass through rural land.

“The Land Reform Bill proposes new powers for Scottish Ministers to make regulations enforcing community engagement on landowners with holdings in excess of a certain size, and also expands on the existing rules surrounding Community Right to Buy. 

“It is also proposed to give powers to Scottish Ministers to regulate how certain holdings are sold.

“There is a proposed duty for Scottish Ministers to publish a model lease designed for letting land so it can be used either wholly or partly for environmental purposes, and the introduction of rights relating to small landholdings including the right to buy and diversification. 

“Reforms will also be made to the process of resumption from agricultural holdings – the process by which a landlord may remove land from an agricultural tenancy.

“These are potentially sweeping changes to legislation that deals with the ownership, management and use of land in Scotland and everyone working in the rural sector needs to be aware of them.”

The event concluded with the panel taking questions from the floor - with topics raised by the audience including compulsory purchase agreements, the scale and number of projects required to bring offshore wind power onshore, and planning consultation reform.

Chair Emma Robertson closed the event with thanks to the speakers and the audience for their contribution to a robust debate covering key issues which would affect the future success of Scotland’s rural sector.

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