Byline: EDDIE BARNES
PROPOSED land reforms allowing local groups to 'grab' rural property will apply to all countryside homes, it emerged last night.
Ministers have admitted even small properties could be affected by the new laws, which allow communities first refusal over any sale.
The measure was originally intended to give tenant farmers a greater chance to buy land from their landlords.
But the reforms could have a far greater impact than previously thought.
Once law, any homeowner in a rural area who puts their property up for sale could be forced to sell it to a so-called local 'community group'.
The groups would have to state their interest in the property's land, rather than the actual building - but there is no restriction in the Land Reform Bill to prevent them using it to buy any land, no matter how small.
Rural properties are defined as those existing in a community made up of fewer than 3,000 dwellings - meaning any house in a village smaller than that could be affected.
Last night officials stressed the community groups would not be allowed to buy a property unless it was in the public interest. Nor would they be able to buy simply for profit.
But critics expressed fears last night that those safeguards would be open to abuse, and that the Bill could trigger a run of bitterly contested cases.
Alex Fergusson, rural affairs spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said: 'Their defence is that no sale would go through unless it would be in the public interest. But in reality, you wonder how far safeguards will extend.'
Robert Balfour, convener of the Scottish Landowners' Federation, added: 'It is outrageous what they are trying to do, but it doesn't surprise me.' The revelation that the Land Reform Bill extended far beyond the issue of agricultural land and tenant farmers was exposed in a letter from Rural Development Minister …