Lothians farmer eviction ‘shows land reform vital’

Protesters including Labour MSP Sarah Boyack at Holyrood. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Protesters including Labour MSP Sarah Boyack at Holyrood. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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The case of a tenant farmer facing eviction after more than 20 years highlights the importance of getting planned land reform right, MSPs have said.

Holyrood’s rural affairs committee heard “heaven and earth” are being moved to try to resolve the dispute involving Andrew Stoddart, who lives with his family at Colstoun Mains farm, near Haddington.

More than 19,500 people have signed an online petition launched by campaigning website 38 Degrees in support of Mr Stoddart, whose tenancy is due to end on November 28.

He believed legislation on agricultural holdings passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2003 would strengthen his security of tenure but the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that it breached the human rights of landlords.

Legislation to correct the defect – which prevented landlords from recovering vacant possession of their farms – has since been passed and the Colstoun Trust, which owns the farm, wants it back.

MSPs heard a further seven tenants are affected by the ruling.

Committee convener Rob Gibson read members a letter update from rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead which said: “We have hosted a number of discussions with a range of interested parties, including STFA (Scottish Tenant Farmers’ Association), to discuss ways to assist Mr Stoddart and we are exploring these with urgency.

“Options under consideration include extending the current lease at Colstoun Mains Farm, the possibility of finding alternative farm land for Mr Stoddart and facilitating renewed negotiations around his Waygo compensation.”

The committee has been scrutinising the Scottish Government’s Land Reform Bill, which SNP members rejected last month as not radical enough at the party’s conference in Aberdeen.

Conservative MSP Alex Fergusson said: “I think it is worth putting on the record that as we all know people are moving heaven and earth to try and bring this individual case and others to a conclusion.”

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Francis Ogilvy, factor of the Colstoun Estate, said the portrayal of Mr Stoddart’s position had been “misleading” and insisted that he would not be made homeless.

But that was disputed by the Scottish Tenant Farmers’ Association, which described the Trust’s comments as “inaccurate”, adding the offer to remain in the farmhouse “comes as news” to Mr Stoddart.

newsen@edinburghnews.com