Councils should be given the right to block new wind farms in their area, a new action plan for rural Scotland from the Conservatives has said.
Tory enterprise spokesman Murdo Fraser insisted it should be “up to local communities whether they want a new wind farm on their back door” as he called for developers of the green energy projects to pay out compensation to people if their property value falls.
The new blueprint for the countryside from the Conservatives also makes connecting 95% of rural homes to high-speed broadband a priority.
Leader Ruth Davidson claimed Scotland is “one of the most centralised regions in the developed world” as the action plan called for a review of the national Police Scotland force to ensure it is fully accountable to those living outside towns and cities.
Any proposals for land reform should be “balanced”, the Conservatives said, making clear their opposition to moves to erode property ownership, but stating they would support a crackdown on tax avoidance by landowners as well as funding for communities looking to lease land over the long-term.
The action plan, which was launched by Ms Davidson and Mr Fraser on a visit to Stirling, also sets out a need for better bus links and more affordable housing in such communities.
Mr Fraser said the party wanted to “hand power and opportunity back to local rural communities”.
He stated: “Land reform is part of that but we need to think much bigger than the SNP’s narrow ideological focus.
“Take broadband: If you’re a young entrepreneur living in rural Scotland with a great idea for a new start-up tech business, you shouldn’t have to go to the city to get a decent internet connection.
“So, our priority for rural Scotland is to accelerate the roll out of superfast broadband to 95% of homes in rural Scotland.
“We’ve delivered rural broadband for 200,000 homes in Scotland in the last five years but we need to do much more.”
Mr Fraser continued: “Let’s hand more power back to local councils. It should be up to local communities whether they want a new wind farm on their back door.
“We support councils getting the right to block new wind farm applications – and compensation from developers for people whose properties fall in value as a result.”
He said: “On law and order, people need to feel like their local community is being respected. So, we back a review of the national police force to ensure we don’t have a one-size-fits-all police service.”
With the Tories proposing to increase subsidies for bus routes in rural Scotland, he argued there should be “more support for the buses that provide a lifeline for so many villages and towns”.
More affordable homes are needed to help “families who can’t afford rents in rural Scotland”, Mr Fraser added.
He stressed land reforms should be “what works for the countryside” and added: “What matters in rural Scotland is not who owns land, but how it is used.”
While Mr Fraser claimed the “current land reform plans by the SNP Government are indicative of a central-belt government that doesn’t get rural Scotland”, he stated: “Our plan is for responsible land use for the long-term.
“The SNP’s plan to erode property rights and tax rural estates’ sporting rights will simply cost jobs and deter investment.
“We need a balanced plan which backs the principle of property ownership but which also cracks down on tax avoidance by landowners and gives support for communities which want to lease land for the long-term. That way, they can plan for the future.
“In summary, our plan is to link up rural Scotland, give communities real power and back genuine land reform which gets the best use of our nation’s most precious natural asset. It’s time Labour and the SNP sat up and took notice.”
Ms Davidson said: “To realise Scotland’s potential, we need policies to boost the whole country. It’s time we heard the voice of rural Scotland.”
The Scottish Conservative leader added: “Scotland is one of the most centralised nations in the developed world and it can seem to many that it is run entirely from within the M8 corridor.
“We want to ensure that power and opportunity is spread right across Scotland.
“That means expanding policies like superfast broadband to every home so that no matter where you live, families, businesses and communities can have a better future.”