This land isn’t your land: how England privatised its greatest asset

Over half the land in England is owned by 1 per cent of the population, whether aristocratic families or large rent-seeking companies. 

 

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Land affects us all. It is a source of wealth, but it can be a source of trouble. Many of our daily experiences and the quality of life in our communities are shaped by land, who owns it and how it’s used.

In this country, land ownership is disproportionately concentrated in the hands of a few. Over half the land in England is owned by 1 per cent of the population, whether aristocratic families who have owned it for centuries or large corporations seeking profit. 

Because of this, and because of a broken planning system and speculative inflation, land in the UK has in recent years risen dramatically in value, from around £1trn in 1995 to over £5trn today.

By 2016, the cost of land accounted, on average, for 70 per cent of the price of a home, while the price of agricultural land has increased 462 per cent since 1995.

The consequence of the concentration of land ownership and its rising value is twofold. It puts land for housing, farming and other vital uses out of reach for growing numbers of people. It also means most people have little say over physical changes to their community, which can massively impact everyday living. This has further fuelled the rampant inequality that divides this country and it has contributed to a loss of control felt almost everywhere.

It cannot be right that a small elite exercises more influence over local neighbourhoods, or benefits from the wealth of land, than the majority of people who live on it.

And when the land in your village, town or city has been bought up and built on so that areas for children to play are limited, or when speculators drive up the value of land so high that people can’t afford desperately needed local housing, there is often little you can do.

Land is finite. When it is used-up or exhausted we can’t simply manufacture more. So when it comes to land, ownership and control matter. It’s time to tackle these issues head on. 

This is just what a new report to the Labour Party, published today and authored by George Monbiot and others, does. 

“Land for the Many” gets to the heart of the issue: most people have no say over how land in their community is used, which often leads to developments that benefit the few at the expense of the many, especially when it comes to a lack of affordable housing.

As a partial remedy to this, the authors propose establishing a Community Participation Agency, with a mandate to involve communities and under-represented groups in planning at every level, and introducing a Community Right To Buy, based on the Scottish model.

The authors also recommend stopping the sell-off of public land and giving public authorities the power to require land left vacant or derelict to be sold by public auction, via Compulsory Sale Orders.

And in response to the constant reduction of public space – happening everywhere – they propose a new Public Realm use class: defining public space that citizens have the right to use for civic and cultural purposes.

These are just a few of this report’s ground-breaking proposals, and taken together they constitute a new paradigm for how land is owned and used.  

Labour will be considering them as part of our policy development process for the next general election, including through Labour’s Planning Commission, chaired by Roberta Blackman-Woods MP.

For centuries most land in this country has belonged to the few. There has been some common land and open space, yet this is increasingly less so. We as a nation are closed in and priced out.

This cannot continue. Monbiot and his co-authors offer a route map out of this situation. Let’s take it.

Jon Trickett is the shadow lord president of the council, shadow cabinet office minister and MP for Hemsworth.