Report from our national gathering

On Sunday 15th April we held our national gathering at the Friends of the Earth offices in London.

This was the day after our buzzing and well-attended tour of London’s housing crisis, organised as part of our Week of Action for Land Justice. Many people at the meeting had organised or taken part in the tour, and celebrated its success long into the evening… I think Nick Hayes summed up the feeling in the room when he said “I’m so happy and tired I think I’m going to cry!”

Continue reading Report from our national gathering

Mass trespass calling for land justice in the south west

On Sunday about 75 protesters travelled to the Bathurst Estate in Cirencester to participate in a mass trespass, calling for land Justice. Organised by groups including RisingUp and the Land Justice Network the protest included speeches, songs and  marching band.

Gail Bradbrook of RisingUp said afterwards:

[Lord Bathurst] watched on with family and game keepers bemusedly / slightly chewing a wasp at times – but we got a good balance of friendliness and calling out behaviours that need to change I think. It was quite a spectacle!

The protesters marched down the main avenue into the estate and then went to a private field and climbed the fence to surround a tree on the land. A banner was raised over the main road leading into Cirencester saying “No Justice Without Land Justice”.

The trespass was to demonstrate that land is an essential resource that our society, culture and economy depend upon. However, land ownership in Britain is still one of the most unequal in the world. 0.6% of the population owns 69% of the land. More than a third is still owned by the aristocracy whose ancestors seized it during the Norman Conquest and through the use of land trusts they are avoiding paying inheritance tax while maintaining the concentration of ownership to this day. During the enclosures our ancestors were violently thrown off the land and much of our current common land is being privatised (Cahill, 2001).

Peaceful civil disobedience can be a useful tool in changing things for the better. Mass trespasses have achieved successes in the past, such as at Kinder Scout, which celebrated its 86th anniversary on the same day and helped to provide bring about the right to roam.

Simon Bramwell, from RisingUp in Stroud, said:

It’s especially relevant to undertake a civil disobedience on the Bathurst Estate, much of which is owned offshore while the owner receives vast subsidies from taxpayers. Some of the land is being sold off for mostly unaffordable housing. It’s totally illustrative how there is one rule for the rich and another for the rest of us.

Katharine Hallewell of the Land Justice Network added:

Everything flows from the land, our well being, our freedom and our equality. That we are still living under a system of landownership handed down from the Norman conquests speaks volumes about our so called democracy.

The trespass was reported on BBC Radio Gloucester and there has been much discussion and sharing on social media since, including the Lady Bathurst getting stuck in!

You can watch an unedited video of the day here. Guest blog by Gail to follow.

Source: Who Owns Britain, Kevin Cahill, 2001.

 

Adapted from a press release by Gail Bradbrook of RisingUp.

Have your say on powers for dealing with unauthorised development and encampments

The government is concerned about the damage caused by people who occupy land without consent of the owners.

They have opened a consultation in which they mention camps used by Traveller communities. Through the consultation, which closes Friday 15th June 2018, they want to hear your views on existing legal powers that can be used in the case of unlawful camps, and to discuss whether new powers are needed.

Photo: Ferdia Earle

Why does this matter?

If the government introduce new criminal penalties for people who occupy land without the consent of the owner, this will potentially have a harsh and unfair effect on Traveller communities. Many other people (for example homeless persons and political activists) could also be impacted by any change in the law. It is really important that the government hear from as many people as possible from all parts of the community. You do NOT need to know in detail about the law to give your views.

What does the consultation cover?

The government are looking for people’s views on the following issues. You do not need to have an opinion on every part of the consultation. The questions are framed around the idea that camps and occupations are a problem, but you do not have to agree with this to respond to the consultation.

  • What do you know about occupations and camps in your area that happen without consent of the owners? What are your views on the situation in your area?
  • What involvement do the police have when people occupy land without consent? Do you think that the police should have more powers?
  • Do local authorities need more powers to force people to leave land?
  • Should the police have more powers to require people to leave land that they are occupying?
  • Should there be a new criminal offence that can be used where people camp on land without the consent of the owner?
  • How can local authorities make more use of legal orders called injunctions to prevent people occupying land without consent?
  • How can local authorities, police and local communities work together to prevent problems that might be caused by camps and occupations?
  • Could court action to evict occupiers be made to happen more quickly?
  • Should a special quick court process called an Interim Possession Order apply to camps on open land?
  • How can planning controls be used to deal with camps and occupations?
  • Should the government produce new a new policy on camps and occupations?
  • What is stopping local authorities from providing more sites that Travellers can use?
  • What impact might any changes in law and policy have on travelling communities?
  • Do you have any other comments related to camps and occupations?

How can I get involved?

Anyone can let the government know their views via the consultation weblink (https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/NW6G3YD). You do not have to answer every question.

You can also email your thoughts to landjusticeuk@gmail.com and we will try to put together a response on behalf of the network.

The consultation closes on Friday 15th June 2018. If you would like to be part of the land justice network response, please contact landjusticeuk@gmail.com before Friday 25th May 2018.

~ Dr Bonnie Holligan, lecturer in property law at the University of Sussex

London Renters Union take action

In London, tenancies are short, disrepair is common, and rents are higher than almost anywhere in the world.

After just a few weeks of organising, London Renters Union members at Eros House flats in Catford took action to demand an end to evictions and for urgent safety and disrepair issues to be solved.

The steadfast residents of Eros House in Catford took action to demand an end to unsafe conditions and evictions in their homes. They delivered a letter, with lots of energy to Lewisham Council and one of the management companies that runs the tower block they live in. They were supported by LRU members and activists from Newham and across our city.

They’ve struggled with electrical hazards, serious damp and mould and faulty heating for too long – and some residents are facing eviction by the private company they rent from.

Amina and Michael, LRU

London Renters Union was set by a coalition including Radical Housing Network, Take Back The City, Generation Rent, Digs (Hackney Renters), and People’s Empowerment Alliance for Custom House (PEACH). They’re currently building their first pilot branch in Newham and hope to have branches across the city by the end of 2018.

You can show your support for LRU members at Eros House by sharing the report back from today’s action on Twitter or Facebook:

The Tweet to retweet is at https://twitter.com/LDNRentersUnion/status/984081149050916864 .

The Facebook post to share is at https://www.facebook.com/LondonRentersUnion/posts/434286730327689 .

The full blog post with more info is at: http://londonrentersunion.org/2018/04/11/eros-house-letter-hand-in/

The impact of overseas corruption on the London property market

A summary of Faulty Towers: Understanding the impact of overseas corruption on the London property market by Transparency International UK (2018)

As well as providing homes, the UK property market has long been recognised for providing a reliable investment opportunity. Whilst much of this investment will be from genuine investors seeking a steady income, there is now substantial evidence to show that:

‘UK real estate, particularly in London, is attracting corrupt officials and businesspeople who have stolen money from some of the most impoverished and repressed countries in the world’ (p4).

Since 2015, Transparency International UK (TI UK) has been examining the potential impact this illicit wealth might be having on London through surveying Londoners and analysing open source data such as the Panama Papers, articles by investigative journalists and Land Registry data. In so doing, they reveal how people launder stolen money into the property market, often through the use of ‘anonymous’ companies registered overseas. These organisations cannot be found on a public register and leave few paper trails, allowing their owners to enjoy their gains without scrutiny.

The London housing crisis

In London, house price rises consistently outstrip wage increases, dozens of prospective buyers compete for a shrinking pool of affordable stock whilst rent prices rise ever higher. As a consequence, it is becoming more difficult to afford to stay in London for average people, with the Government admitting the UK housing system was ‘broken’ in February 2017.

Overseas investment is just one of a range of factors that may be driving the crisis. Others include the lack of social housing, increased domestic demand and the shortage of development land. But TI UK’s report reveals that corruption overseas is also likely to play a significant contributory role, albeit in some slightly unexpected ways.

Understanding overseas investment into property

A significant amount of illicit investment into the property market stems from individuals buying homes to launder corrupt funds to conceal its criminal origins. This cleanses large amounts of illicit wealth in a single transaction and provides the individual with a valuable asset. London property retains value and often offers almost certain profit, with prices rising even amidst uncertainty over Brexit in early 2016.14

Corrupt individuals also buy homes in London because they provide a bolt hole in case they fall out of favour in their home country. Buying mansions in sought after areas of London or in exclusive new build developments comes with status, helping corrupt individuals distance themselves further from past corruption offences a practice which can be described as ‘reputation laundering’.

Key findings

The London property market is highly vulnerable to corrupt wealth flowing into it. Analysis of open source material found over £4.2 billion worth of properties bought with suspicious wealth.

Corruption causes high levels of instability abroad leading to ‘crisis capital’ being placed in safe havens like London. Since 2006 around £100 billion of hidden inflows have entered the UK.

House prices are affected as illicit wealth and crisis capital entering the UK increase demand in the London housing market, particularly at the top-end; ‘the ripple effects they generate resonate across London’,

New build developments are built targeting wealthy international investors and are not meeting demand for affordable homes. In 14 landmark London developments almost 40 per cent of future homes were bought by those from high corruption risk jurisdictions.

London’s role as a global safe haven is resulting in homes being purchased and not used. Areas with higher levels of property owned by anonymous companies also have high levels of abnormally low electricity usage; an indicator for empty or underused homes.

Young people are moving out of London in record numbers due to the cost of housing. Over half of Londoners responding to our survey said wealthy overseas investors are causing house prices to rise and more than 1 in 5 believed money laundering was a motivating factor for overseas investment.

Transparency International UK warns that if these issues are not addressed, corruption abroad will continue to have a negative impact on the London housing market.

Recommendations

The report’s findings pose a problem for policy makers: how can you ensure the property market is not distorted by corruption overseas without unintentionally excluding innocent investors, many of whom might be seeking to escape from tyranny and instability in their home?

Transparency International UK makes the following recommendations to the UK government:

  • Introduce greater transparency to the property market
  • Reform the UK’s anti-money laundering system
  • Retain tackling global corruption as a key priority

If these recommendations are followed, says TI UK, the negative impact overseas corruption inflicts on the people of London and its property market will be reduced and the UK’s role as a safe haven for illicit wealth will be diminished.

Did the Mayor of London just say what I think he said?

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan joins calls for the government to make all property ownership in London transparent.

In particular, he urges the government to speed up plans for a new public register of the beneficial ownership of foreign companies that own UK property.

Roughly 44% of all the UK properties owned by overseas registered companies are located in London, according to recent research from the Land Registry.

Khan believes that in order to help prevent offences such as tax evasion and theft, the ownership of UK property should be more transparent.

Go to the original tweet.