organised by the People’s Land Policy and the London Mining Network
March 28th, 12:00 – 5:00
Economics Foundation: 10 Salamanca Pl,
Lambeth, London SE1 7HB
The way we use land lies at the bottom of the
ecological crisis. Human impact has now spread to all parts of the globe. We
need to seriously rethink how we use land so that it contributes to the
well-being of both the planet and people rather than our destruction. This
conference will look at two important land use issues: mining and the loss of
Mining and release of fossil fuels is one of the major
causes of climate change. In addition, the new green technology requires a
number of minerals whose supply is limited. Mining also has a serious impact on
local communities as the western countries and their corporations turn to the
global South to satisfy their insatiable demand for resources and profits.
Land is primarily used to meet the needs of humans.
This has meant that other species lose their habitats, with many already
extinct. This process has accelerated in recent decades to the point that there
is a crisis not only for other species but for ourselves. We ask the question:
what role for nature? To what extent should we be reducing human impact and
letting the rest of nature flourish?
12:00 – Registration and lunch- bring food to share
12:50 – Introduction to People’s Land Policy and London Mining Network
The Policy Working Group of the Land Justice Network held a successful day dedicated to exploring what we need from land reform in order to achieve our goals of a fairer and more equitable society in which everyone is able to benefit from land, the basis of all wealth.
Why land matters
The day began with speakers from Granville Community Centre, Community Food Growers Network, Radical Housing Network and the Save Earl’s Ct campaign, London Co-operative Housing and St Ann’s Redevelopment Trust. They explained why the issue of land is fundamental to their campaigns- being able to have access and control of land for housing, community centres and community food-growing.
The People’s Land Policy (PLP)
A speaker from the Policy Working Group briefly presented its work on a PLP which would be the basis of making policy and legislative demands to meet the needs of a variety of campaigns.
Two speakers gave presentations showing contrasting approaches to land ownership: the history of private ownership and the Commons. The general feeling was that the Commons model shows the way forward for creating a society where we can all benefit from land and have a say in how it is manged.
The Experience of Scotland
The afternoon started with a speaker on what progress Scotland has done on land reform, including the 2003 and 2016 Land Reform Acts. The main point is that though progress is not radical in the sense of truly challenging the massive inequalities of ownership, a positive start has been made and land reform is firmly on the public agenda.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent in groups discussing what policies we think would make good first steps in the rest of the UK. Groups were given a list of policies and asked to choose 5 that they think would make a good start. Groups responded to this in different ways as the feed-back report shows.
There was no clear consensus about the way forward both in terms of some of the polices themselves, eg disagreement about land value tax, or what exactly we should focus on for a Land Reform Bill. However, there seemed to be a strong feeling that we need to move forward towards land reform.
Below is a summary of what the three groups’ discussions. From this I attempt to draw some conclusions about what we might do next.
We need to start with something that grabs people’s attention – gets people thinking about the topic of land reform.
We selected two main policy areas:
1. Free, easy and compulsory land registry so that interest in land, housing, companies is easily accessible. Having this information will make it easier to push for other policies and is also necessary for campaigns for land access.
2. Grabbing reform: we need to democratise land decision-making and make it more collective. It needs to be easy for communities to anticipate what might happen and to come up with solutions. In other words we need to get communities more engaged in making decisions about how land is used.
Further down the line we would see the importance of establishing a Land Commission.
Nearly all points were supported by someone on the table. Nearly all the points are important- a lot of interconnections. .
Land Commission was supported. But then where does democracy come in- do you need local land Commissions- who is in control?
Ownership and community control of land were central. This included concern that public land is being sold off as well as how public land could be used by communities. There was criticism of the concept or ‘right to buy’ even if it communities. This implies property and ownership and exclusion. This also applied to agricultural tenants’ right to buy. Should we be taking land from one landowner and give to another even if that landowner may be a small farmer or a community? Maybe we should talk instead of community stewardship.
Banning foreign ownership was thought to be problematic- associated with nationalism, anti-migrant etc. So maybe we should focus on people or companies based in tax havens owning land.
Interest in LVT but need to know more about it.
Taxation policies: eg on underused property and maybe LVT but need to know more about it.
Squatting- not everyone agreed that squatting should be legalised. Where it takes place needs to be defined.
Democratising decision-making about land use is a key issue. Many of the policies need to have participation. Issues such as how we define community, how do we get more people involved in decision-making, who represents the community etc. This is a problem of the Land Commission- it needs to reflect a diverse range of people and not be top down. Community groups currently do not have the same power as landowners and developers. It is difficult for community groups to keep up with everything. We need to level the playing field.
Get away from the banks role in financing purchases of things like housing. Peer-to-peer finance.
This group discussed the LVT as the main way of addressing the issues of land such as capturing increased in land value so that the benefits went to society and also the size of land holdings as the more land you have the more you have to pay. It has been tried in places such as Hong Kong and it has been very successful.
However, others stressed that maybe we need to go for smaller, ‘easy-win’ policies such as right to roam and squatters’ rights. These could help change the way people see the world around them.
Others had some reservations: LVT implies that land is a commodity. It accepts the market as a regulator- the tax tries to control and manage the market to achieve desired outcomes. There should be more taking over of land by the public and community trusts. The more you deprivatise land the less you have to worry about tax solutions.
Tax is a word that might cause people to recoil in horror. Maybe use a different term such as community land charge.
Other issues raised in plenary
How broad should the grass roots movement be? Just Space, affiliated to LJN, does not support squatting or the LVT so it would be difficult to reach a consensus on this.
We could use different terms- such as a betterment tax or have a more targeted approach rather than support for an all-encompassing LVT.
We need to learn more about LVT and hear the pros and cons.
What support is there for land reform? Who are our allies?
What next for the Policy Working Group
There was general agreement that we would all benefit from more workshops, focusing on some of the issues raised in the last session. These might include:
1. Public ownership: what is happening to public land, how can have more direct and democratic community control over how public land is used and managed, what role for community buy-outs
2. Land Value Tax: to what extent can this be used to achieve our goals?
3. Transparency on ownership: what is the situation at the moment, what information do we need and how could we achieve this
Get in touch
For more information on the Policy Working Group of the Land Justice Network contact Bonnie by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
On Sunday 7 April 2019 a small group set out to walk from Oxshott to Little Heath to honour the Diggers 370th anniversary.
St Georges Hill is completely private land now and difficult to access, so we decided to go to Little Heath where the Diggers went after being evicted from St George’s Hill in August 1649.
After meeting at the station we walked to the war memorial on top of the hill in Oxshott Heath. There Tony gave us a picture of the context of the Diggers’ actions. The Civil War was a war of monarch vs parliament, a war of the end of feudalism vs capitalism.
Several people had come specifically to sing songs and at two points we stopped to sing The Diggers Song, a UK version of This Land is Your Land and the Boundary Song. Of course we also sang The World Turned Upside Down at a place on Little Heath where there is still an unenclosed field, before walking past a very enclosed/encased estate!
We now have a new project of making a Land Songbook. Anyone who has any songs to add please send them to me to collate.
A great day with friends old and new. Thanks so much to all who came and made it so memorable.
Do you want to take an active role in guiding and organising the next stage of Land for What?
Hundreds of us came together in November to discuss the past, present and future of land in the UK. We learned a lot from each other, felt inspired, and made lots of great connections. Now we’re going to work together to kick off the next stage.
We’ve organised a Network Launch and Planning Meeting for June 10th in London. This meeting will bring people together who are enthusiastic about creating a network of groups and people who are working on land issues in the UK. We’ll share some ideas about how we think this network might work but we are also open to suggestions. The coalition who organised the conference will not be running this network – instead it will be the people who step forward now.
This event won’t be about hearing from speakers it will be about the roles each of us can play in developing this network. We’re looking for people who want to take an active role in guiding and organising the development of Land for What (or whatever it becomes).
Jessie Brennan, ‘Rug beater’, cyanotype, from Inside The Backyard (Opportunity Area), 2015–6.
After five years hard work by its volunteers and incredible public support, The Green Backyard, a community growing project in Peterborough run entirely by volunteers, is no longer threatened with redevelopment: the owners of the land, Peterborough City Council, have offered a rolling 12-year lease. Re: development – Inside The Green Backyard is a collaborative, networked exhibition, which celebrates the success of The Green Backyard’s campaign to safeguard land. The exhibition features cyanotypes (camera-less photographs of objects from the site) and voice recordings (oral testimonies by the volunteers) from Jessie Brennan’s work Inside The Green Backyard (Opportunity Area), 2015–16, an outcome of Jessie’s year-long residency with The Green Backyard and arts organisation Metal. More about Jessie’s residency project can be found here in an article she wrote for the Guardian.
Jessie Brennan, ‘Onion flower’, cyanotype, from Inside The Backyard (Opportunity Area), 2015–6.
Florence Warrington (and band), visitor (Deeds not words)
Digging for Our Lives: The Fight to Keep The Green Backyard
Sophie Antonelli, co-founder of The Green Backyard
This piece was written for Re:development, a book brought together by artist Jessie Brennan following her year-long residency at The Green Backyard.Published before the land was finally safeguarded, it traces the journey of transforming a former derelict allotment site into the thriving community growing project that is now The Green Backyard.
Jessie Brennan, If This Were to Be Lost (2016), painted birch plywood on scaffold, 1.9 x 19 m, situated at The Green Backyard, Peterborough. Photograph by Jessie Brennan
In early 2009 we first opened the gates to a site in Peterborough that had been closed and unused for 17 years. A 2.3-acre site in the city centre, next to two main roads and the East Coast main line to London should not be hard to miss, but after almost two decades of disuse many people had simply forgotten it existed. I’d like to say that we knew what we were doing at that time, but as is often the case in voluntary groups, the creation of what would become The Green Backyard was motivated by the seizing of an opportunity, in this case offered land, together with a tacit sense of need: to preserve years of learning created by my father on his allotments; to create a space for people to learn and change; and to challenge the momentum of the city, which in my life-time had seemed stagnant and apathetic.
At the time I could not have articulated these motivations, and I am now very aware that my own impetus is likely to have differed from others’ around me. I find this to be the case with many community spaces: everyone comes to them with their own very personal set of hopes and needs which are often complimentary, and occasionally divisive.
The lessons that grew out of those undefined early experiences of creating a shared space made visible the participatory qualities inherent to the project and fired up the desire for imperfect spaces – rather than meticulously planned ones, with defined budgets and personnel. The threat then imposed by the land owners, our City Council, in response to the slashing of local authority budgets following the 2008 financial crisis, actually served to crystallise this value and catalyse a movement of enthusiasm for radical change in a city long-complacent and passive.
The battle to stop the land being sold off for development, I think, surprised everyone. First came the obvious shock when council officers arrived just a few days before Christmas in 2011 and told us of their intention to sell the land… [continues here]
Re: development: Voices, Cyanotypes & Writings from The Green Backyard
This piece was written forRe:development, a book that brings together voices, cyanotypes and writings from The Green Backyard following my year-long residency there.Published before the land was finally safeguarded, it questions the capitalist logic of the site’s proposed development by the landowner, Peterborough City Council. The book shares the voices of The Green Backyard – of those defending their right to the city.
Jessie Brennan, If This Were to Be Lost (2016), painted birch plywood on scaffold, 1.9 x 19 m, situated at The Green Backyard, Peterborough. Photograph by Jessie Brennan
Among the borage plants there lies a toothbrush, its simple white length surrounded by vivid blue. It’s an object donated by a visitor to The Green Backyard (which is acting as a collection point) for refugees in Calais, and it is one of many hundreds of objects here that seem to invoke the voice of The Green Backyard: offering a conduit through which people close to the project can articulate its value. The objects that call forth the voice reveal, in turn, that those voices also tacitly object: through positive tactics of planting and communing, individuals speak of the necessity of The Green Backyard as public, open, urban green space, and why its proposed development must be resisted.
I first set foot inside The Green Backyard, a ‘community growing project’ in Peterborough, in May 2014, at a time when the threat of a proposed development by its owner, Peterborough City Council, was at its most heightened. What brought me to this site were questions of land ownership and value (framed by the long history of community land rights struggles) and the ‘right to the city’: whom the land belonged to.
Because, of course, feelings of belonging to a place in no way necessarily mean it belongs to you, as users – visitors, volunteers and trustees – of The Green Backyard are all too well aware. Despite the current social value that this urban green space clearly provides, debates around the proposed development of The Green Backyard (and many other volunteer-run green spaces) have been dominated by arguments for the financial value of the land – referring to the short-term cash injection that its sale would generate – rather than the long-term social benefit of the site… [continues here]
We’ve got two workshops coming up in Peterborough (18th March) and Norwich (19th March).
Join Three Acres And A Cow, Norwich Farmshare, Community Land Scotland, Landworker’s Alliance, Shared Assets and other guests to explore and raise our awareness of land as a common ground issue connecting housing, food and farming, energy, environment and public and community space.
We’ll increase our knowledge about land ownership and the history of land struggles; connect to share skills and experiences; and inspire participants to take learning and energy for change back to their communities.
Please sign up in advance so we have an idea of numbers (follow the links below). Look forward to seeing you there!
On the weekend of 12th-13th November 2016, hundreds of people with diverse backgrounds and interests gathered to talk about the issues surrounding land, and to look for spaces for solutions. This report summarises some of the sessions from the weekend. Thanks to everyone who submitted a session summary. We hope it can be useful for people who weren’t able to make it to the event, and will help inspire further discussions.
Once you find out about the way land is controlled you can’t believe there is so little debate about it. Land for what? is a chance to get more people engaged, says Tom Kenny.
Until a few years ago I didn’t really think about land much. Of course I was concerned about the housing crisis, the damage being done to the environment by industrial land management, gentrification, inequality and so on. But we rarely talk how these issues are all dependent on the way we use and govern land as a society.
When I did get interested, I quickly bounded down the rabbit hole. The more I learned, the more incredulous I got that the status quo is so rarely challenged, or even discussed. You keep having to pinch yourself….
“Let me get this straight – we pay landowners for owning land, sometimes even for managing it badly and destroying environmental assets!?”
“Wait a second, you’re saying that one third of our land is still in the hands of the aristocracy!?”
“So landowners make huge untaxed windfall gains when there is public investment in infrastructure near them? That doesn’t sound right…”
And when you get into it, It turns out a lot of people have been through this journey. We’ve had loads of interest since we started to talk about Land for What?. Interest from other people who have learned about the more absurd parts of the status quo, and are hungry to challenge it.
Yet it is still far from being a mainstream issue. Even where people are firmly entrenched in land-based struggles like housing activism they may not consider the importance of land to these struggles. Whilst it’s easy to fall down the land debate rabbit hole, most people seem not to notice it at all.
In the past, some discussions about ‘land reform’ have been alienating to outsiders (even the term is a turn-off for some). I think some people can get a bit lost down the rabbit hole, fixating on one of the particular paths. Planning policy. Land value taxation. Community Land Trusts. Yes, these things are important, but debates over their intricacies are rarely exciting for newcomers. Moreover, the core issues are much more basic, and should resound with most people in our society.
For me, Land for What? is about pulling many more people down the rabbit hole. It’s about spreading information about the nature of the problem, always relating it to the things people care about, and exploring common ground for solutions. It’s about inspiring other people to continue these discussions in their own communities.
When ideas about Land for What? were first gestating, some of us attended a talk by Scottish land rights campaigner (and now MSP) Andy Wightman. He said that a key step in the land reform debate in Scotland was when people developed ‘land literacy’, and the land debate was added to the list of topics people might discuss in the pub. Sounds like a good goal to me.