Dukes and Peasants: Land Justice Network calls for a Day of Action for International Peasants Day
Land ownership in Britain is one of the most unequal in the world with 0.6% of the population owning over 70% of the land. More than a third of our land is still owned by the aristocracy, whose ancestors seized it during the Norman Conquest. By fencing off land and using violence to exclude people, landowners have deprived the rest of us of what is rightfully a shared resource. The vast majority of us own little or nothing, making us effectively landless peasants.
Land distribution lies at the heart of so much inequality and environmental degradation in society today. Landowners are able to control and exploit our natural resources and force the rest of us to be beholden to them for food, shelter and other needs. Despite their huge wealth, our taxes are used to pay landowners millions in farming subsidies and housing benefit, increasing inequality still further.
In order to highlight the injustices of unequal land ownership, the Land Justice Network is calling for a Day of Action for International Day of Peasant Struggles on April 17, 2018. We will show the Dukes that the peasants have had enough!
The Day of Action’s next planning meeting will take place on at 12pm 22nd October, Friends of the Earth. The Printworks, 139 Clapham Rd, London, SW9 OHP.
This report documents the workshop on taxation which took place on September 17th 2017, hosted by the Land Justice Network policy and legislation group.
Over 30 people, including grass roots campaigners, academics and professionals, gathered at UCL to discuss the issues surrounding taxation and land reform. The workshop began by presenting the Land Justice Network and its aims: more equitable distribution of land, long-term stewardship, not short-term profit, increases in land value should be given to society, pro-active community planning and transparency. The aims of the workshop were then explained: given that landowners benefit greatly from owning land, how could we change the taxation system to ensure public benefit.
- Duncan Bowie focused on housing as it is now the greatest source of wealth. He outlined the purposes of a taxation system before moving on to outline a number of taxation options to deal with issues such as ineffective use of land and capacity and capital gains from residential development. Some options include: changes to residential council tax banding, reforms to inheritance tax and reforms on levies to new developments. The key point is that we must examine tax options according to what our aims are and in this case the main aim is to ensure that housing policy are met.
- Heather Wetzel from the Labour Land Group outlined the problems that arise from the fact that land is not the cornerstone of our taxation system. Though there are other taxes needed to meet other public objectives, a tax on land should be central to government policy. This is called the Land Value Tax. Rather than a series of taxes (as presented by Duncan) there would be one tax which would achieve many of our land reform objectives. This tax would not be based on production and would not hit the homeowner. She stressed, however, that in addition it is important to keep land in public hands.
- David Mountain, a research student from UCL, presented his research findings on capturing land value in opportunity areas of London.
Q and A and group discussion
There was a wide-ranging discussion which showed the links between taxation and other land issues. A selection of points:
- The planning system is related to land values. If a piece of land has been given planning permission for residential properties and many of the requirements that would benefit the public are waived (eg percentage of homes for social rent, number of stories) then the value of the land increases.
- Relationship between land and finance. The ease of lending can increase the value of land.
- Source of problem is making housing a market.
- Need to take into consideration both urban and rural areas and also outside London. The situation is very different outside London.
- Much concern about developers in general and how they are getting away with making huge profits at our expense.
There were also a number of concerns that focused on the taxation issues.
- For the Land Value Tax, how do we know how to value the land?
- For all tax options, what about your average homeowner who lives in their home but who is now worth more because of the rise in prices? Would they be penalised?
- It is difficult to focus one tax changes or one tax change because there may be other consequences to consider.
- Question of whether it is best to have several different task changes or one major one like the Land Value Tax.
- Issue of whether it is best to approach the problems we gave identified through tax changes and capturing the land value or whether we should be ‘capturing the land’, in other words putting land into public ownership/trust/the commons.
General: Summing up?
- Everyone is very concerned and passionate about issues around land. These issues affect us as a society but also as individuals.
- People learnt something about land issues and the taxation options though some felt that there was a lot more to learn about how the different options might work in practice. There were people with different degrees of expertise and experience as well as different kinds of expertise and experience.
- Most thought that we had been a little premature in focusing on tax options without thinking about what our aims are. Though the Land Justice Network has its Common Ground Statement it is not enough when trying to identify what tax system to introduce or even whether the problems can be address through the tax system. The issue of effective use of land, or how do we decide what the public and communities want from land and land reform needs to be included.
- Need to find a way of making sure that the movement is led by people at the grass roots in campaigns and communities whilst at the same time gaining the support of all the excellent work done by researchers (who will also be in campaigns and communities in many instances!).
- A Land Reform Bill may be a bit ambitious at this stage without looking more closely at what the aims are. Then there will need to be discussions about how broad or narrow the bill would be.
- There was also concern expressed about how to mobilise people to support land reform.
The policy working group will consider how to facilitate a discussion on elaborating on the Common Ground statement. All people affiliated to the Land Justice Network can participate in this. You can affiliate by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Since the workshop, Just Space has volunteered to work on a summary document of various tax options and how they deal with the aim of capturing land value. There will be some workshop at the November 11th meeting in Leicester and the next London workshop will be on ownership. We will aim to combine both a discussion of aims as well as different strategies for achieving those aims.
Remember that there are other working groups on issues to do with outreach and education and actions.
- 69% of land in the UK is owned by 0.6% of the population.
- UK housing is concentrated on 5% of the country’s land mass.
- Only 64% of people have a small stake in the 5% of land on which our housing is built.
- Home and land ownership is in decline.
- 1/3 of British land is still owned by aristocrats.
- The value of ‘dwellings’ (homes and the land underneath them) has increased by four times (or 400%) between 1995 and 2015, from £1.2 trillion to £5.5 trillion.
- The property wealth of the top 10% of households is nearly 5 times greater than the wealth of the bottom half of all households combined.
- Landlords own almost 40% of all former council houses with the government’s ‘right-to-buy’ scheme.
- The annual amount of overseas investment in the UK housing market has rise from around £6bn per year a decade ago to £32bn by 2014.
- 74% of house price increases between 1950 and 2012 in the UK can be explained by rising land prices with the remainder attributable to increases in construction costs.
- Land often increases in value due to public investment in infrastructure, such as roads, public transport, housing, etc. It has been estimated that the extension of the Jubilee Line of the London Underground which opened in 1999 increased local residential land values within 1000 yards of each of the stations by £13 billion (Riley, 2001). As a result, such publically funded infrastructure projects almost always involve a substantial transfer of wealth from a large number of taxpayers to a small number of land owners – a classic case of economic rent.
Who really owns Britain?, Country Life, November 2010.
Modern Land Reform, New Economics Foundation, publication forthcoming.
Who Owns Britain, Kevin Cahill, 2001.
As well as councils, private landowners also often sit on disused land that could be used for public good. Using the template below, you can put pressure on a local landowner to push them into putting their land to good use. Share it widely and do not hesitate in sending that email or letter!
Dear [insert name of landowner],
I am writing to you regarding [insert name of empty site] and its ongoing state of disuse.
As a local resident, I am keen that the site is brought back into use to the benefit of the local community. Our area is in need of [delete as appropriate: new housing, more green space, land to start a community food growing project] and the land that you own could be part of the solution. Bringing it back into use would be in your own interest as well as in the interest of the local area. I am not interested in purchasing or using the site myself – I am simply hoping to that it will be put to use in the near future.
I urge you to take the following actions:
- Contact the Empty Property Officer in the local authority to discuss what you can do to bring the land back into use.
- Make your intentions for the future use of the land known to local residents.
- Contact me or [name of active local group] if you would like to discuss how best to move forwards.
I look forward to hearing from you.
If you and a group of people around you have noticed disused land in your area and you think your council should be acting to do something about here’s how to let them know. Below is a template letter to send to your local councillor to let them know that local land should be used to the benefit of local people. Get emailing, reposting, sending letters and tweeting about it now!
Dear [insert name of councillor],
I am writing to you regarding disused land in the county/borough of [insert name of county or borough].
Our [borough/county] contains significant empty sites of empty land that could be used to build much needed housing, start new community food growing projects, launch new businesses, or create new wildlife corridors. The [insert example of disused land here] is just one example of this. As local residents we are keen to work with the local authority to ensure that this land is brought back into use to the benefit of local residents.
We would like to arrange a meeting with the relevant elected member and the empty properties officer to discuss the council’s strategy for bringing empty properties and derelict land back into use. To be clear, we have no interest in purchasing or profiting from any particular piece of land ourselves – we simply want to see the land in our borough/county used for the benefit of local communities rather than left empty.
Please let us know a convenient time for a meeting.
We look forward to hearing from you.
This simple step-by-step guide is designed to help you spot disused land in your area and raise it as an issue with your local council and local land owners – the people with the power to bring it back into use. Spotting disused land is easy to do and can be done be anyone. Currently, the UK has large amounts of disused land that could be put to use in all sorts of ways: from building community-led affordable housing, to growing community gardens, to increasing local biodiversity. Whatever your goal, this step-by-step guide will help you identify disused land in your area and bring it back into use, as well as potentially feeding into a crowdsourced map of disused land in the UK.
Who can spot land?
- Go solo! One person can achieve a lot. Decide on the geographical area that you want to spot empty land in. Decide how long a period you want to spend identifying sites – a week? a month? a year? Whatever time period you choose, the aim is to identify as many sites as you can within that time.
- Form a spotting group! This could be with your friends, family, colleagues, community group, or other people interested in land reform in your local area. The more people, the more disused land you will be able to identify. You could even meet up to share what you found out!
How to spot land?
You could spot land while:
- On your way to work
- Taking your kids to school
- On dedicated land spotting walks in your area
What to gather information on?
It is important that you gather information on:
- The location of the site. This is the most important piece of information. The best way to record the location of the site is to place a pin on Google Maps and save it. This data can then be used to create a map of disused land across the UK.
- How long the site has been disused. This might be something that you know yourself or it might be something you can find out by asking local people or through Google.
- Who you think might own it. Again, this might be something you know, or it might be something you can find out by asking the neighbours or through the Land Registry.
- What it used to be used for. Again, this might be something that you know yourself or it might be something you can find out by asking local people or through Google.
How to make it an issue?
Gathering information is important, but to bring disused land back into use it is essential to make it into a pressing issue: for the landowner (who has the power to do something with the land), the local authority (who has the power of compulsory purchase if the landowner refuses to take action), and local citizens (who have the power to put pressure on local landowners and the council). In order to make disused land in your area into an issue, you could start by:
- Taking a selfie in front of the disused land and tweeting it to #Land4What.
- Finding out who owns the land using the Land Registry.
- Telling your local councillors about all the empty land in your area and suggesting ideas for how it could be used (a community land trust housing development, a park, an allotment).
- Using the template letters to local councils and landowners on the Land for What? website: https://www.landjustice.uk/category/resources/
For more information on mapping land, check out the following links:
Who Owns England? – a blog attempting map land ownership in England.
Empty Homes – advice on how to bring empty homes back into use from a charity that campaigns on this issue nationally.
Plotfinder – a website for buying and selling land.
My name’s Zahra, as you probably guessed from the title, and I’ll be coordinating Land for What?’s first gathering, next month.
After 18 months of building, developing and reflecting the time has come to ask the question: Land for What? We’ll be coming together this November 12th-13th for a full two days of conversation and careful consideration of land, who has it, who needs and of course, what it’s for.
As an activist with a background in grassroots campaigning on housing and protecting community assets, I was immediately drawn into the idea of talking about land. I have spent hundreds of hours in meetings about saving council estates under threat and protecting community centres whose value was manifested in the wellbeing of the community rather than the wealth of their owners. But I’ve only just begun on a journey of understanding what lies beneath: land.
I’ve loved every moment of learning about the complexities of land use, or misuse, as often seems to be the case in this country. I’m enthralled to be working on this upcoming conference as it marks an exciting development in the conversation about land in England and opens doors to a whole new phase in land history.
If you have any questions on Land for What? our upcoming conference you can get to us on email@example.com and I’ll be more than happy to respond to your queries. I’ll be spending a lot of my time making sure that we’re in touch with you by any means necessary so tweet us, @ us on Facebook and shoot us an email if you so desire!