The Land Research Action Network, Global Campaign for Agrarian Reform, Focus on the Global South, Rede Social de Justicia e Direitos Humanos and La Via Campesina have been collaborating to produce some excellent briefing papers recently. Below is the most recent, the rest can be found in the footer of this page.
This post discusses a research project and accompanying exhibition examining land ownership and new purpose built student accommodation in Newcastle upon Tyne. Written by Julia Heslop.
Shieldfield is an estate on the outskirts of Newcastle city centre which has seen increasing development pressures, with a 467 per cent increase in student housing numbers between 2011 and 2015 which has affected the character and social mix of the area. After years of fighting developments residents feel distant from institutions of power, ignored and disempowered, as one resident explains, ‘We feel as if we’ve been left behind. I’m passionate about Shieldfield […] I’ve always lived here and I’ve seen all the changes. But it’s so sad, the decline in the community, and the spirit’s gone. We’ve been promised different things so many times and we’ve been let down’. Residents are increasingly worried about the long term future of the area, fearing that the close proximity of the estate to the city centre will create continuing development pressures which could displace existing residents.
The artwork and research project One Hundred and Thirty Million Pounds of Earth, on display at Shieldfield Art Works, was made in response to the dramatic rise in new developments. A collaboration between community group Dwellbeing and Newcastle University Planning students, the work traces the value and ownership of the new student residences. The work tells a story of a neighbourhood caught in the middle of a global land and development market. After the 2008 financial crisis, student housing was seen as a ‘sure profit’ for developers and investors alike, and this created a boom in the student accommodation market which has been replicated around the UK. For some residents, the estate of Shieldfield has become an island, leaving people feeling ‘hemmed in’ by new developments that are physically and socially disconnected from the wider neighbourhood.
The land titles for all twenty student accommodation blocks were bought, tracing the owner, their location, how much they paid for the land and the date of purchase. This was mapped and then each of the new student accommodation buildings was recreated for the exhibition using handmade bricks, made by residents, local children and artists. The size of each model corresponds to the amount paid for the land, with each brick worth £250,000. But land values vary hugely, depending on the market conditions at the time it was bought. For example the student accommodation block Camden Court (owned by BAE Systems Pension Funds) was bought for more than £23 million in 2011, whilst in comparison the building The Shield (owned by Property GP1 Ltd, registered in Guernsey), was purchased for a mere £1 million in 2015. This money, totalling over £130 million, ‘invested’ into the area to build the new developments is international in nature, over 50% of it lying offshore, and has little relationship to the local or regional economy. As a result the work lays bare the vast sums of money flowing through the neighbourhood – money that barely touches the estate.
One Hundred and Thirty Million Pounds of Earth highlights the uneven value of land transactions in the area and prompts questions about the role of international capital in local development: who decides how the value of land is calculated? Who has a say in urban planning and development processes? What is the true value of the land beneath our feet?
This work was made as part of Dwellbeing, a group of people that live or work in Shieldfield who have come together in response to the impacts of rapid urban development in the neighbourhood. Dwellbeing organises conversations, events, art activities, newsletters and trips to build knowledge about the issues that affect the local area.
Concept: Julia Heslop
Design: Julia Heslop and Hannah Marsden
Data: Josh Chambers, James Maloney and Hannah Swainston
Build and installation: Adam, Albie, Alisha, Alison, Allie, Ava, Bobby, Callum, Calum, Casey, Cheryl, David, Emily F, Emily P, Haley, Hannah M, Hannah P, Helen, Isabel, Jill, John, Julia, Mikey, Minnie, Molly, Nick, Shannon, Sharon, Sophie, Sue, Val, and Wendy.
These minutes are from an online meeting on 2nd July, names have been redacted for publishing.
- check in and go around (not published)
- aims, history and objectives of landcamp
- what went well
- next actions + visions
1 – check in and go around (redacted for public release)
2 – aims, history and objectives of landcamp
>>history – LJN land occupation group undertook first landcamp in 2018 on a piece of public land near Peterborough (ex military base) which had just been sold off unbeknownst to the team – decided to abandon occupation and try again in 2019
LJN direct action group did various successful actions in 2018.
Hebden project was direct action group and land occupation group collaborating for the first time.
Hebden location was decided at LJN national gathering in autumn 2018. Earlier conversations with Hebden locals had welcomed the idea of having a national group come to bring greater awareness to local issues with national resonance and importance. First hebden visit with open meeting and recce in January 2019 these continued over the next few months.
>>aims and objectives – raise awareness about land issues: mismanagement of land leading to increased flooding, lack of land ownership transparency, shooting a bad use of land, need more community control, destruction of moor connected to carbon store and climate change // aim for greater national and local awareness of issues // aim to start a long term land occupation camp, a place where front line activists could recuperate.
3 – what went well – this is a raw unedited dump of peoples feedback
120 people came – many report having a positive experience – good to be there and to shake things up a bit – welcoming and friendly – food and kitchen were really good – Saturday night was fun – important to connect moor to floods – stunning location – good people – commoners choir enjoyed the experience – interesting conversations reported – got lots of people talking – great that the land was taken – was a good thing to do – to take the land and to make the land the issue – good bonding experience – beautiful – good to be doing some direct action
4 – challenges – this is a raw unedited dump of people’s feedback without comment including many duplicates
key organisers struggled with comms with others and each other
key organisers weren’t realistic about their capacities
toilets, food and water weren’t in place with six days to go
locals felt help offers were rebuffed by organisers
reliance on motor vehicles was a mistake, things should have been walked unto site
volunteers weren’t fully briefed and asked to take a risk without knowing what was happening
carbon store and climate emergency should have been key angle
action should have been focussed around the illegal drainage ditches on the moor
opportunity to do more with 120 people on the land
should have gone further and been bolder as activists
pre built compost toilets – why doesn’t the movement have them?
problem with safer spaces policy
too much secrecy and not enough information
should have had clearer vision and aims conversations with hebden residents sooner
local hosts kept in the dark
can’t be a spokesperson for something i don’t know or understand
felt like cut and paste action not what’s best for this action
openness of planning and decisions was not good enough
hosted people but couldn’t find out what was going on
thoughts and feelings weren’t taken on board
local advice wasn’t taken on board e.g. fires on site etc
not integrated enough with locals
no defined roles
individuals taking risks not the camp as a whole
not knowing what the piece of land was v. difficult
it’s a small place so we bump into people
time of year was poor
done at any expense rather than it happening for all the reasons the community wanted
(safer spaces policy was published in the camp handbook but implementation procedure was not.
handbook stated all decisions would be taken by consensus but this did not happen – additional commented added after by participant)
not enough people involved
not enough hands on deck
became reactive due to stress and tiredness
social media stuff was very hard to manage
rushed – needed more openness
coming back into a hostile local community
wrong time of year
not enough people organising
social media managed offsite raised problems and lead to not knowing where things were with farmer
total lack of capacity – rushed
shocked at how disorganised how it was and lack of plans
had to call in a lot of favours
felt like I wasn’t listened to r.e. water
local people should have been on the core team
people dragged into helping unwillingly
felt like a couple of people’s idea rather than something with wider buy in
woodcraft folk’s 16-18 year olds camp far more organised and they were run by kids!
spent a lot of time carrying things up the hill
opportunity lost to achieve a lot more
People doing lots of roles which they weren’t suited to
plan for a media tent which never happened –
I – core of all the problems is logistics – still good it happened – many open letter people were initially involved
C – not enough trust, need more planning and putting the time in
A – online and social media stuff was toxic, open letters, Q’s experience doesn’t justify the group letter they coordinated, lots of crowd gathering online which was misguided
R – camp organisers lack of knowledge of rural communities – didn’t understand how much was being asked of local people
C – local opinion divided – some: storm in a teacup and manipulative – lots of exaggeration –
I – person Z asking for apology to farmer – Saville estate with 3 grand pianos – who should be apologising to who – why is the farmer poor? Middle class appearance of the network (noted that lead organiser is working class as were many others involved) – farmers should be allies
C – R2 doesn’t need to apologise for actions of lead organisers
A – how can we continue to act locally – public debrief? Shooting season action 12th august? Future plans – where does debrief info go –
R – how we can move forward?
K – repairing community rifts – how can we best do this? Public space
I – like to take forward in an open way – critique doesn’t have to be critical learning process
C – good idea – fine to have in autumn – time has past already – happy to turn up and participate – not capacity for coordinating – can do some tasks
A – public debrief is important – shame g and m can’t be here to say well done – happy for it to be autumn – letter signatories might step up on their own terms – can support this to happen – d wanted to be here and L too
I – debrief sooner would be good before 12th august if we are going to action
K – good to do something before
C – august 12th wasn’t thinking off…
R2 – landcamp has broken a lot of the key relationships in the network, many people involved still struggling with physical and mental health issues caused by trauma from their involvement and it’s hard to know what is left of the network at the moment – it is a much younger, smaller, dispersed, looser, less experienced and more fragile association of folk than people perceive it to be from the polished website and propaganda
I – R2 should make sure what they just said is minuted
R and A – get date in diary now agreed
A – do something with a local group
I – Sunday afternoon is best
R2 – public debrief – Sunday 8th September pm
A – local get together on tues 16th july – set up a whatsapp group
Put minutes on LJN website – one week to reply – initials not full names
C – interested but not committing now
R – publicise via XR and LJN
I – Invite people who we know – keep it smaller group
Landcamp organisers are an autonomous working group that do not speak for the wider Land Justice Network as a whole or any other working group.
Landcamp organisers acknowledge that our safer spaces policy was not clear enough in process or content to be fit for purpose. We regret the confusion and agitation caused to all as a result of this.
Landcamp organisers look forward to feeding into a wider Land Justice Network safer spaces process which we hope will make clear that people involved in actively campaigning against trans rights will not be welcome at our future events.
Just parking this article here for reference… it is an excellent read about an infamous and widely cited essay which argues that the commons is a poor method of managing land… and why its author was wrong, and a misguided bigot.
Land Justice Network: Policy Working Group (PWG)
The aim of the Policy Working Group is to help the network develop its Common Ground Statement, expanding on the overall vision as well as identifying policies that would make this vision a reality, both in the short and long-term.
A key part of our work is to consider what we would like to see in a Land Reform Act for England and Wales, learning from the Scottish experience. We would also like to work with land campaigners in Scotland in order to develop UK-wide legislation that would enable radical land reform.
As part of this process we are working on a People’s Land Policy, learning from the experience of the People’s Food Policy developed by the Land Workers Alliance and others. We are in the early stages of this work and we welcome any feed-back you may have on our work so far.
The Policy Working Group works closely with other parts of the network- education, outreach and action. All is necessary to build an effective movement for land reform.
Land Reform from the Ground Up – Report
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.
Private Ownership and the Commons
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.
Feedback on next steps
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.
Planning and building for a Land Justice Gathering in Bristol in autumn/winter 2019/2020.
Unequal distribution of land in England is an underlying factor which connects many social justice struggles – for housing, food growing, creation of solidarity economies, renewable energy generation, sustainable building materials, nature and biodiversity, and ongoing domination-based international policy (i.e. neocolonialism).
In 2016 a group of housing, growing and energy activists organised the Land for What? event in London, a 2-day series of talks and workshops exploring what land should really be used for, from very high-level policy discussion to very practical direct action. It was exciting to see such a diverse set of activists and campaigners, who wouldn’t normally be in a room together, making a common analysis. There were also talks about recent land reform campaigns in Scotland which showed that it is possible to win so much more than we can imagine based on current politics. Now, 3 years later, the Land Justice Network has a well-developed shared analysis of land as a social justice issue, has run ‘land for what’ events all around the country, and is building a movement for land justice.
This is an exciting moment, and we want to build a broad-based coalition in Bristol to host the next big event this coming winter, which will:
- be inspiring, fun and creative
- share experiences from Bristol, the South West and South Wales,
- develop action plans based on a good understanding of how the land system affects different issues we are working on,
- and strategyse together to build a powerful movement for land justice in the UK.
Join us in the first steps of event planning, and bring your ideas and your questions. Hydra Books, 10am-12pm, Saturday 6th of April. Please share this invitation with anyone you think might like to be involved.
Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/397551094372299/
Our next national meeting will run from 12 midday – 5pm, at the Niamos Centre in Hulme, Manchester. Address: Warwick St, Manchester M15 5EU.
Directions: From Manchester Piccadilly its a 30 minute walk, or you can catch the 85 or 86 bus which takes around 20 minutes.
New faces and curious humans very welcome!
Whether you’re interested in learning more about land justice issues, would like to get involved in the network long term or in our Land Camp in Hebden Bridge from 10th-13th May, or just dipping your toes in, we’d love to see you there!
Plan for the day
12.00 — Meet for pot-luck lunch
12.30 — Opening + personal intros
12.45 — Intro to the Land Camp and issues connected to it.
Discussion as a group
1.30 — // 2 sessions in parallel //
Session 1: Land for What? A participatory session of learning about and challenging the way land is owned, controlled and used in the UK and beyond.
Session 2: Land Justice Network Business Meeting
2.15 — Second lunch break 🙂
2.45 — Land Camp Planning and Plotting!
4.15 — Closing
5.00 — We’ll probably head to Kim by the Sea, just up the road, to hang out after the meeting. Everyone is welcome to join!
Food: We’ll meet at 12 to eat a lunch together before the meeting starts at 12.30. It would be beautiful if you could all bring something to share! We will have coffee/teas/milks on tap all day.
Childcare: Childcare will be available for the whole meeting from the wonderful Seedlings Childcare Co-operative.
Travel: Its also worth dropping us a line if you can offer a car share or need assistance with travel costs (we have some budget to support expenses).
It’d be massively helpful if you could quickly RSVP using the form below so we can send you the agenda ahead of time and also so we can find enough comfy chairs for you all 😉 !
Any questions email email@example.com
Look forward to seeing lots of you there!