The Vandal Factory theatre company are based in York/Leeds and consist of Natalie Quatermass and Henry Raby. They have just finished a week of research and development on a new show, English Dirt about the history of land-ownership. They are holding a work-in-progress sharing in Leeds on Saturday 14th September:
What: English Dirt is a performance collaboration between Flora Greysteel and Vandal Factory. This is a 40 minute, script in hand, work-in-progress performance. It explores the history of English land ownership and relates it to current crises such as climate, housing and nationalism.
Where: Middle Floor Wharf Chamber, Leeds LS2 7EQ
When: 14th September. Doors 17:00, Joe Solo support act 17.30, English Dirt 18:00
50% the proceeds will go to the Land Justice Network and 50% of the proceeds will go to launching English Dirt’s Kick-starter.
Accessibility: Unfortunately the space is not yet wheelchair accessible, however it was our only affordable option at this time and we will be seeking more accessible spaces in the future. This is something the venue is seeking to address as soon as possible. We are very sorry if this means you are unable to attend and we can provide a recording of the live performance.
The next stage of development: We are looking to make a 75 minute performance of English Dirt in 2020. In order for this to happen, we need partners, collaborators and funding. We hope that this event will act as a means of instigating those conversations as well as us gathering some vital feedback from a friendly, critical audience.
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
A major station for democratic progressive land reform to pass through is updating the human rights laws so that absolute right to property doesn’t trump every other human right, such as the right to housing and food etc…
Scotland is heading nicely along this road and we watch jealously from England, please read this recent article from the Scottish Land Commissioner Megan MacInnes –
Hypothecation – I’d never hear about this before but it maybe of interest connected to issues around Land Value Tax and Land Uplift Capture or whatever else we are calling ways of preventing land speculators from profiteering these days…
The concept of hypothecation, where revenues from specific taxes would be ringfenced for a particular expenditure purpose – and publicly communicated in this way – has traditionally been unpopular with many. This is because of the notable challenges, relating to complexity, transparency, and public perceptions, with which it is associated. However, there is growing interest in how hypothecation could help engage with tax policy and increase public trust in the system.
Many people who call for a change in the way land is taxed also have called for the new tax income to be ring-fenced for using on connected issues. E.g. a land value tax going towards buying land for self build homes or re-commoning or supporting entrant farmers etc.
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.
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.
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.
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.