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.
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.
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 –
On Sunday 11th November 2018 we held our national gathering at Friends of the Earth’s offices in London.
We had a beautiful group network members gathered, including a v. dedicated contingent who made the pilgrimage (by minibus) all the way down from the Reclaim the Power gathering in Sheffield, and it was the first LJN gathering for eight wonderful people – welcome!
Our 30 second intros which kicked off the meeting were a challenge, but we got some major updates– David is a cat person, Maddy likes good books and bad jokes, Tom feels it’s important to wave the flag for the flageolet bean. Good.
But it was four-year old Luca who really hit the nail on the head and got us off to the best start with his call to action. We need to ‘take back the land!’ he said, ‘and there’s a lot to do, so we better get on with it.’
Come to Land Justice Network’s next national gathering to find out what the we’ve all been up to and plot fresh action together!
It will take place on Saturday 18th August at Heeley City Farm, Richards Road, Sheffield, S2 3DT.
We’ll meet up 12 noon for a shared pot luck (bring a dish if you can) and we’ll start the meeting around 12.30, finishing 5pm with optional social time at a nearby pub afterwards. The venue is fully accessible for wheelchairs.
The gathering will include a visit to REACH Homes a project based at the farm which has designed genuinely affordable homes for £35k.
Peak District walk
On Sunday 19th all are welcome to join us for a walk in the Peak District – we are hoping to meet some of those affected by the recent fires on Saddleworth Moor, connected to the mismanagement of moors for grouse shooting.
We are also inviting along Hebden Bridge residents who were badly affected by the flooding a few years back… also connecting to mismanagement of land for grouse.
If you are interested in coming for both days and need to sort somewhere to stay overnight on Saturday night, please drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org as we may be able to help.
Please also get in touch if you are able to offer a lift and/or particularly need support with travel costs or a creche for your child on the Saturday.
My name is Kate and I am very excited to be on board as the new LJN network co-ordinator – thank you so much for collectively offering me this position. I’m really looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible over the next few months whether at the Sheffield meeting on the 18th August or the next gathering (tbd).
My background is in anthropology, activism and environmental youth work, and I am also a singer and musician. I have been involved in land and privatisation related struggles for the last six years as part of Occupy Parliament Square, Reclaim the Power, the Divestment and anti TTIP movements, with my local labour party and as a researcher with The Gaia Foundation.
Over the last three years, I have been managing a youth charity and been really inspired by young people’s engagement with new forms of community, and ways of using land. It has confirmed to me how captivating land justice can be, and how fantastic it is that this movement is emerging. I currently live in a farmhouse in south Norfolk with a community other artists and activists, if anyone ever finds themselves out east needing a place to stay…
As I am new to the Land Justice Network, I know I have lots of learning to do and a world to get acquainted with. Over the next two months I would like to offer my facilitation and support to everyone in whatever ways are needed so if there is anything I can assist with, please don’t hesitate to send me an email.
I’m so inspired by what the LJN has achieved so far, by the emerging outreach work, and by the ways you are collectively bringing land into public discourse. I’m honoured to be supporting of all this work over the next few months and I’m looking forward to what’s to come. Thank you for inviting me in!