Land rights briefing on the global south

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.

https://www.landjustice.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/LandResearchActionNetwork_WEB.pdf

Land Reform from the Ground Up – Report and Resources

http://thehighlandtimes.com/news/2016/03/17/land-reform-bill-passes-stage-3/

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.

Resources:

Next steps?

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.

Resources:

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.

Group One

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.

Group 2

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.

Group 3

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

LVT

  • 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.

Other

  • 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 landjusticeuk@gmail.com



Human rights, land reform and Scotland

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 –

English Land Secrecy Blog

Three stories about English land secrecy

 

Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net) , from Wikimedia Commons

Professor Antonia Layard’s blog post explores three stories of land secrecy in England: the land registry, beneficial ownership of land, and commercial confidentiality in affordable housing. An informative read reflecting how secrecy about land ownership and deals remain part of English land developments.

 

Also mentioned are Guy Shrubsole and Anna Powell Smith of the excellent Who Owns England blog, as well as Anna Powell-Smith’s extremely useful blog showing how you can use local land registry data to explore who owns land in your area.

 

Report from our national gathering

On Sunday 15th April we held our national gathering at the Friends of the Earth offices in London.

This was the day after our buzzing and well-attended tour of London’s housing crisis, organised as part of our Week of Action for Land Justice. Many people at the meeting had organised or taken part in the tour, and celebrated its success long into the evening… I think Nick Hayes summed up the feeling in the room when he said “I’m so happy and tired I think I’m going to cry!”

Continue reading Report from our national gathering

Report from The Landlords’ Game

On Saturday 14th April, after a week of rain, on what felt like the first warm and sunny day of the year, just shy of a hundred people gathered in central London for the inaugural Land Justice Network Landlords’ Game guided walk.

The meet point and official start was Brown Hart Gardens, a POPS (privately owned public space) in the heart of Mayfair.

Continue reading Report from The Landlords’ Game

Mass trespass calling for land justice in the south west

On Sunday about 75 protesters travelled to the Bathurst Estate in Cirencester to participate in a mass trespass, calling for land Justice. Organised by groups including RisingUp and the Land Justice Network the protest included speeches, songs and  marching band.

Gail Bradbrook of RisingUp said afterwards:

[Lord Bathurst] watched on with family and game keepers bemusedly / slightly chewing a wasp at times – but we got a good balance of friendliness and calling out behaviours that need to change I think. It was quite a spectacle!

The protesters marched down the main avenue into the estate and then went to a private field and climbed the fence to surround a tree on the land. A banner was raised over the main road leading into Cirencester saying “No Justice Without Land Justice”.

The trespass was to demonstrate that land is an essential resource that our society, culture and economy depend upon. However, land ownership in Britain is still one of the most unequal in the world. 0.6% of the population owns 69% of the land. More than a third is still owned by the aristocracy whose ancestors seized it during the Norman Conquest and through the use of land trusts they are avoiding paying inheritance tax while maintaining the concentration of ownership to this day. During the enclosures our ancestors were violently thrown off the land and much of our current common land is being privatised (Cahill, 2001).

Peaceful civil disobedience can be a useful tool in changing things for the better. Mass trespasses have achieved successes in the past, such as at Kinder Scout, which celebrated its 86th anniversary on the same day and helped to provide bring about the right to roam.

Simon Bramwell, from RisingUp in Stroud, said:

It’s especially relevant to undertake a civil disobedience on the Bathurst Estate, much of which is owned offshore while the owner receives vast subsidies from taxpayers. Some of the land is being sold off for mostly unaffordable housing. It’s totally illustrative how there is one rule for the rich and another for the rest of us.

Katharine Hallewell of the Land Justice Network added:

Everything flows from the land, our well being, our freedom and our equality. That we are still living under a system of landownership handed down from the Norman conquests speaks volumes about our so called democracy.

The trespass was reported on BBC Radio Gloucester and there has been much discussion and sharing on social media since, including the Lady Bathurst getting stuck in!

You can watch an unedited video of the day here. Guest blog by Gail to follow.

Source: Who Owns Britain, Kevin Cahill, 2001.

 

Adapted from a press release by Gail Bradbrook of RisingUp.

Scottish Land Commission publish discussion paper about diversifying land ownership

From Photochrom Prints Collection at the Library of Congress – Picture in the public domain

Scotland, as many know, is quite a few years ahead of England with land reform.

The Scottish Land Commission has just published a discussion paper by Peter Peacock about diversifying land ownership which is our recommended reading this week!

https://landcommission.gov.scot/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Land-Lines-Land-Ownership-Peter-Peacock-March-2018.pdf

The impact of overseas corruption on the London property market

A summary of Faulty Towers: Understanding the impact of overseas corruption on the London property market by Transparency International UK (2018)

As well as providing homes, the UK property market has long been recognised for providing a reliable investment opportunity. Whilst much of this investment will be from genuine investors seeking a steady income, there is now substantial evidence to show that:

‘UK real estate, particularly in London, is attracting corrupt officials and businesspeople who have stolen money from some of the most impoverished and repressed countries in the world’ (p4).

Since 2015, Transparency International UK (TI UK) has been examining the potential impact this illicit wealth might be having on London through surveying Londoners and analysing open source data such as the Panama Papers, articles by investigative journalists and Land Registry data. In so doing, they reveal how people launder stolen money into the property market, often through the use of ‘anonymous’ companies registered overseas. These organisations cannot be found on a public register and leave few paper trails, allowing their owners to enjoy their gains without scrutiny.

The London housing crisis

In London, house price rises consistently outstrip wage increases, dozens of prospective buyers compete for a shrinking pool of affordable stock whilst rent prices rise ever higher. As a consequence, it is becoming more difficult to afford to stay in London for average people, with the Government admitting the UK housing system was ‘broken’ in February 2017.

Overseas investment is just one of a range of factors that may be driving the crisis. Others include the lack of social housing, increased domestic demand and the shortage of development land. But TI UK’s report reveals that corruption overseas is also likely to play a significant contributory role, albeit in some slightly unexpected ways.

Understanding overseas investment into property

A significant amount of illicit investment into the property market stems from individuals buying homes to launder corrupt funds to conceal its criminal origins. This cleanses large amounts of illicit wealth in a single transaction and provides the individual with a valuable asset. London property retains value and often offers almost certain profit, with prices rising even amidst uncertainty over Brexit in early 2016.14

Corrupt individuals also buy homes in London because they provide a bolt hole in case they fall out of favour in their home country. Buying mansions in sought after areas of London or in exclusive new build developments comes with status, helping corrupt individuals distance themselves further from past corruption offences a practice which can be described as ‘reputation laundering’.

Key findings

The London property market is highly vulnerable to corrupt wealth flowing into it. Analysis of open source material found over £4.2 billion worth of properties bought with suspicious wealth.

Corruption causes high levels of instability abroad leading to ‘crisis capital’ being placed in safe havens like London. Since 2006 around £100 billion of hidden inflows have entered the UK.

House prices are affected as illicit wealth and crisis capital entering the UK increase demand in the London housing market, particularly at the top-end; ‘the ripple effects they generate resonate across London’,

New build developments are built targeting wealthy international investors and are not meeting demand for affordable homes. In 14 landmark London developments almost 40 per cent of future homes were bought by those from high corruption risk jurisdictions.

London’s role as a global safe haven is resulting in homes being purchased and not used. Areas with higher levels of property owned by anonymous companies also have high levels of abnormally low electricity usage; an indicator for empty or underused homes.

Young people are moving out of London in record numbers due to the cost of housing. Over half of Londoners responding to our survey said wealthy overseas investors are causing house prices to rise and more than 1 in 5 believed money laundering was a motivating factor for overseas investment.

Transparency International UK warns that if these issues are not addressed, corruption abroad will continue to have a negative impact on the London housing market.

Recommendations

The report’s findings pose a problem for policy makers: how can you ensure the property market is not distorted by corruption overseas without unintentionally excluding innocent investors, many of whom might be seeking to escape from tyranny and instability in their home?

Transparency International UK makes the following recommendations to the UK government:

  • Introduce greater transparency to the property market
  • Reform the UK’s anti-money laundering system
  • Retain tackling global corruption as a key priority

If these recommendations are followed, says TI UK, the negative impact overseas corruption inflicts on the people of London and its property market will be reduced and the UK’s role as a safe haven for illicit wealth will be diminished.