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A great article about whether Scottish land reform is working…
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 email@example.com
Scotland, as many know, is quite a few years ahead of England with land reform.
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.
(both updates via the excellent Senscot weekly briefing)
When the Community Empowerment Act extended the right to buy to all of Scotland – there was an optimism about what this could mean for communities in our cities. However, news this week that the community buy-out of Edinburgh’s Sick Kids Hospital has been thwarted is a further dent to this optimism – and not the first example of this in the city. Once again property developers have won the day. Questions need to be asked about whether or not the Act – in urban areas – has bitten off more than it can chew.
Andy Wightman, Scotland’s intrepid land reform campaigner, claims in a report published this week that there are almost 4000 derelict sites in Scotland; the Scottish Greens want to give local councils the power to tax them – a ‘vacant site levy’. According to their research, 70% of this land is suitable for development – and taxing it would generate £200m a year to build affordable homes. In Jan 2016, the Greens tried to amend the land reform bill to tax vacant land – but the SNP rejected it. The worsening shortage of affordable housing suggests that this report will get some serious consideration.
Land reform has rarely been in the political agenda in the last half century, however more people are now understanding its importance.
This session will explore key focuses for UK land reform legislation. What is realistic and what would be most important? Join land rights campaigners Marion Shoard and Andy Wightman to discuss these questions.