Policy and Legislation Workshop: Towards a Land Reform Bill, taxation to benefit the many not the few

This report documents the workshop on taxation which took place on September 17th 2017, hosted by the Land Justice Network policy and legislation group.

Introduction

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.

Speakers

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

  1. Everyone is very concerned and passionate about issues around land. These issues affect us as a society but also as individuals.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!).
  5. 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.
  6. There was also concern expressed about how to mobilise people to support land reform.

Next Steps

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 landjusticeuk@gmail.com. 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.

Land for What? London – Land: the Fundamentals

What facts and knowledge are important to understand when starting to think about land in the UK? This session is designed for people who are relative new comers to exploring land as a common issue and will be repeated twice as we believe many of you will find this a really useful overview and introduction to the topic.

Presented by Kate Swade (Shared Assets) and Alice Martin (New Economics Foundation).

Get Your Facts Straight: Land Stats Everyone Should Know

Facts

  • 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.

Sources:

Who really owns Britain?, Country Life, November 2010.

Modern Land Reform, New Economics Foundation, publication forthcoming.

Who Owns Britain, Kevin Cahill, 2001.

Urge Local Landowners to Put Their Land to Good Use

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.

I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

[insert name]

Let Your Council Know: Land Matters

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.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

 

[Insert names]

 

DIY Land Spotting: How To

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.

Getting started

Who can spot land?

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  1. 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.
  • Finding out who owns the land using the Land Registry.
  • Telling your local councillors about all the empty land in your area and suggesting ideas for how it could be used (a community land trust housing development, a park, an allotment).
  • Using the template letters to local councils and landowners on the Land for What? website: https://www.landjustice.uk/category/resources/

 

Further resources

For more information on mapping land, check out the following links:

Who Owns England? – a blog attempting map land ownership in England.

Empty Homes – advice on how to bring empty homes back into use from a charity that campaigns on this issue nationally.

Plotfinder – a website for buying and selling land.

The Land of Scotland and the Common Good

If you have not had a chance to browse this official Scottish Parliament document about land reform, I highly recommend that you do – http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0045/00451087.pdf

Just the introduction spelling out their remit is a beautiful stand alone piece of prose in its own right! I have taken the liberty of copying it below to save you a click and a scroll…

——————————–

The relationship between the land and the people of Scotland is fundamental to the well-being, economic success, environmental sustainability and social justice of the country. The structure of land ownership is a defining factor in that relationship: it can facilitate and promote development, but it can also hinder it. In recent years, various approaches to land reform, not least the expansion of community ownership, have contributed positively to a more  successful  Scotland  by  assisting  in  the  reduction  of  barriers  to  sustainable development, by strengthening communities and by giving them a greater stake in their future. The various strands of land reform that exist in Scotland provide a firm foundation for further developments. The Government has therefore established a Land Reform Review Group.

The Land Reform Review Group has been appointed by Scottish Ministers to identify how land reform will:

  • Enable more people in rural and urban Scotland to have a stake in the ownership, governance, management and use of land, which will lead to a greater diversity of land ownership, and ownership types, in Scotland;
  • Assist with the acquisition and management of land (and also land assets) by communities, to make stronger, more resilient, and independent communities which have an even greater stake in their development;
  • Generate, support, promote, and deliver new relationships between land, people economy and environment in Scotland.

Oxford session at House Of The Commons on Saturday 22nd October

We will be at House Of The Commons on Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd October. Please see their website for the final program and timings. Three Acres And A Cow is happening at 7pm on Friday 21st October and will feature special guest Peggy Seeger.

http://houseofthecommons.org/

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Territories of Life – a video toolkit for indigenous communities facing land grabs

Territories of Life is a video toolkit with a purpose. It’s aim is to bring stories of resistance, resilience and hope to indigenous communities on the frontline of the global rush for land.

We really hope that Land For What? will be able to put together something similar for communities in the UK facing land grabs and clearances by developers and corporations. For example communities fighting against fracking and social housing under threat of being cleared.

Produced by LifeMosaic, a non-profit based in Scotland, the Territories of Life toolkit consists of ten stories that were filmed in communities across Indonesia, Philippines, Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, Tanzania and Cameroon.

http://www.lifemosaic.net/eng/tol/

Territories of Life Introduction (HD) from LifeMosaic on Vimeo.

We’re recruiting a coordinator

Please find downloadable PDF here – Event Coordinator Job Description

Background:

We live in a time of widening social inequality, various housing and health crises, and impending climate collapse. When fire fighting such important issues, it is hard to step back and make time to explore and challenge the roots of these systemic struggles. Land has been the elephant in the room of English politics for so long we have become accustomed to its absence during important discussions. However, if you begin to reframe common questions about housing, environment and health in terms of the role of land, its fundamental importance becomes clear. Land for What? aims to raise awareness, create dialogue and forge connections between affected groups, and inspire us to build long lasting solutions.

The Role:

Coordinator for ‘Land for What’ convergence on 12th-13th November 2016 in London. Managing the logistics leading up the event and on the day. Liaising with the steering group and with other collaborators. The role will be primarily administrative, aimed at coordinating all the elements needed to run a successful event and help build a movement.

Responsibilities:

  • Responsible for ticketing and inquiries
  • Day to day responsibility for event budget
  • Working with the Steering Group to develop and put in place the conference programme
  • Liaising with collaborating organisations, speakers, chairs and event team
  • Overseeing activities on the day – scheduling, venue, catering, speakers etc
  • Communications/ promotions for the conference including:
    • Writing and collating blogs/ newsletters
    • Keeping website updated
    • Maintaining social media
    • Post event work
    • Writing report on key learning/ actions
    • Developing mailing list & network of interested organisations

Ideal candidate profile:

  • Available for event – 12th-13th November 2016 (and ideally the 2 weeks before)
  • Living in London or able and willing to travel in when necessary
  • A proven track record organising conferences, ideally in related areas
  • Experience managing a team, particularly one involving volunteers
  • Good writing skills & a high standard of spoken & written English
  • Good at working towards deadlines. Flexible and resourceful. Well organised
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Knowledge about and passion for issues around land reform and related struggles (housing, food etc.). We value people who have a close association with disenfranchised groups and struggles around land and access to space.
  • Experience coordinating multiple groups
  • Knowledge about social media, comms and PR
  • We welcome applicants from all sectors of society, particularly less represented groups.

Terms:

  • Equivalent 1 day/ week from beginning of September to end of November (14 weeks)
  • Ambition to take this to equivalent 2 days/week depending on funding. Also ambition to extend the role beyond November.
  • Pay £100/ day = total fee of between £1400 and £2800 (assuming role ends in November)
  • This is a freelance role and the successful candidate will be responsible for their own tax affairs.

Application process

  • Please submit a maximum 2 page CV, and a 1 page covering letter that addresses the following three points:
    • Why are you interested in this role?
    • How does your experience make you suitable for this role?
    • How would you approach the role, if successful?
    • We will be using the covering letter as the main method of sifting through potential candidates so please do make sure to submit it and respond to each point clearly and succinctly.

Timings

  • Deadline: Monday 8th August, 12PM
  • Notification of shortlisted candidates: w/c 15th August
  • Interviews: w/c 15th or 22nd August
  • Start: w/c 29th August

Contact: