Scotland, as many know, is quite a few years ahead of England with land reform.
That lost Marion Shoard documentary isn’t so lost anymore:
- 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.
Who really owns Britain?, Country Life, November 2010.
Modern Land Reform, New Economics Foundation, publication forthcoming.
Who Owns Britain, Kevin Cahill, 2001.
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.
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.
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.
- 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/
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.
This 1.5hr documentary by Dan and Peter Snow was broadcast in 2006 on the BBC, it is an excellent introduction to land and housing rights, ownership and usage.