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The University of Southampton
Centre for English Identity and Politics

Guy Shrubsole

“Who owns England?”

28 November 2018

University of Winchester

Guy Shrubsole, Researcher and Author


This is a corrected transcript of talks given at the seminar held at the University of Winchester on 28 November 2018.  Please do not quote without seeking permission from the speaker.


John Denham

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this evening's lecture. Good to see some old friends and some new faces. For the new faces, the Centre for English Identity and Politics at Winchester University, which I run, I'm John Denham I'm the director, we have a particular interest in national identity and how that relates to the political choices that people have, their view of political issues with obviously particular focus on Englishness, and all of our lectures, seminars and events take different angles, quite an eclectic range of angles on those questions. 

Tonight's event promises to be really interesting. The relationship between England and the land has come up time and time again in history. The idea of the Norman Yoke, from which the idea of the freeborn English man and English woman was clearly, largely borne out of the transfer of land ownership at the time of the Norman conquest, raised many other times with the Levellers during the civil war, and a little known fact, but we can thank the last reading of the Riot Act in Hampshire in about 1881, followed the riots that actually secured Southsea Common as common land in Portsmouth and stopped that land being enclosed. Those of us who visit national trust properties are usually aware these days that the house was probably built on the proceeds of slavery. We often forget that the estate was usually created by the enclosure of common land and taking land rights away from ordinary people of England. So, there's a long history of those relationships shaping our ideas of England and shaping the physical England that we live in today. Our speaker tonight, and sadly Anna Powell-Smith is not able to join us tonight, so our first two-for-one offer has failed at the first time, but our speaker tonight is Guy Shrubsole. Guy has previously been a civil servant, he worked for an organization called Public Interest, is now professionally working as a campaigner for Friends of the Earth, but this work that he's going to talk to you tonight about, ‘Who owns England?’ is very much his voluntary activity and he has told me that he has a book coming out in May. So, if you enjoy tonight, you'll be able to follow it up, But please welcome tonight's speaker, Guy Shrubsole, Guy...

Guy Shrubsole

Well, thank you very much John for inviting me to speak tonight and thank you very much for all turning up on a wet and windy winter's night. The politics of land is back with a vengeance. Land reform is back on the political agenda after slumbering for decades. It's on the tips of everyone's tongues. Only the other day, John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, let slip at an event that he was speaking at that, "One of the big ideas we're now talking about, is land." It's not just Labour either. At a report launch in Parliament a few months ago that I attended, I listened in amazement to Conservative MP Nick Boles talk about making housing more affordable and to declare that "the main action needs to be on land reform." Why? Previous land reform movements have been motivated by different causes: land for growing food or as a source of employment, in the chaos following the English Civil war, and the execution of King Charles. Gerrard Winstanley’s radical Diggers Movement saw an opportunity to upend the social hierarchy to take back enclosed land and make it a common treasury for all. In the deep agricultural depression of the 1870's, English tenant farmers yearned for their own land, free from the rental burden they owed to private landlords, out of which was borne the idea of county farms owned by councils and rented to tenant farmers at affordable rates. 

We actually have a rich history of land reform movements in England, but we tend to forget, or perhaps have been made to forget, that they ever really existed. But today, land is back on the agenda, primarily because of the housing crisis - because the crisis of unaffordable housing is at root a crisis of skyrocketing land prices. The housing crisis, the rise of generation rent, has put paid to the myth that we're living in a property-owning democracy. But land has also attained fresh political salience for a host of other reasons. Brexit has reopened the can of worms that is the farm subsidy system, a system that has, until now, effectively subsidized large landowners simply for owning land. Who owns land and how it's managed also lies at the heart of the crisis in the natural world, the denaturing of our countryside, the ongoing collapse in species, our very alienation from nature. Land's at the heart of the climate crisis too. Britain's peat bogs, our equivalent to the tropical rainforests both in terms of their rareness as a habitat and in terms of the huge quantities of carbon that they lock up, are owned by just a couple of hundred aristocrats and city bankers who subject them to a form of slash and burn management in order to maximize the number of grouse they can shoot in them. In the process, the ecosystem is trashed, carbon leaks into the atmosphere, climate change is made worse.

Who owns England also has a great relevance to social inequality. Land remains a great source of wealth and yet it is, as we'll explore, still concentrated in the hands of a tiny few. And lastly, questions of land and its ownership also speak to our very sense of identity, of what it means to be English and whether we have any stake in this country at all. Is the land not a common treasury for all? Why are so many of us unable to afford the smallest of stakes in the land, a home of one’s own? Why are smallholders, small farmers, ineligible for public farm subsidies? And yet, large landowners able to receive no limit to the amount of subsidies they can draw from the state? Why is it that we are still made to feel unwelcome in large swaths of our countryside by the profusion of “Keep Out: Private Property" signs, by the ancient laws of trespass, by our still incomplete and heavily caveated right to roam? How do we reset our relationship with the land from being one of privatized possession and resource extraction and ecological destruction, to one of belonging and sustainability?

Scotland has been having this conversation about land and land reform for well over a century, and in particular, since devolution 20-25 years ago. Campaigners like Lesley Riddoch, Alastair McIntosh and Andy Wightman have secured great changes that have successfully pushed land on to the Scottish political agenda and secured great changes in how land is accessed and shared out in Scotland. Changes like the genuine Right to Roam over all of uncultivated land, not just a partial Right to Roam like we have in England and Wales. Changes like a proper Community Right to Buy so that communities dispossessed by all clearances of the Highlands and Islands over a century ago have at last started to take back control of some of that land.

It's long past time that England caught up with Scotland on the land question. The quote I used in the blurb of this talk came from another great Scotsman, Norman MacCaig. I first came across it when visiting the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, where it's engraved in the side of the Parliament building. Let me just read it to you again. It says, “Who possesses this landscape? The man who bought it or I who am possessed by it?" How many of us have felt possessed by the landscape? That sense of possession by the very landscape around us as we walk in the countryside. Because landscape, I would argue, is deeply bound up in Englishness. The fact that England has been a settled landscape for thousands of years, the English obsession with gardening, the popularity of the English romantic poets. And yet, perhaps in that English concept of the green and pleasant land, we've come to believe our land is in good health when in fact that green and pleasant nature is only surface deep. We need to update our notions of landscape beauty from the romantic poets and craft what the American conservationist Aldo Leopold called a 'land ethic.' It means seeing the world through an ecologist’s eyes to see what Leopold called a 'world of wounds.' The ecological ill health that lies beneath the picturesque surface, the fact that half of our farmland birds have gone since 1970 and potentially a staggering 75% of all our insects. The fact that we've nearly lost that emblem of England, the little humble hedgehog.

So, we'll return to what to do about these interwoven problems of land later on. But first, I want to turn to the dark secret that is land ownership. The question of, who actually owns England? The resurgence of land as a political issue is all the more surprising given how hidden it's been for centuries. Land has been air-brushed out of economics. All the classical economists treated land as a factor of production alongside labour and capital, but the neo-classical school subordinated land to be just another form of capital, ignoring its unique and finite nature. Ethically, land ownership went unquestioned for centuries, bolstered by the justifications of philosophers like John Locke, who argued that owning land was morally right so long as you cultivate it yourself and so long as there's plenty enough to go around. Even talking about land is a bit taboo. It's a bit impolite, isn't it? The ‘politics of envy’ is often used when you talk about land ownership. Or as I heard in Parliament the other day when lands came up as a conversation in a select committee hearing, it was about three seconds before a conservative MP stood up and said, “Mugabe, Mugabe! You just want to enact the politics of Mugabe don't you?" But most insidious of all has been the conspiracy of silence around land ownership in the official record. So, who here in this room has heard of the Domesday Book? Hands up. Everybody! Excellent. Domesday, of course, was the first effort by an English king, the Norman conqueror of England, William the First, to get a handle on his possessions. A gigantic swag list if you like of all of the things that he'd managed to nick from the Saxons it was the most comprehensive record of land ownership and land use in Europe at the time and it remained so for centuries afterward. 

But who has heard of the second Domesday Book? Anyone? What about the third Domesday? The fourth? Because in fact, in the past two centuries, the British state has undertaken no less than three modern Domesday surveys, recording in great detail who owns our land and with it a large chunk of the country's wealth. And yet, hardly anyone has ever heard of it. The second Domesday was commissioned in 1873 by land-owning members of the House of Lords. They were hoping to disprove the claim made by various rascal agitators that England lay in the hands of a tiny elite. In fact, the survey called "The Return of Owners of Land" proved precisely that fact. Half of England and Wales was owned by around 4,000 peers of the realm at that time. But the “Return of Owners of Land” was quickly forgotten, and calls for land reform ignored by the incoming Tory government led by Lord Salisbury in the 1880's and 1890's. The third Domesday was carried out under the liberal chancellor and elected prime minister David Lloyd George between 1910 and 1915 as part of his plan to levy a land value tax on large landowners for the first time. But the land value tax was repealed by the Conservative-dominated government that came in 1921, and the results of the survey, some 20 million pieces of information and some incredibly detailed maps of who owned what, languishes in the national archives, awaiting proper analysis to this day.

The fourth Domesday was the National Farm Survey carried out during World War II to discern who owned which farms and what they were producing in order to bolster food production for the war effort. It too remained under lock and key until the 1990's and is now being properly, independently analysed. So, we have all these surveys of land ownership, nearly all forgotten and buried and, of course, they're all now out of date. But some of you might be wondering, what about the Land Registry? Don't we have a government department explicitly tasked with registering all land that still exists today? Indeed, we do. But the Land Registry, despite being set up in 1862, still hasn't completed the task of registering all the land. Eighty-three percent of land has now been registered in England and Wales, but that leaves 17% that hasn't been registered, even after 150 years. Putting me in mind of the internet meme, “You had one job.” Still, they haven't done it. 

And getting access to the information that has been collected by the Land Registry is no easy task. You have to pay £3 to see a single land title, to see who owns an individual field or a particular building. There are 24 million land titles in England and Wales, so buying them all would cost a cool £72 million. If anybody has that money here and would like to fund that study, I'd definitely like to talk to you afterwards. Then, however, if you wanted to draw such a map based on that, you'd need to find a way to join those land information to land parcel maps that do exist but have been deliberately separated from them and is a system of recording tenure. Finally, if you published any such map, you'd be sued by the Ordnance Survey because they have restricted licensing over republication of said data. 

So, is it impossible to say who owns England? No. Let me show you what we've uncovered, myself and my collaborator, Anna Powell-Smith, who, as John said earlier, sadly couldn't be here tonight, along with many other people who have chipped in since I started 'Who Owns England?' back in 2016, got in touch, helped out, offered data of their own, helped crunch numbers, helped code and make maps. This is the most comprehensive map of land ownership in England that exists and let me just open up the webpage. So, this isn't just a static map, this is available online at It's interactive, you can zoom in and let's zoom in a bit further…tell you what, let's zoom into an interesting part, lets zoom into Winchester or the southeast. So, you can click on things like this. So, you can see this a piece of land owned by the National Trust, you can see the New Forest owned by the Foresting Commission, and you can see the great expanse of Salisbury Plain owned by the MOD. You will have noticed that there is also some land ownership information about Wales and Scotland as well. This isn't just another attempt by England to lord it over the rest of the United Kingdom. It's because some of these organizations are not devolved fully or they cover other parts of the UK, so we've left in the information after we've completed this. But there are other efforts going on. There is a very, very good website called run by Andy Wightman, who I mentioned earlier. He is a fantastic campaigner. He's mapped nearly all the land ownership in Scotland. He's absolutely amazing, do check him out. We can only aspire to get in as good as what he's done. 

But what we've done, Anna and myself, we've mapped land ownership of about 10-12% of the country so far. This has come about through laboriously compiling information from various sources. So for, let's say, freedom of information (FOI) requests from public authorities, like the Ministry of Defence and Network Rail, something called Environmental Information Requests (EIRs), another form of information request that any citizen can make to water companies because they've been covered by EIR requests over the last few years. There are no other private companies that are subject to speaking nicely to charitable bodies like the National Trust and the RSPB to let us have their land ownership data, and so on. I mean, you can see here a few of the other layers. You can see the purple layers, that's the Crown Estate, so that's Windsor up there. But also, over there, they own a large amount of the Bristol Channel, the Severn Estuary. You can also see lots of red splotches, spreading out like a rash from London. Anybody know what that is? It's offshore firms, offshore and overseas companies. So, Anna worked with Private Eye a few years back to investigate this. You may have seen some of the research that they did and some of the maps that they published. This is the same data, just overlaid as a layer in this map. Overall, a million acres of land in Britain is owned by overseas and offshore companies and, as you can see, there's a particular concentration in London. You can see, in particular when you zoom in, some of the prime real estate is there in the centre of London. Perhaps, we'll return to that later. It's a particular interest there in offshore firms buying up very expensive properties in central London. 

If you see the pink areas you must’ve spotted, perhaps, particularly interesting. They show land owned by a wide range of individuals and organizations, but they've all come from a particularly obscure source called Landowner Deposit Maps. They're made under section 31.6 in the otherwise exceptionally boring Highways Act of 1980. So, when a landowner wants to protect his or her land from future rights of way claims, they can deposit a map with a local authority, pay a small fee, and this map shows the extent of their estate, and they make a statement saying that they know of no new rights of way over it. So, the flipside of this active territorialism is, however, that local authorities have all this information if you know where to look. So, you can start to build a picture of local land ownership by looking at Highways Act maps. The pink areas we've got here are all those such maps that have been digitized by local authorities. We've requested them using FOI requests and put them onto the websites so you can see them more easily and you can then click to see particular landowners. See there's a large number of them for West Berkshire. 

To show you just how concentrated land ownership remains in England, I want to take you on a brief tour of the place I grew up in just to the north of here in the county of West Berkshire, which is joined to here by both Winchester and Newbury, having struggled in the 1990's over roads building, made a big impact on me as an impressionable youngster. So, this map shows you land ownership in West Berkshire and what it actually shows you is that there are just 30 landowners who own around half the county of West Berkshire. Put the map together using Highways Act Deposits, just as described, now, who'd like to take a guess as to who's the largest landowner in West Berkshire? 

Audience Member:        


The Crown?


Guy Shrubsole:


The Crown…good guess, but no. Anybody else? I think Hywel knows the answer, so I'm not sure I'm going to ask him.


Audience member:        


Is it Richard Benyon?


Guy Shrubsole:

Is it Richard Benyon? It is in fact the MP for Newbury, Richard Benyon, and he owns all of this blue area here. It’s the Englefield Estate, the single largest landowner in West Berkshire. He also owns, not showing on here, a grouse moor somewhere in Scotland, which adds another 8,000 acres to his estate. He also happens to be the wealthiest MP of Parliament. There are villages in West Berkshire I've walked around where it feels like feudalism has never really died. You walk into Yattendon, north of the M4, and you can see the big Yattendon Estate in their colour green. I've coloured it green because every house in Yattendon is coloured green. Every door, every fence, every piece of guttering, even the village telephone box, usually scarlet, is coloured dark green. It's the estate colours, why not, it's fine, it looks neat. It looks well-looked after. But when I last visited there, I was reminded of two things: the first was the movie Hot Fuzz, which if anybody has seen it, it's about a village which is controlled by a patrician circle of landowners and sort of old boys club that sees to everything being looked after and being very neat and tidy. The second thing is that that old claim made by Margaret Thatcher that if you'd lived in a council house in the 1980's before Right To Buy was brought in that you couldn't even choose the colour of your front door. But the same is often true for tenants of large, private landlords. But we don't talk about that. 

Paint schemes are one thing, perhaps not a very important thing, but what about public access to the countryside? The land access campaigner Marion Shoard calculates that only about 10% of West Berkshire is open access land under the Countryside & Right of Way Act that was brought in by the last Labour government. The vast majority of this beautiful countryside—it is very beautiful countryside, I recommend going if you've got a bit of time – its woods and hills were off-limits to the public and even the bits that are open access have been despoiled because the land owners have sold off parts of them years ago to build a new bypass, which I referred to earlier as being built when I grew up in the town. Here’s the route of the Newbury bypass, some of which was built on the estate of Lord Carnarvon, whose Highclere Castle is the setting for the TV series Downton Abbey. So, you get a sense of how much landowners in this area, but also around the country, have huge sway over access to land and how it's used. 

Now, let me just show you a third map. This map is the owners of England's grouse moors. About half a million acres of our English uplands are covered by grouse moors. So, that's an area the size of greater London, all for private schools and all owned by about 150 landowners. Half of them are aristocrats, the other half are city bankers, wealthy businesspeople. I'll just zoom in on this map, but you can see that most of the grouse moors are situated in England’s uplands in the north of the country. You just zoom a bit on this map, again, this is available online and you can see a bit more about some of these estates. So, this, for example is the Gunnerside Estate in the North Pennines. It's owned offshore, invested in a company called the Gunnerside Estates Limited, registered in the British Virgin Islands. Owned ultimately by Robert Warren Miller, who's an American-born, British billionaire, who made his wealth from duty-free shops. So, devoting an area the size of greater London to an elite gun sport may be considered somewhat wasteful. But it's worse than that because grouse moors have an outsize ecological impact as well. Gamekeepers from grouse moors keep them all free of natural predators by shooting, poisoning and trapping pretty much everything from foxes and stoats through to hen harriers. Hen harriers are a protected species of bird of prey and it's illegal to shoot them, but it happens all the same throughout the English uplands. There should be 300 breeding pairs of hen harriers in the uplands, there instead are just four. 

It gets worse. Visit a grouse moor and you'll see that it looks like the surface of the moon, but that's not just natural heathlands of the sorts that we hear about in Wuthering Heights. It's artificially scoured, slashed and burned as part of the intensive way that the grouse moor is managed. The heather is cut and burned to maximize grouse populations by giving young grouse fresh heather shoots to eat. Burning heather dries out the underlying peat, degrading it, causing it to release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and reducing its sponge-like properties so it can no longer store quite so much water. That means that during rainy winters there are worse floods downstream. Such as the ones that hit the community of Hebden Bridge in 2015. They're downstream from a gigantic grouse moor called Walshaw Moor. It also means that during hot summers the moors dry out more quickly and they're more susceptible to wildfires, like the kind we saw at Saddleworth Moor this past summer. 

Now, maybe this could be solved through better management and more targeted subsidies. But here's where I think you'll really but up against land ownership getting in the way: grouse moors are trophy assets, they're often run at a loss by their landowners, who really want them to be a place where they can take their mates on the old shooting weekend. Most of the owners of grouse moors are unwilling to fundamentally change their land management practices if it actually means stopping shooting and giving up sport. But that really is what needs to happen if we want to restore our uplands to be functioning carbon stores, to be making space for nature, and to better protect flood-prone communities such as Hebden Bridge. 

The last map I want to show you is a map of who owns central London because the maps I've shown you so far tend to be focused on rural land, but I want to demonstrate to you just the importance of land ownership to urban housing issues as well. So, it’s a little bit hard to see, but I'll just zoom in a little, yes, you can see that most of Zone 1, about a thousand acres of Zone 1, is still owned by the Church, the Crown Estate, who own basically all of Regent Street and obviously Buckingham Palace, and then these very old aristocratic estates that dominate the centre of London. In particular, let's have a look at the Grosvenor estate, which is covered in blue, covering Mayfair and Belgravia. The old sixth Duke of Westminster had this wonderful thing that he once said, when he was asked to give some advice to young entrepreneurs, and he replied, "Make sure they have an ancestor who was a close friend of William the Conqueror’s." And he wasn't entirely joking because the Grosvenor’s lineage does stretch back to the Norman Conquest. He really epitomizes how vast swathes of England remain in the hands of aristocrats, whose ancestors—I think John alluded to this in the introduction—really obtained it through conquest, through bloodshed, through enclosure, and that's all kind of wrapped up in history now as if it didn't really matter because history somehow occludes that. But you know, watch Monty Python, “The violence,” as they say, “is inherent in the system.” And it is there still and, in that sense, huge amounts of land has been passed down as a result of something that happened that was pretty horrible centuries, even a millennium ago in the case of the Grosvenors. 

There is a statue in Belgravia which shows the first Marquess of Westminster before they became Dukes and elevated even higher in the peerage. Which proudly states that the Grosvenors came over here with William the Conqueror and have held land in Cheshire since that time. The land the Grosvenors own in London came into their hands relatively more recently, inherited as a wedding dowry some 300 years ago when the area was just swampy fields. Today, of course, Mayfair and Belgravia are some of the hottest real estate on the planet. It's really no coincidence that Mayfair is the most expensive location on the Monopoly board because in real life house prices there are a staggering £21,000 per square metre of land. 

So, okay, what relevance though does this real-life game of Monopoly have to the wider housing crisis? I mean, clearly none of us are looking to buy in Mayfair. Well, perhaps if we're lucky we are, but I'm certainly not. Many would argue however that the overheated property prices and the overheated property markets that you get in central London do have a knock-on effect on prices elsewhere. Professor Chris Hamnett, who is an expert on gentrification at Kings College, he likens the effect of this sort of speculative investment in London property to a three-tier fountain, the kind you might see in Trafalgar Square. Money from property speculators pours into the top. The very first, the upper-most tier of the fountain, pushes prices up. The water rises up, but it starts to overflow, and it starts to trickle down into the lower fountains, the other areas, the areas outside of the super prime parts of London, and into the next tier and the next tier. In his words, "People are being sequentially displaced by this process." 

This has been made worse of course by a lack of property protections for tenants by the expansion of buy-to-let. Buy-to-let landlords, the proportion of Britain's housing stock owned by private landlords, has leapt up from 10% in 2002 to 20% by 2015. This whole process of property investment is helped and boosted really by the secrecy that continues to remain around property ownership and land ownership in England. It's also led to the London property market becoming particularly attractive in recent years to flows of money from around the world, including from perhaps less salubrious characters, Russian oligarchs, people who are based in offshore tax havens, people who more questions should be being asked about how they came into those huge sums of money, whether that was from asset-stripping programs during the post-Soviet privatization program, for example. 

The way that land and property markets have become super-charged with houses treated as assets rather than as homes has also left many London properties being left empty and under-occupied. I got a peek into that world when I investigated empty properties in Kensington and Chelsea back in the summer of 2017. This was in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire disaster and hundreds of residents from there were still needing rehousing. So, I asked the council for a list of its empty homes and who owned them, not really expecting to be sent them, and lo and behold the council got back and said, “There's absolutely no way we can give you that information, but we will give you this very helpful spreadsheet attached, which gives you the number of empty homes by each ward.” What they'd forgotten to do was to take out all the names of the owners of the empty homes and their address from this spreadsheet. So, unfortunately, fortunately if you look at it from my perspective, they'd given us all the names of the owners of empty homes. In Kensington and Chelsea, there are about 1,500 or so. 

They knew this, by the way, because they do charge a slight premium on council tax. It used to be a 50% premium on council tax for the owners of empty properties that have been left empty for over two years. There are properties in London that have been left empty for 10 to 15 years. Anyway, we'd got this list, worked on it with my colleague Anna, we took it to The Guardian, and we combed through it with the journalist, looking at all the owners and selected a few that we felt were of sufficient public interest to disclose in the newspaper. But really, the whole list was a roll call of some of the world's wealthiest people, you got a real sense when looking through it of a kind of jet-setting elite, moving between multiple properties in different countries, occasionally dropping in on a pad in Kensington before heading off to New York. Leaving homes largely empty along the way. 

This is part of a wider problem of ‘land banking’ as well, or perhaps more accurately referred to as ‘land speculation,’ something that housing developers are often accused of. There are many large housing developers who do have large, what are called 'strategic land banks,' kind of the pipeline of land, which they then try and bring forward for development. People often accuse housing developers of sitting on these land banks and only sort of dribbling them into the market as it makes sense for their profit margins. But I think really, it's a problem that actually affects all land ownership. It's something that all landowners potentially have an incentive to do and that is to sit on land until you can secure the greatest possible return for it. When the deal is done, when the landowner's been paid off by the developer, the developer makes their initial promises to the council, their pledges of what percentage houses that they build on that site will be affordable, then later squeals viability and starts to renege on their Section 106 agreement about what they'll do for the area. The fact of the matter is that if landowners are able to charge absolutely top whack for their land, as much as they think they can get in terms of home value, then there's not going to be so much left over to be able to subsidize affordable homes or to build decent properties. 

What I would say we need is a return to an earlier settlement that did happen in this country between the 1940's and 60's when councils and public development corporations were allowed to purchase land more cheaply and build social housing themselves, backed by the threat, if necessary, of compulsory purchase. Perhaps we can explore a bit more about that in the Q&A. Now, I need to get back to the slides because I want to leave you with this one stat that 1% of the population earn half the land, Now, that needs a bit of unpacking. Where that comes from is not directly from Land Registry information, as I say, a lot of it is still under wraps, but it comes from probably the best proxy figures that we will get which are DEFRA’s; Department for the Environment’s Farm survey stats. You can look at these and you can look at the number of farms there are in England and extrapolate from that just how concentrated land ownership is. There’re about 100,000 farms left in England, obviously many of those are tenanted farms, so actually the number of farms that are actually owned out right would be considerably less. 

That's an incredible concentration of land ownership in the hands of a very few people. A lot of those tenant farmers will be renting off larger estates such as the Grosvenor's that we talked about before. So, what is to be done? Is this just a giant moan about how everything was being skewed against us from 1066? Well, I hope not because I think also there is this hidden history of English land reform that has been kind of air-brushed out of our modern history. We talked about Gerrard Winstanley, but there are other people as well as other movements that have come about whether that was the humble allotments movement that came about during the late-nineteenth century as a result of pressure from urban working-class people to get some land on which they could grow food on. 

What do we need to do today? We need to do a number of things if we're to have an English land reform movement that fixes many of the problems that we've been talking about, that really starts to learn from what's been going on in Scotland, for example. Firstly, we need the government to tell us who owns the land, we need them to open up the Land Registry and a lot of the other data that sits on council websites, such as the planning portals, to really get a sense of who owns land and who is influencing how it's used. We need to fix the housing crisis, partly by letting councils buy land cheaply once again, so they can build more affordable housing. That involves reforming the 1961 Land Compensation Act, so that councils and development corporations can negotiate better with landowners to sell the land closer to existing use value. 

We need to end empty homes, an absolute scandal when there's such a large number of people homeless, by taxing the owners of vacant properties a much higher council tax. And we really ought to be revaluating council tax more generally because it hasn't been revalued since 1991, during which land prices and house prices have skyrocketed. And we certainly ought to be moving towards replacing business rates with something more akin to a land value tax, which would be much fairer and better for really appreciating the values that are got from owning land in city centres. We need to reform tenants’ rights to give greater security of tenure and protection from rent prices. We need to reform farm subsidies; we need to cap direct area payments that go to large landowners. No one really should be getting more than £100,000 in public money this way every year, but there are many, many large landowners who are paid upwards of £1 million in farm subsidies that way. 

We should be redistributing the savings that we make in that to small holders, who are currently ineligible for farm subsidies and also to fund new environmental schemes. We should be banning driven grouse moors, because this would do a huge amount to allow upland ecosystems to recover, and allow hen harrier populations to grow, as well as many other species, as well as reducing flood-risk communities downstream. We should extend the Right to Roam to all uncultivated land, just as they have done in Scotland. We should give more of us a stake in the land and that relates not only to making housing affordable, but also to other things… strengthening our statutory right to an allotment, for example. We all have a statutory right to an allotment as a result of previous land reform movements in England, but often we can't exercise that right because councils will wait and wait and wait and will say that there isn't affordable land available nearby and you'll sit on a waiting list like many people do for council housing for years. 

We should stop selling off county farms. That innovation that was brought in as a way to get young people, new people without capital, into farming. There is an amendment that myself and a group of people are currently pushing to the Agriculture Bill that's currently going through Parliament where we're trying to get greater protections for county farms, so that they can't just be flogged off as a result of short-term calculations, that they have to be thought about and invested in for the longer-term. We should bring in a Community Right to Buy to let communities take back control of local land to give them a first right to refusal when land comes up for sale and a chance potentially to challenge if sites are left derelict or used in ways that actively harm the community like I would argue grass moors do. 

There are lots of other ideas that myself and others are advocating in this, what I would say, is a nascent English land reform movement that is starting to grow around us today. These will be detailed in a forthcoming report to the Labour Party. Some are in a forthcoming pamphlet being put together by an activist group that I'm a part of called the Land Justice Network, others will be in the book that I've been writing, which will be out next year, but we can discuss these and many more in the Q&A. So, just to close, I'd like to say this: land is a political cause whose time has come. It underpins the housing crisis, the crisis in the natural world, the challenges we face post-Brexit, our spiralling social inequality. Land speaks to who we are as a country and whether we give all who live here a real stake in the country and how we treat the land, how we share it out, and whether we respect it or trash it for short-term profit really speaks volumes about our culture. Can we yet become a nation that fulfils Gerrard Winstanley’s old dream that land is treated as a common treasury for all? I hope that we can, and I hope that you will join me in making it so. 

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