Housing as a speculative financial asset: introducing REITS (Real Estate Investment Trusts)

MEET THE NEW LANDLORD – REITS: WHAT ARE THEY?
Real Estate Investment Trusts – a tool of asset accumulation as an escalation of the division of wealth and class separation in Britain and across the world:

REITs are trusts that buy commercial properties, such as apartments, office buildings, and shopping centres which produce income. When a person buys shares in a REIT, they become a part owner in all of the property holdings of the REIT. REITs are traded like stocks on the major stock exchanges, so they provide the liquidity of stocks with the diversification and income of commercial real estate. REITs first appeared in the US, after being approved by Congress in 1960 to offer small investors a chance to participate in the commercial real estate market. As of 2016, are were 224 REITs on the FTSE (London Stock-Exchange). The Internal Revenue Service shows that there are about 1,100 U.S. REITs that have filed tax returns in the USA, including more than 225 REITs in the U.S. registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission that trade on one of the major stock exchanges — the majority on the NYSE.

AGAINST REAL ESTATE INVESTMENT TRUSTS (REITs):
Throughout the world, Real Estate Investment Trust (REITs) are playing a rapidly increasing role in organising private financial investments in housing and cities. Real Estate Investments Trusts (REITs) are joint stock companies that primarily derive their income from real estate. They are free from corporate tax and they are legally forced to pay out high parts of their profits.

After a longer period of development in Northern America disastrous consequences on social housing are evident:

– Buying out of social, public and low-cost housing

– Rent increase and increase of heating costs, service charges etc.

– Demolishing of affordable complexes and replacement by more profitable buildings

– Disinvestments, neglect of/worse maintenance of the housing stock

– Pressure to leave on financially disfavoured tenants, replacements by wealthy residents

– the ending of social neighbourhoods programmes, participation process etc

– Construction on public spaces, privatization of public spaces

– Lobbying governments for weakening legal standards

– Exit to private funds

The large U.S. REIT AIMCO gave a shocking example how these investors

treat tenants.

* Video on forced evictions by AIMCO at Lincoln Place

Although negative consequences in the USA, Canada and elsewhere are obvious, the introduction of REITs in most of the countries took place without protests and even without critical debate. They just happened in the extra-democratic spaces where financial lobbyists make their deals with governments.

HOW DO REITS WORK?

Lots of small investors can take part by owning shares in the Trust which owns the buildings. This means they can buy or sell their shares in the trust easily whenever they like exposing homes to the volatility of speculative markets. No tax is paid by the Trust; tax is only paid by the shareholder, with their dividend income return added to their annual taxable income. If the shareholder is a charity (such as a housing association which has a charitable arm), the shareholder may be exempt from paying any tax at all.

‘In the United States and France, REITs have lead to higher rents and to asset stripping; where the most profitable housing has been enhanced at increased rents, whilst the rest has been left to decay or emptied for redevelopment or demolition.’ From London Tenants.org

There are several different types of REITs available on the market:

[1] Equity REITs own and operate income producing real estate, such as apartments, warehouses, office buildings, hotels, and shopping centres.

[2] Specialized REITs focus on a particular type of property, such as shopping centres or health care facilities.

[3] Geographically-focused REITs specialize in a single region or metropolitan area, while others try to acquire properties throughout the country. Mortgage REITs lend money to real estate owners and operators, and raise income from the interest payments on the mortgages.

4] Hybrid REITs own properties and provide loans to real estate owners.

FINANCIAL MARKETS: ASYLUM FOR CAPITAL

Taken from FROM CRISIS TO CRASH

Ref: www.beigewum.at
The financial markets prove to be an ideal place of refuge for anxious owners of capital. They are flexible and global. An IBM stock can be exchanged in a few moments for a Yen credit or a government bond. For big customers, the expenses are trifling. State incursions like taxes and restrictions tend to zero.

Profits were and are now gained from shares (dividend distributions based on business profits), national debts (compound interest financed by taxes), credits (interest payments from private or state debtors), organisation of firm takeovers or the purchase and sale of securities at the right moment. The latter is a very popular option since it requires the least waiting-time. Through deregulation and internationalisation, getting into and out of investments as fast as lightning is increasingly possible.

With this flexibility, pressure is exerted on everything that does not bow to the desires of investors. This structure is the central lever for the restructuring and realisation of better profit conditions for capital in general, not only the much reviled ‘speculators’.

Varsity: The homeless should be helped, not criminalised

https://www.varsity.co.uk/comment/14335

In response to new plans to fine people for sleeping rough, Charlotte Lillywhite condemns councils callous treatment of the homeless

Stoke-on-Trent council plans to reduce their funding of homelessness services by £1m – by Charlotte Lillywhite

Sunday January 7 2018

The proposal issued by Stoke-on-Trent City Council to fine homeless people for sleeping in tents, for persistent or aggressive begging, and for sleeping in public toilets, is appalling. Although the proposal concerning the use of tents has now been scrapped following a public petition, the council is still considering whether to impose fines for the other activities. An on-the-spot penalty of 100 may be issued, followed by prosecution and a bill of up to 1000 if the initial penalty is left unpaid. This doesnt mean that the fine for sleeping in tents is any less relevant, however: the councils desire to put it in place, and the support that the proposal attracted, is telling in itself.

Economic motives lurk beneath the surface of these proposed fines. The proposals were primarily supported by businesses in Stoke-on-Trent. This indicates that people are more concerned about the way that the city appears to tourists and consumers, than they are about those who have found themselves in desperately vulnerable situations. The charity Shelter recorded that 43 people in Stoke-on-Trent were without a home this year. It also noted a 22% increase in homelessness in the West Midlands in the last twelve months.

How do councils expect the homeless to pay these fines?

The prioritisation of appearance over reality is also revealed in the impracticality of these policies how does the council expect homeless people to pay the fines which are to be needlessly imposed upon them? This inefficacy forces us to interrogate the councils motives. Are the proposals designed to send out an intolerant message to the citys homeless?

A sinister behavioural system begins to emerge from behind the legitimate fa硤e of the councils policies: an effort is being made to criminalise the homeless. By trying to make sleeping in a tent an offence, and by attempting to criminalise aggressive and persistent begging terms which can be subjectively defined and thus manipulated councillors legitimise the stigmas which propelled them to punish rough-sleepers in the first place.They exploit social fears by forging an imaginative link between homelessness and crime. This validates their treatment of the homeless as criminals, excusing their perpetuation of prejudice by deflecting any criticism onto the idea of law and order. Through this, PSPOs (Pubic Space Protection Orders, which allow councils to criminalise activities within certain areas) become a series of legal loopholes, enabling unjustified punishments to be proposed.

This exploitation is widespread: 36 local councils in England and Wales are working on similar policies involving PSPOs, including Newport City Council, which is trying to place a blanket ban on rough sleeping and begging. On a larger scale, the government is distorting the reality of homelessness in our society. At PMQs on 13th December, Theresa May brazenly lied about the situation, claiming that statutory homelessness peaked under the Labour government and is down by over 50% since then. This implies that the Conservatives are responsible for reducing the figures. The truth, however, is that, while statutory homelessness did peak under Labour, this was a result of Conservative control from 1979 to 1996. Labour went on to reduce the number of rough sleepers to its lowest level since 1998. Homelessness only began to rise again once the Conservatives returned to power in 2010: the DCLG reports that the number of households in temporary accommodation has increased by 65% since December of that same year.

This rise is irrefutably linked to Conservative policy. Since coming into office, the government has slashed benefits, cut council funding and reduced the availability of affordable housing. This pushes people into desperate situations and has left a considerable number of them homeless. For example, the DCLG has linked 28% of cases involving those who have become homeless since 2010 to Assured Shorthold Tenancies. Those who are victimised by government policy are then punished by the same authorities. This is exemplified by the situation in Stoke-on-Trent, where the recent proposals run alongside a plan to reduce support for homelessness services by 1m, due to budget cuts.

This forces people back into the vulnerable situations in which they started. Only now there is a framework which legitimises their callous treatment. To truly change the situation, the prejudice which encourages the formation of these policies and grants them legitimacy must be dismantled: systemic action is required to change the causes of the issue rather than the effects. We need transparency to ensure reality is no longer distorted and to avoid the manipulation of the public at the hands of authority.

New Chartist manifesto 2017 – six demands

Today, as the New Chartists the Chartist part now refers to the 1215 Great Charter (Magna Carta) we, too, have a list of six Requirements and because we are exposing proven and current High Treason and appalling financial fraud within Parliament, the Judiciary and the City of London not to mention the small matter that we also represent 99% of the people – we will not be overcome or dispersed until the job is done.  We are going nowhere until all the injustice, hardship and suffering stops!

Our six requirements are:
https://www.newchartistmovement.org.uk/about-1

1. That the People are ultimately Sovereign by restoring the supremacy of our Trial by Jury Common Law Constitution, as confirmed by the 1215 Great Charter, along with the absolute right of a randomly selected Jury to annul bad and flawed legislation (statutes) passed by the agenda-driven, self-serving politicians in Parliament.

2. That Poverty and Austerity be ended immediately by the reinstatement of the fiscal process known as Sovereign National Credit whereby HM Treasury creates and issues debt-free and interest-free money that is based entirely on the wealth and labour potential (creativity) of our nation. This will involve restoring the 1914 Bradbury Pound which prevented a financial collapse at the outbreak of the First World War. To support this, we will be making a full exposure of the fraudulent activities of the privately controlled Bank for International Settlements and its debt-creating central banking system, which includes the Bank of England.

3. That Children must be protected from Establishment-led abuse by abolishing the secretive and corrupt Family Courts, along with the setting up of a new and properly run public inquiry involving a randomly selected Grand Jury to investigate thoroughly, without fear or favour, the alleged abuse of children by people in positions of trust and authority, some of whom, it is alleged, are holding, or have held, positions at the very highest levels of government.

4. That our Armed Services and Police Service be shielded from further cut-backs by immediately withdrawing from the proven and treasonous process to unify our already deliberately depleted Armed Services with those of the European Union; whilst at the same time annulling the process to privatise and corporatise our Police Service, including giving private security firms the powers of arrest. Those men and women who are seeking to serve and defend us are being deliberately emasculated so as to allow our treasonous political class to end our countrys ancient freedoms and sovereignty and our Common Law Trial by Jury Constitution.

5. That the fraud and deception of our Legal System be ended by exposing and collapsing the alien and parallel legal system that some say evolved from the 1666 Cestui Que Vie Act which seemingly allows Legal Fictions to be created when our parents are compelled to register a birth and so receive a Birth Certificate for their new-born. There is provable evidence that a legal, but definitely not lawful, system of deception and entrapment exists (using the deliberate and unfathomable language of legalese) where you find that our Courts of Justice are listed by Dun and Bradstreet as corporations so as to make them places of business and not justice. It is a system whereby Roman Civil Law (also known as Maritime Law and Napoleonic Law) is allowed by open treason to operate without hindrance in our Common Law Trial by Jury country with the open acquiescence and complicity of the Judiciary.

6. That true Justice in the Courts be restored by bringing to trial those rogue judges, lawyers, auditors and bankers who are, or have been, involved in fraudulent bankruptcies that have stolen billions of pounds from totally innocent victims, not to mention carrying out large-scale money-laundering exercises in order to hide their criminally obtained money.

The Winchester Declaration

All of the above Requirements are covered by the 2016 Winchester Declaration which was unanimously agreed upon on November 17th 2016 at a specially convened and very well attended meeting of the British Constitution Group at the Winchester Guildhall. The Winchester Declaration calls for Parliament to accept and pass the Restoration Amendment that would meet and satisfy all of the above Requirements and thus completely restore the Rule of Law and Financial Sovereignty to our country.

Landworkers’ Alliance crowdfunder to lobby for small scale, traditional family farms & ecological farming for the UK’s post-brexit agricultural policy

The Landworkers’ Alliance launched a Crowdfunder, aiming to raise £25k to get their policies into a post-Brexit agricultural policy. The crowd funder has less than one more week to go in case anyone wants to make a donation to support the orientation towards a just and sustainable agricultural policy after Brexit.

Go to the crowdfunder page here: https://tinyurl.com/yanu8rpc to make a donation that will help the Landworkers’ Alliance defend small-scale family farms, and try to build a future where farmers and new entrants can make a decent livelihood producing good food.

Who are the Landworkers’ Alliance? The Landworkers’ Alliance is a grassroots union of farmers, growers and land-based workers from across the whole of the U.K. They are a member led organisation campaigning for the rights of small-scale producers and a better food system for everyone.

More farmers, Better Food The Landworkers’ Alliance launch crowdfunding campaign to change the future of agricultural policy and they need your support.
In Spring 2018 the government will outline a new UK post-Brexit farming policy. This is the most significant moment in generations for those who want to see a socially just and environmentally sustainable food system. The Landworkers’ Alliance are seeking to defend the needs of small-scale and ecological farmers against agri-business interests. They launched a nationwide funding campaign ‘More Farmers, Better Food’ on 23rd December 2017 to influence post-Brexit agricultural policy, aiming to raise £25k through public donations to support their work campaigning and lobbying for a policy that will guarantee a fair future for farmers in the UK.

The future of our food and farming depends on this policy; it is the most significant moment in generations – they need your support to reach the target and make sure the voices of small-scale and ecological farmers against agri-business interests are heard.

Why do we need to be part of shaping a post-Brexit Agriculture Policy? (with reference to multi-pronged list of objectives outlined by the Landworkers’ Alliance):

    • So that the voices of small-scale and ecological farmers are heard instead of only those of agri-business interests who usually assume the voice of the UK farming lobby (usually represented by the National Farmers’ Union and Country Land & Business Association – my insert)
    • In the 10 years following the implementation of the 2003 Common Agricultural Policy reform, 35,000 farms left the land in the UK; most of these were small-scale and family farms. The Landworkers’ Alliance assert that we need to ensure that British Agricultural policy will not repeat the same mistakes of previous agricultural reforms. On the contrary, reforming the CAP within the EU should have been focused upon one of the original tenets of the Treaty of Rome to “ensure the optimum utilisation of the factors of production, in particular, labour”. For a post-brexit UK outside the CAP as well as for countries remaining in the CAP, maximising the utilisation of agricultural labour should mean properly rewarding that labour – a skill set which in certain areas of agriculture such as the uplands is fast dying out. And yet, working in the food and farming sector is characterised by insecure, precarious and unpredictable labour conditions. 64% of farmers earn less than £10,000 a year, 8 supermarkets control almost 95% of the food retail market, and farmers receive less than 10% of the value of their produce sold in supermarkets. Meanwhile, there is hardly any support for new entrant farms or funding for farmers producing on less than 5 hectares (12 acres) of land.
    • The UK has one the highest levels of concentrated land ownership in the world, and the price of land has trebled in just over 10 years. In 2015, just 100 landowners received a combined total of £87.9m in agricultural subsidies, of which £61.2m came from the single payment scheme. This is more than the combined total paid to the bottom 55, 119 recipients in the single payment scheme over the same period.
    • The UK is the 6th largest economy in the world and yet in 2014, over 8.4 million people living in a UK household reported having insufficient food.

    The Landworkers’ Alliance have developed a range of policy proposals aimed at protecting small scale, traditional and family farms, creating more environmental farming systems without losing sight of production, and giving new entrants more support to set up and scale up.

    All of their policies and representation comes from their members who are farmers, growers and land-based workers who have direct experience of the issues they campaign on. They will use the crowdfunding campaign to fund 5 key areas of work:

      1. To deliver political training sessions, that will equip members with the skills and confidence to advocate for a better food system.
      2. To send representatives to Westminster on a regular basis to make sure we have a place at the table.
      3. To write, print and get our post-Brexit Agriculture policy proposals into the hands of political decision makers.
      4. To organise stunts and actions that ensure our voices are heard.
      5. To highlight our issues by organising study tours of innovative farms, direct marketing and new entrant initiatives for MPs and civil servants.

    Their crowdfunding campaign More Farmers, Better Food intends to fund their work lobbying and campaigning to influence the policy making process. It will support them to ensure the future of the UK food system guarantees farmers and food workers are able to work with dignity and earn a decent living, and everybody is able to access nutritious and affordable food.

    Now more then ever the future of our farms, our land, our food is in our hands. Let’s put control over the food system back into the hands of our communities!

    With just less than one week left to go on our crowdfunder – please support the campaign today!
    https://tinyurl.com/yanu8rpc

    The Victorian slums are back – and housing developers are to blame again

    The Victorian slums are back – and housing developers are to blame again

    The housebuilding of the 19th century paved the way for slum tenancies. As inequality rises, miserable living conditions have returned  

    ‘The houses of the Georgian Quarter were built in the middle of the 19th century for the merchant elite of a city that was then rapidly becoming one of the richest in the world.’

    Same place, different time. It was in the early 1990s that I first walked down Falkner Street in Liverpool. Twenty-five years later and I’ve been back to make the BBC Two series A House Through Time, which tells the story of a single house and the generations of people for whom it was home.

    Thinking back to the 1990s, when I was a student in Liverpool, I struggle to remember ever taking much notice of the city’s grand Victorian houses. Part of what made them unremarkable was that they were where many of us students lived and partied. It was only when friends studying in other cities came to visit, and were astonished by the grandeur of the houses local students called home, that we were reminded that these elegant terraces had been built for an altogether better class of occupant.

    As a history student I had some insight into the forces that had made Liverpool rich, and then plunged it into a precipitous decline, but back then I didn’t spend much of my time thinking about houses. My lack of interest was, in hindsight, an incredible luxury.A lot has changed in the years since. The area around Liverpool University is neater, busier and richer. Like pretty much everything else, it has also been rebranded. It is now the Georgian Quarter, a title guaranteed to add a few thousand to any estate agent’s asking price. The houses of the Georgian Quarter were built in the middle of the 19th century for the merchant elite of a city that was then rapidly becoming one of the richest in the world. Neither the financiers who built them nor the well-to-do Victorian families who became their first residents would have imagined that one day a bunch of students would be sitting in their grand drawing rooms drinking and smoking.

    I didn’t think about houses or how much they cost, because what I vaguely imagined was that if I worked hard at university, went on to get further qualifications and entered a profession, home ownership would be one of those things that would probably just happen somewhere along the way, like getting married, putting on weight or having children.

    Illustration by Andrzej Krauze
     Illustration by Andrzej Krauze

    What I did not realise was that I was a member of the last generation who could take such a passive view of home ownership. My cohort, the students who graduated in the mid- to late 90s, were the last to slip through a fast-closing door, a postwar portal to social mobility and home ownership that was about to be slammed shut in the faces of the generation just behind us.The students who now sit in the lecture halls I once frequented think about property and money in ways I never did. They are all too aware that unless they are in line to inherit wealth from parents they cannot presume they will ever own their homes. When they walk through Liverpool’s Georgian Quarter what they see is vast concentrations of wealth beyond the reach of all but the already privileged.

    Something like this had been the general idea when the area was built in the 1840s. The four-storey townhouses on Falkner Street were aimed at the Victorian middle classes. Liverpool’s troubled history meant the buildings went on to have a turbulent life story. By the 1940s and 1950s much of what is now the Georgian Quarter was packed with slum housing. The area has come full circle. Homes in the Georgian Quarter are today worth two to three times the UK average.

    The first resident of No 62 back in 1841 was Richard Glenton, a rather underwhelming customs clerk. Glenton was only able afford to live in such a big house because his wealthy father subsidised his lavish lifestyle. Again the story feels circular. According to a report by the Social Mobility Commission, a third of those who manage to scramble on to the bottom rungs of the property ladder today are only able to do so with help from parents.

    It was while a student that I first heard the phrase “housing crisis”. It appeared in history textbooks, prefixed with the word “Victorian”, and I wrote a dissertation about it. Whereas today the big money is in building one- and two-bedroom flats in cities, in the 19th century developers got rich by building big houses for the wealthy.

    In both cases the result was market failure, the oversupply of some types of houses, the undersupply of others. Wherever Victorian developers built more grand houses than there were rich buyers, or whenever the exclusive new districts they created fell out of fashion, their big houses became big problems. Grand middle-class houses were subdivided and rooms rented out to the poor. Homes that had been built for single families became tenements in which multiple families were packed together. Overcrowded and unfit for purpose, these once-elegant townhouses became miserable slums.

    While I was busy studying the causes and effects of the Victorian housing crisis, the conditions for the current one were being slotted into place. Now, as then, a poorly regulated housing market is failing to meet the country’s housing needs. Supply does not match demand. The revival of beautiful Victorian homes such as those in Liverpool has been accompanied by what feels like a return to Victorian levels of inequality. They had soup kitchens, we have food banks. They had tenements, we have thousands of families living in B&Bs. Conditions I once read about in history books are now on the nightly news.

     David Olusoga is a historian and presenter of BBC Two’s A House Through Time

    United States was forced to abandon Grosvenor Square embassy because Duke of Westminster refused to sell freehold

    Grosvenor Square vs Nine Elms: The $1bn US embassy saga behind Donald Trump’s ‘bad deal’ outburst

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/3123915/US-embassy-to-move-from-Grosvenor-Square-to-industrial-estate.html

    Mr Tuttle said the current embassy would be available for sale almost immediately, as long as the move was approved by US Congress and planning authorities in Britain.

    He said the announcement was only the start of a “multi-year, multi-stage” process which could take up to five years.

    The current embassy was always an oddity in the US diplomatic set-up because of the lease arrangement with the Duke of Westminster – virtually every other major mission is owned outright by the US.

    The Duke reportedly said he would only sell if the US government returned his family’s land, confiscated during the American War of Independence.

    His property company the Grosvenor Group refused to comment on the move.

    American links with the square date back to the 1780s when John Adams lived in London before becoming US president.

    The embassy has been there since 1938 and moved into the present nine-storey building – with its distinctive golden eagle on the roof – in 1960.

    Its central location made it an obvious target for its detractors and in 1968 the square had to be closed because of the strength of protest over the Vietnam war.

    That freehold rumour

    Trump also criticised the Obama administration of selling the current site for “peanuts”. “Bad deal,” he added. 

    Although we don’t know how much the current site was sold for when it was flogged to the Qatari sovereign wealth fund in 2009, experts estimated it was worth as much as £500m – but that was before it was given its Grade II listing. 

    The current site is also the one of the few US embassies in the world to which the US does not own the freehold. A report by the LA Times in the 1980s suggested back in the 1940s, the second Duke of Westminster, whose Grosvenor Estate owns the freehold, was asked to hand it over to the US government. He responded by insisting he would only give it up if the US returned 1,200 acres of prime Florida real estate which had been confiscated after US independence. It politely declined. 

    Imber in Wiltshire: Salisbury Plain village and church access restricted by MoD

    A Routemaster bus in the deserted village of Imber on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire

    Access to a “ghost village” church which was taken over by the military in World War Two is to be restricted.

    The village of Imber was abandoned in 1943 and has been closed to civilians ever since as it is sited on the MoD’s training zone on Salisbury Plain.

    St Giles Church, the only building left intact in Imber, is normally open to the public for two weeks each August.

    Imber bus service makes a return

    This year the MoD has reduced it to three days due to visitors “attempting to access restricted areas”.

    It was just before Christmas 1943 that Imber villagers were ordered to pack up and leave to provide a training area for American troops preparing for the invasion of Europe during World War Two.

    They were never allowed to return and the village vanished off the map.

    Since then, up to 50 days of public access is granted each year by the MoD.

    Imber churchSt Giles Church will only be open to the public from 26 to 28 August

    But this year it has been “significantly reduced”, according to Neil Skelton, custodian of the church, because visitors have been “trespassing in the restricted areas” of the deserted village.

    “Last August, we had probably around 4,000 to 5,000 people over the two weeks and at Easter it was manic,” he said.

    “It’s the sheer numbers, we’re attracting so many people but if you reduce the number of days, you’ll be squeezing more people in to fewer days.”

    ‘Public in danger’

    It is feared people are putting their lives at risk by trespassing in to areas where there could be “unexploded ordnance”.

    A Ministry of Defence spokesman who wished to remain anonymous said keeping visitors to Imber village safe was a “top priority”.

    He said: “Unfortunately we have received numerous reports of members of the public placing themselves and others in danger during previous open days by attempting to access restricted areas.

    “Following these reports a risk assessment was carried out which resulted in the decision to reduce public access periods to the village.”

    ————————————————————————————-

    The Road to Imber

    The single-lane road cuts through an almost empty grassland plateau. Every so often there are signs warning drivers not to wander, at risk of death from unexploded bombs. A burned-out tank punctuates the horizon, its gun raised in salute. The road continues like this for a good twenty minutes before reaching a small car park outside a village church. On the morning of New Year’s Day the car park was almost full. People were getting out of their cars and making their way up the hill to the church: families with children and elderly relatives, a dog-walker in a camouflage anorak, a young couple in quilted jackets and Union Jack wellies.

    Several times a year, the church at Imber, a ghost village on Salisbury Plain, is opened to the public. In 1943 the Ministry of Defence, which owns much of the surrounding area, evicted Imber’s 150 or so residents so that the village could be used to train American troops preparing for the D-Day landings. The villagers thought they would be allowed back when the war ended, but the MoD kept them out, instead using Imber to train successive generations of soldiers in urban combat. Most of the original houses have been demolished and replaced with a replica of a 1980s Belfast housing estate. More recently, soldiers have been trained here before deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq.

    The church, built in the 14th and 15th centuries (the earliest recorded mention of a settlement at Imber is in the 10th century) has been preserved, its yard surrounded by a chain-link fence with signs that tell visitors not to stray out, and soldiers not to stray in. On 1 January there was the atmosphere of a fête inside. Tables with gingham cloths were set out for guests; a stall offered mulled wine and orange squash. Display boards told the history of the village, alongside black and white photos of thatched cottages. The visitors peered at the boards, or sat and chatted quietly. A set of 15th-century frescoes have been removed to a safer location, but I could make out what looks like a horned figure traced in red pigment where a painting of the Seven Deadly Sins once sat.

    At first, nobody was allowed to visit Imber at all, but in January 1961 two thousand protesters forced their way past the security checkpoints that surround the MoD training ground, to demand that the community be allowed back. Today, the MoD permits access for up to 50 days a year, although this is often curtailed at short notice. ‘We were supposed to open for three weeks in summer, but they only let us open for three days,’ the woman pouring drinks said.

    In The Village that Died for England, Patrick Wright explores Tyneham in Dorset, another settlement that was forced to make way for the war effort. Once abandoned, Tyneham was ‘reborn’ in media coverage ‘as a perfect English village of the mind’, with patriotic villagers who dutifully left their homes when the hour came; a fantasy of England as rural, pre-industrial, white, enduring. A number of Tyneham’s buildings have been meticulously restored and the village has been used as a film set. Imber is too diminished by use for that. Looking downhill from the church, you can see the ‘Belfast’ houses. They are made of brick, and have sloping metal roofs, but there are no windows, and scorch marks line the walls. As one version of England is briefly revived inside the church, another carries on outside.

    In the churchyard, some gravestones are clearly postwar. They are memorials for former villagers – the Imber ‘diaspora’, as a local newspaper article puts it – who died in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of the older stones are completely overgrown, covered by clumps of uncut grass, and starting to look like miniature Stone Age barrows – remnants of another culture that had its own ways of imagining the eternal, to which England now lays claim.

    ‘Appeasing the developers’: even Labour controlled cities keep extent of privatised ‘public’ space secret

    Manchester’s Spinningfields business quarter, where the parkland is privately owned.
    Manchester’s Spinningfields business quarter, where the parkland is privately owned. Photograph: Christopher Thomond

    Many of Britain’s largest cities are refusing to reveal information regarding the private ownership of seemingly public spaces, the Guardian has discovered, fuelling concerns about a growing democratic deficit within local city government.

    A Guardian Cities investigation earlier this summer revealed for the first time the spread of pseudo-public space in London – large squares, parks and thoroughfares that appear to be public but are actually owned and controlled by developers and their private backers – and an almost complete lack of transparency over secret restrictions imposed by corporations that limit the rights of citizens passing through their sites.

    The Guardian has since requested data on pseudo-public spaces, which are sometimes known as privately owned public spaces (Pops), from the country’s biggest urban centres beyond the capital.

    Councils were asked about the extent of existing pseudo-public spaces in their area and details of any upcoming development plans that will include such spaces in the future. They were also questioned on how local citizens could access information about pseudo-public spaces, and about the nature of any private restrictions imposed by corporate landowners which may prevent members of the public from holding protests, taking photos, or exercising many of the other rights they are entitled to on genuinely public land.

    Out of 14 local authorities contacted, only two – Cardiff and Cambridge – provided some details of pseudo-public sites under their jurisdiction. Belfast and Edinburgh councils said they were unable to share that information. Other city administrations, including Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Nottingham, Leicester, Bristol, Sheffield and Newcastle, declined to comment.

    Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said all of the city’s open and public spaces ‘should be subject to the same laws and rules as everywhere else in our country and not indistinct restrictions’
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    ‘[Open spaces] should be subject to the same laws and rules as everywhere else in our country and not indistinct restrictions’ … Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe

    “It’s really shocking,” said professor Richard Sennett, a prominent sociologist at the London School of Economics whose work explores the politics of urban development. “What are local councils so afraid of? Conditions could be placed on new developments that force the creation of real public space and full transparency about land ownership and public rights.

    “But in Britain we’ve long had this attitude of appeasement towards developers. If planning authorities were strong, rather than constantly bending over backwards to show how development-friendly they are, they would find that the companies fall into line.”

    The revelation comes as pressure mounts on the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to use his forthcoming London Plan – which provides an overarching development strategy for the city – to push back against the creeping privatisation of public space.

    Following the Guardian’s initial investigation, national political leaders including Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, the Liberal Democrats’ Vince Cable and Caroline Lucas of the Green Party all spoke out on the subject.

    Shortly thereafter, a motion was passed in the London Assembly urging Khan to take a firm stance on the issue.

    “Being able to know what rules you are being governed by, and how to challenge them, is a fundamental part of democracy,” said Sian Berry, a London Assembly member for the Green Party who proposed the motion.

    The Liverpool One shopping development, which involved the corporate enclosure of several previously public streets.
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    The Liverpool One shopping development, which involved the corporate enclosure of several previously public streets. 

    “Increasingly, London’s public space is in private hands and there is very little transparency around which individuals and groups can have access,” added Labour’s Nicky Gavron. “These are Londoners’ outdoor living rooms and it is appalling that access can be restricted.”

    Several assembly members pointed out that City Hall itself is located on open but private land controlled by the sovereign wealth fund of Kuwait, which refuses to allow journalists to operate in the area without corporate permission.

    The Mayor of London has vowed to establish new guidelines covering privately-owned “public” sites, designed to “maximise access and minimise restrictions, as well as enabling planners to establish potential restrictions at the application stage for new developments.”

    But Gavron insisted that this was not enough. “The next London Plan should go further and establish real public transparency and accountability for setting rules to govern these spaces through the lifetime of developments, not just at the application stage,” she argued.

    Although London is at the centre of Britain’s trend towards the creation of pseudo-public spaces, budgetary pressures on local authorities and growing partnerships with the private sector have resulted in a number of similar developments emerging in other cities, including Liverpool One – a huge retail and leisure complex on the city’s waterfront which involved the corporate enclosure of several previously public streets – and the Spinningfields and First Street districts of Manchester.

    Manchester’s under-construction NOMA neighbourhood, which is currently the largest development project in the north-west of England, is set to include two pseudo-public spaces; when asked about what agreements Manchester’s planning authorities had reached with the landowner regarding protecting public rights on these sites, the city council refused to comment.

    Directly elected mayors responsible for some of Britain’s biggest urban regions told the Guardian that transparency and accountability in the governance of supposedly public spaces was vital.

    “I’m deeply committed to creating a civic realm that is open, accessible and democratic,” said Steve Rotheram, mayor of the Liverpool City Region. “This is an integral part of civilised urban life and any erosion of public space or the privatisation of the civic realm is something that I would seek to oppose in terms of my powers and influence as Metro Mayor.”

    A spokesperson for Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, told the Guardian that all of the city’s open and public spaces “should be subject to the same laws and rules as everywhere else in our country and not indistinct restrictions. While landowners have rights over their property, the Mayor believes it is crucial all of our public spaces are welcoming and genuinely open.”

    Huw Thomas, the Labour leader of Cardiff city council, echoed those sentiments. “With council budgets being slashed we have had to find new ways of delivering for Cardiff and its residents,” he said. “We believe in positive partnerships with the private sector, but this doesn’t have to mean citizens lose their rights.”

    James Palmer – mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and the only Conservative local leader to respond to the Guardian’s enquiries – said that it was “only fair that individual owners decide how to manage their property when it is privately owned,” but added that “it is vital that those areas which are enjoyed by the public, and appear to be within the public realm, are not policed in an inappropriate, or aggressive, fashion.”

    All the leaders quoted claimed that pseudo-public space, and associated issues regarding public rights and democratic accountability, were not as pervasive in their areas compared to London. The directly elected mayors of Bristol, the West of England and the West Midlands declined to comment.

    Ultimately, some experts conclude, any widespread challenge to the spread of pseudo-public spaces may come from citizens themselves rather than top-down institutional leaders.

    “The planning process is supposed to be democratic,” Adam Fineberg, an expert adviser on public services, observed. “The people responsible for drawing up planning policies and sitting on planning committees are elected representatives. So if citizens are concerned about this issue in their local areas, they can campaign and put pressure on representatives through the ballot box and try to ensure that future planning applications by developers are required to meet clear and strong conditions regarding public access and open governance. There’s nothing stopping planning authorities making approval dependent on those conditions being met. It’s a question of local democracy.”

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    Bristol’s GRC: Bailiffs in Balaclavas

    CHAPTER 7 NEWS – ISSUE 22 – WINTER 2018

    http://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/back-issues

    BAILIFFS IN BALACLAVAS

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/298094720310270/permalink/1491967684256295/

    Paramilitary eviction squads, High Court injunctions, deportations, torched dwellings  – these are the legacy of the 2012 anti-squatting laws, writes TONY GOSLING, reporting from Bristol.

    Before dawn on 23 November 2016 around 25 men dressed in black with masked faces, turned up equipped with sledgehammers, crowbars and dogs at a squat in a commercial building in Barton Hill, Bristol. They broke in through a window and two doors and once inside ordered the six petrified Spanish residents to “get on the floor”. Eventually, the squatters were ordered to leave the premises with their hands up in the air. When the police turned up in response to the squatters’ 999 call they spoke to the bailiffs only, before driving off.

    This was the first strike by the firm Graham Rose Consultants (GRC) who see themselves as “entrepreneurs” opening up a new market in illegal evictions. They claim to help landowners use so called “Common Law” to evict gypsies and travellers trespassing on open land, and will remove squatters “without the need to go through a lengthy court process.”

    GRC bailiffs at February 2018 eviction in Plymouth (Herald article)

    Since then GRC have carried out several other evictions by force and without court orders. On 14 February 2017, about ten of their bailiffs arrived with power cutters at 6am at the empty Greencore warehouse in Bristol’s St Philip’s district occupied by two squatters. On 18 May, eight bailiffs broke into the abandoned Bristol Tile Factory warehouse in Fishponds Road to evict half a dozen squatters from a retail unit where local groups have campaigned against a planned McDonalds.

    GRC’s business model is to break in to lawfully occupied buildings before the police arrive, hoping that residents will be intimidated out, vigilante style. This is illegal so the raids are organised with military precision since they have to commit the criminal damage and gain entry to the property under cover of darkness and before police arrive. The fact that such a confrontation will, on occasions, turn violent seems to be part of the adrenalin draw for those they employ, who are always dressed in black and wear balaclavas – in the Greencore operation, one wore a skull mask. In the Tile Factory attack, they carried CS spray canisters, side batons and body armour along with the usual sledgehammers.

    Squatters have described the GRC masked bailiffs as behaving like riot-trained police officers, down to the barked orders and mannerisms. Many of them have Welsh accents and one has a Welsh red dragon flag sewn onto his black jacket. Squat- ters have not forgotten that it was mostly Welsh police who were brought over to Bristol to kick off Stokes Croft’s so-called “Tesco riots” in April 2011.

    The clauses criminalising squatting in residential properties and removing legal aid for the homeless in the 2102 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act are ideal for unscrupulous bailiffs like GRC. This law tends to force squatters into industrial estates away from eyewitnesses, and encourage landlords and bailiffs to carry out criminal evictions in the knowledge that without legal aid, squatters are less likely be able to challenge them through the courts. News of these violent evictions has spread around the Bristol homeless community, discouraging people from squatting commercial properties.

    Tent City

    As squatting buildings becomes more difficult, homeless people are resorting to living in tents. There are several encampments tucked away in parks and scraps of wood- land within a mile of Bristol’s city centre. Until now the bailiffs have left them alone, but the tent dwellers face other hazards.

    First of these is Bristol Council, which in 2016, under the Labour mayor Marvin Rees, engaged personnel to wait until tent dwellers left their site empty in order to confiscate their tents. Since this was theft, the council was forced to abandon this policy. Instead it applied for an injunction against a “Tent City” of ten residents in Peel Street Park in the Easton area of Bristol, forbidding them to camp on any council-owned parks and derelict spaces. Bristol Housing Action Movement (BHAM) initiated a fundraising campaign and engaged Derek McConnell from South West Law, who managed to get the ban reduced to just that park for only six months. Tent City moved to another site.

    Another hazard is the charity St Mungo’s whose outreach team roam the streets engaging and identifying the city’s rough sleepers, ostensibly with a view to getting them one of the rare available beds in a hostel. Identity checks by these “helpers of the homeless” are being handed on to the Home Office eager to deport any migrant with no visible means of support. In May two Polish men living at Tent City were jailed for several months in the former Navy prison at Portland, and one was sent back to Poland. St Mungo’s, some readers may recall, was a partner in Ealing Council’s award-winning “beds in sheds” enforcement campaign, which was specifically designed to “tackle illegal immigrants and illegal employment practices.” (See The Land 19 p 59).

    Then one evening in September 2017 the occupants of Tent City left the site to visit a soup kitchen. They returned to find that arsonists had torched many of their tents with all their belongings inside. BHAM again came to the rescue: it found alternative squatted accommodation and organised an appeal for money to replace the burnt possessions. One of the activists told the Bristol Post: “With winter a few months away it is very important that we provide the duty of care that Bristol City Council will not”.
    Thanks to Isabel Burnett – who helped research GRC and submitted an article to The Bristol Cable in early summer 2017, which wasn’t published.

    Post-Brexit farming funding set out by Michael Gove

    Contrary to BBC Radio-4 and BBC TV News bulletins, the following BBC News Online report doesn’t mention that Michael Gove announced that a future post-brexit UK Agricultural subsidy system will support provision by landowners for public access as well as environmental measures which it does cite below such as farmers rewarded for planting woodland, boosting wildlife, improving water quality and recreating wildflower meadows.


    Post-Brexit farming funding set out by Michael Gove
    by Roger Harrabin, environment analyst
    4/1/2018, BBC News
    Ref: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-42559845

    Plans for the way farming subsidies will be dealt with after Brexit have been set out by Michael Gove.

    Farmers will receive payments for “public goods”, such as access to the countryside and planting meadows.

    The environment secretary told farmers the government would guarantee subsidies at the current EU level until the 2022 election. There would then be a “transitional period” in England.

    The National Farmers Union said it was time for “a new deal” for the UK.

    Fergus Ewing, the Scottish rural economy secretary, said Mr Gove had left “too many questions unanswered”.

    Meanwhile, a report warns Brexit trade deals could threaten UK food security.

    MPs and peers in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology (APPGA) say ministers must ensure farmers are not undermined by future trade deals which permit imports of food produced with lower welfare or environmental standards.

    • Farm subsidies ‘must be earned’ – Gove
    • Countryside faces ‘damaging uncertainty’
    • Five times food fights have had an impact on trade talks

    Mr Gove, who has promised that standards will not be compromised after Brexit, addressed two farmers’ conferences in Oxford on Thursday.

    His speeches came ahead of the government’s agriculture plans being published this spring.

    The current payment system – £3bn a year to UK farmers – is based on the amount of land farmers own.

    Detailing how the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will be replaced after Brexit, Mr Gove said the CAP was “unjust” and “doesn’t really reward efficiency”.

    The government has agreed to maintain current subsidies for three years after Brexit, until 2022, and Mr Gove said the payments could continue until 2024 but the length of time would be down to “consultation”.

    Mr Gove said during that time he aimed to reduce the largest subsidies, with a maximum cap or a sliding scale of reductions.

    He said there should be a “smooth path” towards a new way of paying farmers when EU subsidies ended and that a new method would “use public money for public goods”.

    The plans would see farmers rewarded for planting woodland, boosting wildlife, improving water quality and recreating wildflower meadows.

    Speech ‘no comfort’

    The environment secretary said he was “confident” about the future of British farming and that Brexit would allow the UK to “leverage” the advantages of Britain producing “the best food in the world” and “some of the most innovative farmers in the world”.

    New trade deals with other countries outside the EU would provide new markets for the “superb food” Britain’s farmers produce, Mr Gove said.

    Minette Batters, deputy president of the National Farmers Union, welcomed incentives to protect the environment but said her key concern was over future trade deals.

    She said: “We’re very proud of our high standards of environmental protection, of welfare, in the UK and we want those to be respected in any trade negotiation and we do not want to see cheaper food produced to lower standards.”

    Mr Gove’s counterpart in Scotland, Mr Ewing, said Mr Gove’s speech “leaves far too many questions unanswered for any comfort to be taken“.

    He said it did “not cover a whole variety of vital support schemes“, such as environmental programmes, “which are crucial to ensure the continued economic well-being of all of Scotland’s rural communities“.

    For many years the government has argued that EU farm policy is wasteful and bad for the environment.

    It has driven birds out of the countryside, led to soil erosion, and caused the loss of woodlands and wildflower meadows.

    Over many years, attempts to reform the policy have been resisted by farm unions, especially in France.

    But Brexit has given Mr Gove the opportunity to produce a farm policy made in Britain.

    His changes will alarm those farmers who will need to change their whole business model to get subsidies after Brexit.

    It will be welcomed by some efficient modern farmers who have already accepted that being paid by the public for owning land can’t be justified.

    The changes will impact on the countryside and food production.

    It’s too soon to tell exactly how.

    ‘Best possible deal’

    Mr Gove’s speech comes as the APPGA report says post-Brexit trade deals could pose the biggest peacetime threat to the UK’s food security.

    According to the group, the import of cheaper foods that are produced to lower safety and welfare standards could place UK farmers at a disadvantage.

    To compete with these lower prices, domestic farmers could seek to tighten their margins and therefore cut corners with regards to environmental regulations,” the AAPG said.

    If the UK is unable to protect its farmers from being undermined by lower welfare imports, farmers are likely to resist improvements and may even press for UK standards to be lowered

    a Landrights campaign for Britain

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