All posts by Mark

Walkers urged to help save historic footpaths before 2026 deadline

The Ramblers have launched the Don’t Lose Your Way online mapping site to find and map thousands of miles of lost historic paths across England and Wales. An estimated 10,000 miles of historic paths are thought to be missing from maps & if not claimed before a 2026 government-deadline, they’ll be lost from maps forever. The new mapping tool divides the maps of England and Wales into 154,000 one-kilometre squares, which users can select to compare historic and current maps of the area side-by-side. Simply select a square, do a quick ‘spot the difference’, mark on any missing paths and click submit. It takes just a few minutes to check a square.

The Ramblers Association are asking people to join the search to save thousands of miles of lost historic paths before a 2026 government-deadline with the launch of their new Don’t Lose Your Way online mapping site.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Walkers urged to help save historic footpaths before 2026 deadline
Lost paths must be identified by government deadline to be added to official record

by Patrick Barkham, The Guardian, 11th February 2020
Ref: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/feb/11/walkers-urged-to-help-save-historic-footpaths-before-2026-deadline

Walkers are being urged to help identify 10,000 miles of historic footpaths that are missing from the map in England and Wales and could be lost for ever.

All rights of way must be identified before a government deadline of 2026, after which it will no longer be possible to add old paths to the official record.

The walking group Ramblers is calling on walkers, historians and map enthusiasts to use its new mapping site to identify missing footpaths.

The online tool divides the official map into 150,000 1km squares so users can compare historic and current maps side by side, spot any differences and submit missing paths.

Once mapped, Ramblers will recruit volunteers to make applications to restore paths to local authorities before the 2026 deadline.

Jack Cornish, the project’s manager, said: “Our paths are one of our most precious assets. They connect us to our landscapes – ensuring we can explore our towns and cities on foot and enjoy walking in the countryside – and to our history and the people who formed them over the centuries.”

If we lose our paths, a little bit of our past goes with them. This is our only opportunity to save thousands of miles of rights of way and time is running out.”

Some lost paths are still in use, while others have become overgrown, but all were omitted from the “definitive” maps of 140,000 miles of paths that councils were required to draw up in the 1950s.

Some walkers are already applying to local authorities to recognise lost paths but fear there are many more than the government’s estimate of 10,000 miles: a survey in Cornwall alone identified 3,000 paths that had fallen out of use.

Paul Howland discovered a lost path called The Markway, in Hampshire, which ends abruptly in some undergrowth. The path was temporarily blocked during the second world war and by the time it was reinstated in 1956 it was overgrown and forgotten.

Howland has calculated that in his area he would need to make two applications a week to register all the paths before 2026.

Under English common law, rights of way do not expire but the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 required all rights of way to be recorded. The Ramblers are calling on the government to extend the deadline for registering historic paths by at least five years.
[end]

Read also: Ramble on: the fight to save forgotten footpaths & Memory lanes: the ramblers trying to save 10,000 lost footpaths

Environmental protesters barred from HS2 site in west London

Environmental protesters barred from HS2 site in west London
High court ruling extends injunction to include ancient woodland and London aquifer
by Diane Taylor, The Guardian
Thurs 16 May 2019 18.48 BST Last modified on Thu 16 May 2019 19.32 BST
Ref: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/may/16/environmental-protesters-barred-from-hs2-site-in-colne-valley

Environmental protesters have been barred from land where they say HS2 is carrying out works putting almost a quarter of London’s drinking water at risk, following a high court ruling on Thursday.

The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, and HS2 Ltd were granted an extension to an existing injunction to prevent environmental activists from trespassing on the controversial HS2 site, a nature reserve in Colne Valley in Hillingdon, west London, which is an area of ancient woodland.

There have been many protests on the site, with demonstrators saying they are trying to save up to 100 acres of ancient woodland and 2,400 species of flora and fauna. HS2 says it is creating an ecology habitat (pdf) on the site to compensate for any destruction caused by the construction of the high-speed rail link.

The decision by David Holland QC, sitting as a deputy high court judge, extends the geographical area of the injunction to a field where the aquifer supplying 22% of London’s water is located.

Protesters argued in court that any acts of trespass were carried out because of concerns that the HS2 works pile-driving through contaminated land into the aquifer would contaminate part of the capital’s water supply.

Holland acknowledged the sincerity of the protesters’ motivations but said that as HS2 had possession of the land, the law was on their side to prevent trespass. He did, however, reject HS2’s application to keep the injunction in place until 2024, granting it instead until 1 June 2020.

In the course of the hearing it emerged that a map of the whole area of land owned by HS2 had been mistakenly cited as the area covered by the injunction. In fact, the injuncted area does not cover all the land owned by HS2 around the site. Breaching a high court injunction is contempt of court and attracts much more serious penalties than the offence of trespass.

In a statement to the Guardian, an HS2 spokesman said: “It was explained in the court proceedings that the map in question shows the land in the possession of HS2 at that time. The map has been incorrectly labelled as ‘Close up map of injunction order Harvil Road’ in the Crown Prosecution Service document describing the incident on 11 December 2018 [an alleged incident of trespass in breach of the injunction]. It should be labelled ‘Close up map of HS2 land possession’. HS2 will inform the CPS that their document should be updated and the plan relabelled.”

Sarah Green, a member of the Green party who was one of the protesters named in the injunction application by HS2, said: “I’m very disturbed about the potential for HS2’s work to destroy the whole valley including the aquifer beneath it. They have accused me of breaking the injunction on land that isn’t injuncted. This could pollute the water supply for 3.2 million people.”

Holland said to Green: “I’m concerned that your obvious energies are directed in the wrong direction. If you genuinely think there’s a real risk, you have mentioned criminal offences. If there is something in this you need to take it to someone, but not me.”

Following the hearing, Green said: “I’m very disappointed that the area of land covered by the injunction has been extended. There is a real risk to the aquifer supplying 22% of London’s water and that matter has been put before the high court.”

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said: “The Harvil Road construction compound in Hillingdon is subject to monitoring and has shown no contamination. The Environment Agency continues to work with and advise HS2 Ltd in relation to any potential environmental risks associated with the proposed construction of the HS2 project.”

An HS2 spokesperson said: “As work progresses on the new railway, safety and security around all our live construction sites is paramount. HS2 has applied for an extension to the injunction at Harvil Road to keep people safe around our sites in the area, and to help us avoid delays and additional costs to the UK taxpayer. HS2 aims to be one of the most environmentally responsible infrastructure projects ever delivered in the UK .”
[end]

New Book: “Who Owns England” by Guy Shrubsole confirms ‘half of England owned by less than 1% of population’

Half of England is owned by less than 1% of its population, with corporations and aristocrats the biggest landowners, according to new data published in “Who Owns England?”, written by Guy Shrubsole, joint coordinator of the ‘Who Owns England’ website & Blog


Source: The Guardian (The article is reproduced in full below)

Shrubsole estimates that “the aristocracy and gentry still own around 30% of England”. This may even be an underestimate, as the owners of 17% of England and Wales remain undeclared at the Land Registry. The most likely owners of this undeclared land are aristocrats, as many of their estates have remained in their families for centuries. See also: https://whoownsengland.org/2019/01/11/the-holes-in-the-map-englands-unregistered-land/

According to Shrubsole “a handful of newly moneyed industrialists, oligarchs and City bankers” own around 17% of England. The bulk of the population owns very little land or none at all. Those who own homes in England, in total, own only 5% of the country (although in precise legal terms, freehold or “fee simple” exists in law as a right to dispose of the asset, since the 1925 Law of Property Act established in law that the Crown was transformed as the absolute owner of all land in England and Wales).

He calculates that the land under the ownership of the royal family amounts to 1.4% of England (although the Crown is ultimate owner of all land).


Who Owns England?: How We Lost Our Green and Pleasant Land, and How to Take It Back – New Book by Guy Shrubsole, ‘A formidable, brave and important book’ Robert MacFarlane

Who owns England?

Behind this simple question lies this country’s oldest and best-kept secret. This is the history of how England’s elite came to own our land, and an inspiring manifesto for how to open up our countryside once more.

This book has been a long time coming. Since 1086, in fact. For centuries, England’s elite have covered up how they got their hands on millions of acres of our land, by constructing walls, burying surveys and more recently, sheltering behind offshore shell companies. But with the dawn of digital mapping and the Freedom of Information Act, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for them to hide.

Trespassing through tightly-guarded country estates, ecologically ravaged grouse moors and empty Mayfair mansions, writer and activist Guy Shrubsole has used these 21st century tools to uncover a wealth of never-before-seen information about the people who own our land, to create the most comprehensive map of land ownership in England that has ever been made public.

From secret military islands to tunnels deep beneath London, Shrubsole unearths truths concealed since the Domesday Book about who is really in charge of this country – at a time when Brexit is meant to be returning sovereignty to the people. Melding history, politics and polemic, he vividly demonstrates how taking control of land ownership is key to tackling everything from the housing crisis to climate change – and even halting the erosion of our very democracy.

It’s time to expose the truth about who owns England – and finally take back our green and pleasant land.

Source: https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008321673/who-owns-england-how-we-lost-our-green-and-pleasant-land-and-how-to-take-it-back/


The Guardian article reproduced in full:
Half of England is owned by less than 1% of the population

Research by author reveals corporations and aristocrats are the biggest landowners

by Rob Evans, The Guardian Date: 17Apr2019
https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/apr/17/who-owns-england-thousand-secret-landowners-author

Half of England is owned by less than 1% of its population, according to new data shared with the Guardian that seeks to penetrate the secrecy that has traditionally surrounded land ownership.

The findings, described as “astonishingly unequal”, suggest that about 25,000 landowners – typically members of the aristocracy and corporations – have control of half of the country.

The figures show that if the land were distributed evenly across the entire population, each person would have almost an acre – an area roughly the size of Parliament Square in central London.

Major owners include the Duke of Buccleuch, the Queen, several large grouse moor estates, and the entrepreneur James Dyson.

While land has long been concentrated in the hands of a small number of owners, precise information about property ownership has been notoriously hard to access. But a combination of the development of digital maps and data as well as pressure from campaigners has made it possible to assemble the shocking statistics.

Jon Trickett, Labour MP and shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, hailed the significance of the findings and called for a full debate on the issue, adding: “The dramatic concentration of land ownership is an inescapable reminder that ours is a country for the few and not the many.

“It’s simply not right that aristocrats, whose families have owned the same areas of land for centuries, and large corporations exercise more influence over local neighbourhoods – in both urban and rural areas – than the people who live there.

“Land is a source of wealth, it impacts on house prices, it is a source of food and it can provide enjoyment for millions of people.”

Guy Shrubsole, author of the book in which the figures are revealed, Who Owns England?, argues that the findings show a picture that has not changed for centuries. “Most people remain unaware of quite how much land is owned by so few,” he writes, adding: “A few thousand dukes, baronets and country squires own far more land than all of middle England put together.”

“Land ownership in England is astonishingly unequal, heavily concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite.”

The book’s findings are drawn from a combination of public maps, data released through the Freedom of Information Act and other sources.

Shrubsole estimates that “the aristocracy and gentry still own around 30% of England”. This may even be an underestimate, as the owners of 17% of England and Wales remain undeclared at the Land Registry. The most likely owners of this undeclared land are aristocrats, as many of their estates have remained in their families for centuries.

As these estates have not been sold on the open market, their ownership does not need to be recorded at the Land Registry, the public body responsible for keeping a database of land and property in England and Wales.

Shrubsole estimates that 18% of England is owned by corporations, some of them based overseas or in offshore jurisdictions. He has based this calculation on a spreadsheet of land owned by all UK-registered companies that has been released by the Land Registry. From this spreadsheet, he has listed the top 100 landowning companies.

The list is headed by a large water company, United Utilities, which said that much of its land consisted of areas immediately surrounding its reservoirs.

Prominent on the list are the Boughton estate in Northamptonshire, belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch, the Woburn estate, which is owned by the Duke of Bedford, and the Badminton estate in Gloucestershire, owned by the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort. Several large grouse moor estates and Beeswax Dyson Farming, a farm owned by pro-Brexit businessman James Dyson, are also high on the list.

Shrubsole, who works as a campaigner for the environmental charity Friends of the Earth, estimates that “a handful of newly moneyed industrialists, oligarchs and City bankers” own around 17% of England.

The public sector – central and local government, and universities – appears to be the most open about its landholdings, according to Shrubsole, partly in order to advertise land it has wanted to sell off in recent years. He concludes that the public sector owns 8% of England.

Shrubsole writes that the bulk of the population owns very little land or none at all. Those who own homes in England, in total, own only 5% of the country.

He calculates that the land under the ownership of the royal family amounts to 1.4% of England. This includes the Crown Estate, the Queen’s personal estate at Sandringham, Norfolk, and the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster, which provide income to members of the family.

Conservation charities, such as the National Trust and the Woodland Trust, collectively own 2% of England, while the church accounts for 0.5%.

A small number of ultra-wealthy individuals have traditionally owned vast swaths of land in Scotland. Last month, a major review conducted by the Scottish Land Commission, a government quango, found that big landowners behaved like monopolies across large areas of rural Scotland and had too much power over land use, economic investment and local communities. The quango recommended radical reform of ownership rules.

Carys Roberts, chief economist of the left-of-centre thinktank the Institute for Public Policy Research, said she was “shocked but not surprised” by Shrubsole’s findings on the concentration of land ownership. She said that the concentration of land in a few hands was a big reason why wealth as a whole was so unequal in the country, as those without land were prevented from generating more income.

She added:”We have this idea that the class structures have changed so that the aristocracy is not as important as it used to be. What this demonstrates is the continuing importance of the aristocracy in terms of wealth and power in our society.”

She said that one effect of the sale of public land was that the public lost democratic control of that land and it could not then be used, for example, for housing or environmental improvements. “You can’t make the best social use of it,” she added.
[end]

See also: https://whoownsengland.org/2019/01/11/the-holes-in-the-map-englands-unregistered-land/

Gove accused of letting wealthy grouse moor-owners off the hook

See also: Who Owns England publish today on the day of the beginning of the grouse-shooting season: The aristocrats and City bankers who own England’s grouse moors

 
Article published today on the Guardian website asserts that documents show that the UK environment secretary suggested owners voluntarily end the deleterious environmental practice of burning heather to head off threat of a compulsory ban.
Background: Pressure for the ban comes from the decision by the European Commission to begin legal action against the UK government who, having made a commitment to the commission to carry out a review of permissions to burn blanket bog in Special Areas of Conservation, delayed acting upon by a number of years the results of Natural England’s review in 2013which concluded that “ongoing burning of blanket bog habitat would prevent its maintenance and restoration”. (Source: RSPB)

Michael Gove accused of letting wealthy grouse moor owners off the hook
by Rob Evans, The Guardian
Date: 12th Aug 2018
Ref: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/12/michael-gove-accused-of-letting-wealthy-grouse-moor-owners-off-the-hook

Papers show UK environment secretary suggested owners voluntarily end controversial practice of burning heather to head off threat of compulsory ban

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has been accused of letting the owners of large grouse moors who are alleged to be damaging the environment off the hook.

The accusation from campaigners concerns the owners’ practice of repeatedly burning heather on their moorland estates to help boost the numbers of grouse for shooting.

The owners face the threat of a compulsory ban on the practice after the European commission launched an investigation.

However, Whitehall papers show that Gove suggested they should end the practice voluntarily to head off the threat of a ban. The papers record a private meeting between Gove and a small group of owners, two of whom have made donations to the Conservative party.

According to the minutes, Gove advised them to “sign up to a voluntary commitment to suspend the practice” as it would “help the government demonstrate its intent” to end it.

His department confirmed, according to the minutes, that the voluntary commitment would not be legally binding.

Guy Shrubsole, of the campaign group Who Owns England, which obtained the papers under freedom of information legislation, said: “The government faces legal action by the European commission for allowing this practice to continue, yet is letting wealthy grouse moor owners off the hook by pleading with them to take voluntary action.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it had made rapid progress in recent months as more than 150 landowners had committed themselves to ending the practice voluntarily. About two-thirds of them organise grouse shooting. The Moorland Association, which represents landowners, denied that they were being given an easy ride by the government.

As the “Glorious Twelfth” – the start of the annual grouse-shooting season – begins on Sunday, Who Owns England is publishing a map of the owners of about 100 grouse moor estates in England. It estimates that the estates together cover half a million acres – an area the size of Greater London.

A mixture of aristocrats, City financiers and businesses based in offshore tax havens own the estates, charging clients significant sums of money to bag grouse, according to its analysis.

Environmental campaigners argue that the management of the estates harms the environment and wildlife. They say it leads to the illegal killing of birds of prey such as hen harriers, which prey on grouse, and the legal killing of foxes, stoats and mountain hares.

One criticism concerns the practice of burning the bog to encourage new heather shoots – a food source for grouse. They say that burning heather leaves bare peat exposed to the air, harming wildlife that lives in the peatland.

Burning blanket bog to support the elite sport of grouse shooting wreaks ecological havoc – exacerbating wildfires and floods, and releasing huge amounts of soil carbon,” said Shrubsole.

However, the accusations are rejected by the owners, who say their management of the moors protects the environment. They say that about two-thirds of England’s upland sites of special scientific interest are managed grouse moors which helps to conserve the landscape, while other areas have been lost to afforestation, windfarms or overgrazing.

The documents record how Gove invited the landowners to a meeting in London in February.

According to the minutes, Gove told them that he was pursuing a new policy, with the agreement of the European commission, and was looking to the landowners “to sign up to a voluntary commitment to suspend the practice of rotational burning with immediate effect”.

He advised that protecting soils was high on the government’s agenda and introducing an immediate ban on rotational burning on blanket bog could have significant consequence on land management practices currently underway,” say the minutes.

Defra confirmed “the voluntary commitment is not a legally binding document and would show intent from both the government and land managers to achieve long-term outcomes for restoring blanket bog”.

It added that unless “a significant number” of voluntary commitments were in place by next year, it would “need to introduce legislation to cease rotational burning”.

Among those at the meeting was the Duke of Northumberland, who has donated £11,100 to the Conservative party.

A Defra spokesperson said: “Protecting blanket bogs is a priority. We have made rapid progress over the last six months – 157 landowners have committed to cease rotational burning, up from three a year ago, representing the vast majority of blanket bog in England.”

However the environment secretary has made clear that we will take steps to introduce legislation if our constructive, voluntary approach does not deliver.

It added that its advisory body, Natural England, was working closely with these landowners to put management plans in place as soon as possible.

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, said: “The portrayal of the partnership agreement between Natural England and grouse moor managers as being ‘cosy and letting landowners off’ is completely inaccurate.

Law Commission proposal for leaseholders to buy a freehold at discount

https://www.leaseholdknowledge.com/creation-national-leasehold-campaign-nlc
Photo of leaseholder protest 2017 (Source: Leasehold Knowledge Partnership). Katie Kendrick, of the National Leasehold Campaign group, has brilliantly mobilised leaseholders across the country. The group has a Facebook membership of nearly 7,000 and has organised a series of demonstrations across the North West.

Radical plans to end huge costs of buying a freehold unveiled

Law Commission draws up options enabling leaseholders to extend or buy more cheaply

by Patrick Collinson
The Guardian, 19/07/2018
Ref: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/jul/19/radical-plans-to-end-huge-costs-of-buying-a-freehold-unveiled

Millions of homeowners caught in the so-called “leasehold trap” may be able to buy their freeholds at a fraction of the price currently demanded by ground rent companies, under radical proposals from  the Law Commission.

One proposal is for a simple formula where leaseholders will pay just  10 times their current ground rent to convert their property from leasehold to freehold.

There are 4.2m leasehold properties in England, and around half are on leases of under 80 years, leaving residents vulnerable to what critics say are rapacious demands from freeholders for lease extensions.

The Law Commission was asked by then communities secretary Savid Javid in December 2017 to find ways to make buying out a lease “much easier, faster and cheaper”. In its response, the Law Commission, an independent legal body, on Thursday sets out two options for reform. The first is a formula that “could be based on ten times the ground rent” or “10% of the value of the property”, saying that any new rules must reduce the current cost for leaseholders. It added that a simple formula had the benefit of being easily understood and would reduce legal costs.

With ground rents averaging around £370 a year, that suggests a cost of £3,700 – far less than the £10,000 to £40,000 typically sought from a leaseholder for a flat valued at £200,000 with fewer than 80 years left on the lease.

Its second option is to standardise the existing regime for leasehold valuations, removing a complicated element called “marriage value” that it said currently increases the cost paid by leaseholders.

The Law Commission also proposed new formulas for leaseholders who extend their lease rather than buying the freehold. It suggested that they could have a right to extend the lease for up to 250 years, and no longer have to pay ground rents.

The Law Commission said proposals were only at an outline stage, and that a full consultation document would not be published until the autumn, with new rules unlikely until summer 2019. Any changes to the calculation of leasehold extensions is likely to meet fierce resistance from freeholders, with the fortunes of Britain’s wealthiest aristocrats, such as the Duke of Westminster, rooted in lucrative leasehold property estates in central London.

A legal challenge to existing leasehold valuations – which estimated that leaseholders were overpaying by hundreds of millions of pounds every year – was rejected by the Court of Appeal earlier this year.

The Law Commission said it would have to ensure that “sufficient compensation” was paid to landlords. “Any changes to the law that government takes forward will have to comply with human rights legislation and take account of the impact of reform.

“And while some changes – in particular the options that we have been asked to present to reduce the premium payable by leaseholders – will inevitably benefit leaseholders at the expense of landlords, that is not the case across the board.”

Campaigners for leasehold reform, who demonstrated outside parliament on Wednesday, welcomed the proposals. Sebastian O’Kelly of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership said: “Lease extension and enfranchisement – the buying of the freehold – are two highly lucrative rackets.

“The mathematical formulae agreed by the courts were obligingly provided by estate agents for the richest freehold owners in the country. The only way to end this racket is a fixed formula of annual multiples of ground rent, as exists in Northern Ireland and Scotland, then your home is truly yours.”

Around one in five new-build houses in recent years – and almost every flat – have been sold as leasehold, some with spiralling ground rents that have made selling them near impossible.

[end]

Fast-track fracking plan by the government denounced

Fracking opponents have reacted with anger after ministers unveiled measures to help projects through the planning system in England, which campaigners said would make drilling a shale well as easy as building a conservatory. [Related also: Nuclear waste dumps]

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/may/17/fast-track-fracking-plan-by-uk-government-prompts-criticism
Date: 17 May 2018 (Last modified on Fri 18 May 2018 11.53)
by Adam Vaughan, The Guardian

Shale gas explorers will be able to drill test sites in England without applying for planning permission and fracking sites could be classed as nationally significant infrastructure, meaning approval would come at a national rather than local level.

Planning authorities will also be given £1.6m to speed up fracking applications over the next two years and a new shale environmental regulator will be created this summer, under government proposals published on Thursday.

Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Green party, said the plans were shocking. “Britain’s fracking experiment was on life support and now the government is trying its best to shock it back into life.

Rebecca Long Bailey MP, shadow business secretary, said: “Fracking should be banned, not promoted.

Greenpeace said the government had turned a deaf ear to communities and councils, and would make “exploratory drilling as easy as building a garden wall or conservatory”.

The progress of fracking in the UK has been glacial, with not a single well fracked since a ban was lifted in 2013.

Companies including Ineos, Cuadrilla and Third Energy have been bogged down in planning battles with local authorities. In the first three months of the year, seven of eight shale drilling plans were rejected by councils.

However, under plans outlined by the business secretary, Greg Clark, the drilling of shale wells in England will be considered permitted development, meaning no planning application is required.
For full article, click here.
[end]
  

38 Degrees Petition (written by CPRE)
The government’s trying to sneak this through quietly. But if it happens, it could set a dangerous precedent for our democracy. Not to mention the devastation it could cause to our countryside, from the Yorkshire Moors to Sherwood Forest.

This is the biggest threat to our countryside and democracy we’ve seen in a while.
Please drop measures to:
● Treat exploratory drilling as permitted development.
● Include fracking in the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects Regime.
Sign the Petition: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/don-t-fast-track-fracking
 

Background: The 2015 Infrastructure Bill, which provided new strategic powers in terms of development and planning law for government to make provision for infrastructure development with specific regard to increasing provision for greater housing development across the UK, also included specific safeguards around hydraulic fracturing. It provided automatic right of access given to “deep level” land (300m or lower) for the purposes of exploiting petroleum or deep geothermal energy, i.e. for general petrol extraction and specifically unconventional extraction or hydraulic fracturing / fracking. This put into legislative statute the right of developers involved in fracking to override the interests of surface landowners who are now no longer able to unduly object to or frustrate initiatives on the basis of works amounting to trespass. In addition, “there is the right to leave the deep level land in a different condition than before the right was exercised. This includes by leaving any substance or infrastructure in the land. Liability for any loss or damage attributable to the exercise of these rights by another person is expressly removed from resting with the landowner.” (Source: https://www.walkermorris.co.uk/publications/infrastructure-act-2015-fracking-focus/ ).




References:
[1] The Guardian: Fast-track fracking plan by the government prompts criticism:
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/may/17/fast-track-fracking-plan-by-uk-government-prompts-criticism
The Times: Backlash as Ineos puts fracking on fast track with plans to bypass local councils:
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/backlash-as-ineos-puts-fracking-on-fast-track-with-plans-to-bypass-local-councils-m7wmrcxgm
The Independent: Government announces plan to accelerate fracking developments by fast-tracking private companies’ planning applications:
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/fracking-development-government-plan-accelerate-shale-gas-carbon-emissions-a8355756.html
UK Parliament: Written statement on Energy Policy made by Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which lays out the Government’s plans:
https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2018-05-17/HCWS690
[2] This has made it into a few news articles, like the ones above, but such a massive change to our local councils’ powers should have gone much further than that.
[3] Greenpeace: 4 reasons why we could all be fracked by fracking:
https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/3-reasons-why-we-could-all-be-fracked-fracking-20130812/
The Independent: Fracking could cause earthquakes across huge swathes of UK, warns former Downing Street adviser and seismologist:
https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/uk-fracking-earthquakes-cause-shale-gas-seismic-events-government-planning-a8363411.html
[4] Guardian: How fracking can contribute to climate change:
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/29/fracking-contribute-climate-change
[5] 38 Degrees: “Fracking cannot and will not take place in Scotland”:
https://home.38degrees.org.uk/2017/10/03/fracking-cannot-will-not-take-place-scotland/
[6] The Guardian: UK fracking backlash: seven of eight plans rejected in 2018:
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/08/uk-fracking-backlash-seven-out-of-eight-plans-rejected-in-2018
The Telegraph: Villages across the UK take up the fight against fracking:
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/10209728/Villages-across-the-UK-take-up-the-fight-against-fracking.html
Friends of the Earth: Fracking in Sherwood Forest – we’re winning but it’s not over yet:
https://friendsoftheearth.uk/climate-change/fracking-sherwood-forest-were-winning-its-not-over-yet
38 Degrees: Protect Sherwood Forest:
https://speakout.38degrees.org.uk/campaigns/1787

How the extent of County Farms has halved in 40 years (from Who Owns England blog)

Source: https://whoownsengland.org/2018/06/08/how-the-extent-of-county-farms-has-halved-in-40-years/
First posted on 8th June 2018

The extent of County Farms in England has halved in the last 40 years, an investigation by Who Owns England can reveal.

County Farms are farms owned by Local Authorities and let out to young and first-time farmers, sometimes at below-market rents. They’re a vital ‘first rung on the farming ladder’ for newcomers to a sector that has high up-front capital costs: by providing the land and buildings, the public sector is helping get fresh blood into an industry where the average age of farmers is 60.

Yet the acreage of County Farms across England has plummeted from 426,695 acres in 1977 to just 215,155 acres in 2017, as data outlined below shows.

The revelation of the shocking decline in County Farms nationwide comes after Dorset County Council recently earmarked 6 of its County Farms for disposal and sale – 14% of its entire estate. This is despite the council officer’s report warning the sales would result in the loss of £95,000 in annual rents, and despite firm objections from the local branches of the Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) and Country Land & Business Association (CLA).

In his widely-praised Oxford Farming Conference speech this January, Environment Secretary Michael Gove spoke about equipping the “next generation of farmers” to grow better-quality food and do more to protect the environment post-Brexit. But the ongoing sale of County Farms runs precisely counter to that: undermining prospects for the next generation of farmers, just like the housing crisis is damaging prospects for young adults more broadly.
Charting the decline of County Farms

The origins of County Farms lie in the late-Victorian agricultural depression, during which widespread cries for land reform led radical Liberal MP Joseph Chamberlain (Theresa May’s political hero) to stand for election on the promise of “three acres and a cow” for landless tenant farmers. He went on to propose a solution whereby councils would buy up land and lease it out to small tenant farmers on cheap rents. A succession of government Acts in 1892, 1908 and 1925 created County Farms, sometimes called County Smallholdings.

The area of land bought up by Local Authorities for County Farms skyrocketed between the turn of the century and the Second World War. “The smallholding movement is unique in modern agricultural history”, writes one historian. “It is the only occasion on which we see the promotion of small, rather than ever-larger farming units.” But since the end of the 1970s, thousands of acres of council-owned smallholdings have been sold off.

Click here for the original post on the Who Owns England Blog and scroll down to the end of this last paragraph to see 2 different graphs showing the rise and decline of County Farms over the past 110 years and also “Mapping the decline of County Farms – 3 case studies

 
Enough is enough – halt the sale of County Farms

The decline of the County Farms Estate mirrors wider trends in English agriculture over the past half-century, with small private farms declining and being swallowed up by ever-larger industrial farm units. Indeed, England has recently seen the rise of the megafarm. Is this the future of farming post-Brexit? If it is, it doesn’t match Michael Gove’s welcome rhetoric about creating sustainable, healthy farms fit for the 21st century. Millennials need affordable housing; young farmers need County Farms.

Fundamentally, the problem is central government cuts to local authority budgets. That much becomes clear from the long-term national statistics reviewed above: the period of decline has coincided with the era of privatisation, cuts and centralisation ushered in by Margaret Thatcher’s governments in the 1980s, and accelerated under the austerity budgets of the Coalition and current government. It’s vital the Environment Secretary intervenes to reverse this trend. A word in the ear of Phillip Hammond and James Brokenshire, to protect council budgets for County Farms and issue a Ministerial direction halting sales, could go a long way.

Enough is enough. It’s time to halt the sale of County Farms and chart a new course for agriculture in England.

Campaign groups calling for a halt to County Farm sales:

Landworkers’ Alliance
Tenant Farmers’ Association
Three Acres And A Cow
The Land is Ours

Sat 14th April 2018: Tour of London’s land & housing crisis by the Land Justice Network

THE LANDLORD’S GAME: A tour of London’s land & housing crisis
Saturday 14th April 2018

Join the Land Justice Network for a walking tour of London’s land and housing crisis on Saturday 14th April 2018, 1pm-4pm. Meet 1pm in Brown Hart Gardens on Duke St, near Bond St Tube. Facebook event here.

London faces a housing crisis of epic proportions, with homelessness rife, house prices sky-high and many people unable to afford a home.

At root, the housing crisis is a land crisis. London is home to millions of people – but the land on which it’s built is effectively monopolised by a handful of wealthy estates.

Join us for a tour of some of the most expensive locations on the Monopoly board: places that Dukes and Earls inherited as fields hundreds of years ago, but now – thanks to a lucky roll of the dice – is some of the hottest super-prime real estate on the planet. Along our route, you’ll see Mayfair mansions left empty for nearly 15 years, discover properties owned in offshore tax havens, and find out the truth about who owns London.

It’s time for change. The Land Justice Network has organised this tour to showcase some of the root causes of London’s land and housing crisis – and call for change.

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The Landlord’s Game is part of a wider Week of Action…..

LORD vs COMMONERS: A Week of Action for Land Rights, 14th-22nd April

The Land Justice Network (LJN) has called a Week of Action around the theme of ‘Lords vs Commoners’ for the 14th-22nd April.

According to the Country Land and Business Association, 0.06% of the population own 50% of the rural land of England and Wales.

The Week of Action is intended to draw attention to the current unequal distribution of land in England and Wales, by inviting you to organise an event in your area and share photos and stories of what you do. This could be a public meeting or protest or maybe a banner drop, occupation or mass trespass.

You can find out more on the LJN website here and on the event Facebook page. Leaflet here

Palestine: The Great Return March, marking 70 years since the Nakba.

Gaza ‘Return March’ has begun – the refugees won’t stop until their voices are heard

Despite at least 15 deaths and hundreds injured by live fire, many in Gaza believe the only way to resolve the conflict is to return to the root cause

by Sarah Helm, The Independent
Date: 30 March 2018
Ref: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/gaza-palestine-land-day-return-march-border-israel-a8281671.html
By first light yesterday Palestinian preparations for the Gaza “Return March” seemed well underway: tents were being pitched all along the Gaza buffer zone and old men were arriving with banners proclaiming the names of their villages, from which they were expelled as children 70 years ago, never to return.

Palestinian factions in Gaza, including the ruling Hamas, had ordered that the demonstration be peaceful, insisting marchers to keep well back from Israel’s barrier wall.

With 100 snipers positioned on the barrier, however, Israel’s preparations were a show of brute force and soon after dawn an Israeli tank shell had killed Omar Samour, a Palestinian farmer with land near the buffer zone – the first Return March martyr but certainly not the last.

Israel’s ruthless response to the Gaza’s peaceful Return March should come as no surprise. The Israeli military justified the show of force on the grounds that Hamas might exploit the event in some way with acts of violence. But Israel’s real fear of the “return marchers” runs far deeper. Nothing has ever frightened Israel more than the demands of Palestinian refugees for a right to return to their pre-1948 homes. And no group of refugees has a stronger case than those of Gaza who live within a few miles of their former villages.

The Arab-Israeli 1948 war, which brought the Jewish state into being, also brought about the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from lands they had lived on for hundreds of years. The Palestinians call this loss of land their “Nakba” or catastrophe. Of those expelled more than 200,000 fled to Gaza.

These refugees came from villages in the Gaza area, close to what is now the Gaza barrier wall.

In 1948 the United Nations passed Resolution 194 agreeing that the refugees should have a right to return to their villages, but Israel always refused. From the first days any who tried to get back – to harvest their lands or to bring belongings – were shot as infiltrators or locked up as terrorists. As the years passed the refugees’ claims were set aside as unresolvable and David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, expressed the hope that “the old would die and the young would forget”.

The refugees, however, have never forgotten, as the Return March protest demonstrates.

In view of Gaza’s daily struggles, living under siege, it might seem surprising that they have time to think of the past. Since Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007, the two million people here have lived under economic blockade, imprisoned by a barrier wall. The Palestinians here have also lived through three wars. The last in 2014 killed more than 2,500, destroyed many thousands of homes and crippled infrastructure. But it is precisely because of the recent wars that memories of 1948 have been revived. Such was the destruction of 2014 that Gazans spoke of “’a second Nakba”. And the deprivations of living under siege have only reminded the people here of what they had as self-sufficient farmers in the villages they inhabited before 1948.

Whether the Return March explodes in more bloodshed, or plays out peacefully as the participants hope, is hard to predict.

As Hamas arranged for buses to take people from the mosques after Friday prayers, the numbers swelled. The intention is to maintain the protest until 15 May – Nakba Day, when the 70th anniversary commemoration will reach a pitch. If Hamas can keep the peace on its side of the buffer zone, the case for the right of return will be heard, perhaps louder and clearer than it has for many years.

The refugees’ despair is also fuelled by Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. This has driven many in Gaza to the belief they now have nothing to lose but rise up and join the march. With no realistic peace deal now on the table, many in Gaza believe the only way to resolve the conflict is to return to the root cause – and that means to address their right of return.
[end]

See also:

Israel army opens fire as tens of thousands march in Gaza

Israel deploys hundreds of snipers to Gaza border ahead of expected protests on Palestinian Land Day

Solving the housing crisis? The Case for Land Value Taxation

Home truths about the housing crisis
The only way to solve the issue that cripples the ordinary home-owner or rent-payer is to levy a fair tax on land ownership
by CAROL WILCOX, Labour Land Campaign

Published in The Morning Star
Date: 22/02/2018
Ref: https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/home-truths-about-housing-crisis

THE HOUSING crisis is a consequence of land ownership. Land has always been the prime source of power and wealth in Britain and today 158,000 families own two-thirds of all the land. That concentration is increasing. This can be deduced from the fact that home ownership is declining.

While this country has the poorest housing stock of any developed nation, it is the land beneath which holds the value, especially in London and the south east, where the land-to-building ratio is huge.

While building costs rise generally in line with price inflation, land values have risen by much more since the 1990s.

There is a way to solve the housing crisis and reduce the concentration of wealth — simply tax land values.

It is both fair and necessary that people pay on a continuous basis for exclusive access to the land which is our common inheritance — no-one manufactured land — and the traditional way of a one-off payment for or outright theft of land must end. In other words, pay the rent.

Land value taxation (LVT) effectively nationalises land by nationalising the rent.

Just as wages are the return to labour and profit or interest is the return to capital, rent is the return to land, but, unlike labour, capital and land are inanimate and passive and cannot “earn” any return.

LVT is impossible to evade — you cannot hide land in a tax haven — and simple to administer. All land is valued and the owners sent an annual bill.

The Valuation Office (VOA) provides valuations of properties for business rates and that was the case for houses too before the domestic rating system was abolished in 1990. Land is easier to value than land plus building and the VOA already does this for the purpose of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), whose methods could be improved by digital technology.

The Land Registry is more than 85 per cent complete and the ownership of the rest is known by other authorities, such as the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. LVT billing could then be administered by local authorities as they do for council tax and business rates, or another centralised system might be created.

The housing crisis can only be solved by building more homes and that first requires land. LVT could bring unused and underused land, suitable for residential development, onto the market. There’s a lot and that would force down the price.

But new builds can only represent a small fraction of housing stock in the short term. It is ownership by those able to exploit the crisis that is the real problem. Private landlords receive over £10 billion per annum in the form of housing benefit, but those homes should be well maintained, affordable council flats and houses.

LVT is intended as a replacement for inferior taxes, not an additional one. Some advocates claim that it could replace all taxes as its revenue potential is at least £200bn per year and the dynamic effects it will unleash would augment that over time.

More realistically, it could replace standard-rate income tax on earned income and reduce the VAT rate or whatever might replace it after Brexit. Except for business rates and the annual tax on company-owned properties (ATED) all these taxes exacerbate the housing crisis, while council tax is the most regressive one we have — the owner of a Westminster mansion pays the same as the tenant of a Weymouth bedsit.

LVT would be levied on the owners of all land which has a market value, exempting most publicly owned land and, for some, this would mean paying a property tax for the first time, particularly the owners of farmland.

Others who would be affected are the owners of unused land, such as development and brownfield sites, some of which are eyesores that actually lower the value of neighbouring locations.

The people most liable to be badly affected by an immediate comprehensive implementation of LVT would be the ordinary homeowner living in an expensive location, which may not have been so when they started on the property ladder, or those struggling with a big mortgage.

This is not just a political difficulty, it is one of fairness.

When the 2017 Labour Party manifesto contained a small reference to LVT, the Tory Party and its obedient media servants went to town the week before the election on Labour’s “garden tax,” claiming it would treble council tax and decimate house prices.

The irony is that the paper they quoted from, gleaned from the Labour Land Campaign website, clearly stated that the implementation proposed was designed to avoid both those outcomes.

The manifesto distinguishes between land under a primary dwelling and land which generates, or has potential to generate, an income or provides a privileged benefit such as a second home or a large estate. All businesses generate income — that’s what they are there for — and that includes farming but also the private rented housing sector.

For ordinary homeowners, the initial implementation would have the LVT rate set to replace council tax receipts on a revenue-neutral basis for each local authority. During the transition to full LVT, which could take decades, rates would be converged and uplifted to collect the maximum of land value for public benefit.

Some would see this as a concession too far for homeowners, who have benefited so much from the current system, and believe that the reduction in other taxes would balance out disposable incomes. This is debatable. Politicians are surely aware that turkeys do not tend to vote for Christmas.

There is little doubt that prices would come down substantially as soon as it is perceived that LVT is here to stay and the gravy train was about to hit the buffers. This would cause problems for lenders and would have to be managed intelligently. Otherwise, would lower house prices be such a bad thing?

One reason why LVT would cause land and thus house prices to fall is that prices and taxes are inversely related — the higher the tax the lower the price. An explosion in house prices in London and the south east has occurred since the domestic rating system was replaced, first by the poll tax and then the council tax. More than 50 per cent of homes in London are rented and LVT will have a big effect there.

Another consequence of LVT is that the supply of land for building would increase and increased supply means lower prices. It would “persuade” land hoarders to offload their non-performing assets.

The big house builders with land banks would have to build or else sell to those ready and willing to do so because they will be liable for LVT as soon as planning permission is granted or at least within a reasonable period.

Development will also be hastened because builders will no longer need to negotiate dodgy deals with local authorities to minimise their statutory obligations. Infrastructure and social housing will be funded from future LVT revenues, as all such investment feeds directly into local land values which can then be reclaimed from increased LVT bills.

It is essential that land values should be frequently reassessed so that all public investment is clawed back via LVT. From the start, much more LVT will be collected from residential properties than from council tax.

But the really exciting thing about LVT is the power it will give to local authorities to take control of social housing. The game will be up for the amateur and parasitic landlords. For the first time, they will be responsible for the property tax throughout their ownership.

And there will be no transitional concessions for them. Where the tenant has paid the council tax, the landlord will only be able to raise the rent by that amount. Otherwise they will not be allowed by law to pass on the higher tax in the rents they charge.

LVT campaigners say that it is impossible for landlords to do this, as the market will eventually adjust rents to their previous level, but tenants need to have their fears allayed that their landlords will not throw them out at the first opportunity.

Landlords with properties in the “hottest” locations will see the biggest LVT bills and hence the largest drop in their income and they will be eager to sell up.

This is where the major price crash will come and where the local authority will be able to step in and acquire the housing stock they need at bargain-basement prices, to re-let as council houses to the sitting tenants.

And the government, taking a more proactive stance, could choose a site for a new town or garden city such as a big country estate. It could designate zones for business, residential and wildlife and plan the major infrastructure work.

The estate owner would then receive an LVT bill based on the various permitted uses. Bingo! Estate owners are lazy people, they will not relish the work or expense involved in developing a whole town or city and will be begging someone to take the land off their hands.
[end]

Carol Wilcox is secretary of the Labour Land Campaign.