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How the Aristocracy Preserved Their Power, by Chris Bryant (source: The Guardian)

How the aristocracy preserved their power

After democracy finally shunted aside hereditary lords, they found new means to protect their extravagant riches. For all the modern tales of noble poverty and leaking ancestral homes, their private wealth and influence remain phenomenal
by Chris Bryant
7th Sept 2017
The Guardian
Ref: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/sep/07/how-the-aristocracy-preserved-their-power
On 11 January this year, Charlie, the genial 3rd Baron Lyell, died aged 77 in Dundee after a short illness. He had inherited his title and the 10,000-acre Kinnordy estate, in Angus, when he was just four years old. After Eton, Christ Church and the Scots Guards, he spent nearly 47 years in the Lords, serving as a Conservative minister from 1979 to 1989. He never married and his title died with him, but under the byzantine rules drawn up when the majority of hereditary peers were excluded from the Lords in 1999, his seat was contested in a byelection in which 27 hereditary peers stood.

In the short statement required of them, most of the candidates emphasized their career and credentials, but Hugh Crossley, the 45-year-old 4th Baron Somerleyton, went straight for the ideological jugular: “I think the hereditary peerage worth preserving and its principle creates a sense of innate commitment to the welfare of the nation,” he wrote.

It is not difficult to understand why Crossley would think that way. He was born in, owns, lives in and runs Somerleyton Hall near Lowestoft, Suffolk, which was bought by his carpet-manufacturer ancestor Sir Francis Crossley in 1863. It is palatial, with elaborate Italianate features, a maze, an aviary, a pergola 300ft long, a marina, a 12-acre garden and a 5,000-acre estate. His own publicity material claims that “a trip to Somerleyton is an experience of historical opulence”. Of course he believes in the hereditary principle and his own entitlement.

For most of the 20th century, the aristocracy showed itself remarkably indifferent to the welfare of the nation, if attendance in the upper house is any indication. Debates in the Lords were cursory and poorly attended. Peers had a short week – rarely sitting on a Monday or Friday – and short days, starting at 3.45pm or 4.15pm. During the second world war, there were rarely more than two dozen peers in attendance, and in the postwar years the trend was accentuated. The tedious business of daily attendance no longer interested their lordships, but when their personal interest was at stake or their hackles were raised, they would turn up in force. This became evident in 1956 when the Commons carried a private member’s bill to abolish the death penalty and the Lords voted it down by a resounding 238 votes to 95.

Today, of course, we are accustomed to thinking of Britain’s aristocracy as a quaint historical curiosity. Under Tony Blair’s first government, most hereditary peers were removed from the Lords. Some might think this a fall from grace, but the very fact that 92 hereditaries were to remain (a larger number than had attended most debates over the previous eight decades) was a victory that proved their enduring strength. They had not just delayed but prevented democratic reform of the Lords, and they had entrenched their reactionary presence.
By the 1990s, politics had become a minority interest for the aristocracy, yet for those who chose to exercise their parliamentary rights, the Lords gave them safe passage into government. John Major appointed a string of hereditary peers to his government. The leader of the House of Lords was Viscount Cranborne, heir to the 6th Marquess of Salisbury, and among the ministers were seven earls, four viscounts and five hereditary barons. Even the administration formed by Theresa May in June 2017 included one earl, one viscount and three hereditary barons.

Behind the beauty of the British aristocracy’s stately homes and the sometimes romantic and eventful lives they led, lies a darker story: a legacy of theft, violence and unrepentant greed.

Historically, the British aristocracy’s defining feature was not a noble aspiration to serve the common weal but a desperate desire for self-advancement. They stole land under the pretence of piety in the early middle ages, they seized it by conquest, they expropriated it from the monasteries and they enclosed it for their private use under the pretence of efficiency. They grasped wealth, corruptly carved out their niche at the pinnacle of society and held on to it with a vice-like grip. They endlessly reinforced their own status and enforced deference on others through ostentatiously exorbitant expenditure on palaces, clothing and jewellery. They laid down a strict set of rules for the rest of society, but lived by a different standard.

Such was their sense of entitlement that they believed – and persuaded others to believe – that a hierarchical society with them placed firmly and unassailably at the top was the natural order of things. Even to suggest otherwise, they implied, was to shake the foundations of morality.

They were shocked and angered when others sought to deprive or degrade them. They clung tenaciously to their position. They developed ever more specious arguments to defend their privileges. They eulogised themselves and built great temples to their greatness. They jealously guarded access to their hallowed halls. And when democracy finally and rudely shunted them aside, they found new means of preserving their extravagant riches without the tedium of pretending they sought the common interest. Far from dying away, they remain very much alive.

For all the tales of noble poverty and leaking ancestral homes, the private wealth of Britain’s aristocracy remains phenomenal. According to a 2010 report for Country Life, a third of Britain’s land still belongs to the aristocracy.

Notwithstanding the extinction of some titles and the sales of land early in the 20th century, the lists of major aristocratic landowners in 1872 and in 2001 remain remarkably similar. Some of the oldest families have survived in the rudest financial health. In one analysis, the aristocratic descendants of the Plantagenet kings were worth £4bn in 2001, owning 700,000 acres, and 42 of them were members of the Lords up to 1999, including the dukes of Northumberland, Bedford, Beaufort and Norfolk.

The figures for Scotland are even more striking. Nearly half the land is in the hands of 432 private individuals and companies. More than a quarter of all Scottish estates of more than 5,000 acres are held by a list of aristocratic families. In total they hold some 2.24m acres, largely in the Lowlands.
Many noble landholdings are among the most prestigious and valuable in the world. In addition to his 96,000-acre Reay Forest, the 23,500-acre Abbeystead estate in Lancashire and the 11,500-acre Eaton estate in Cheshire, the Duke of Westminster owns large chunks of Mayfair and Belgravia in London. Earl Cadogan owns parts of Cadogan Square, Sloane Street and the Kings Road, the Marquess of Northampton owns 260 acres in Clerkenwell and Canonbury, and the Baroness Howard de Walden holds most of Harley Street and Marylebone High Street. These holdings attract some of the highest rental values in the world. Little has changed since 1925, when the journalist WB Northrop published a postcard portraying the octopus of “landlordism” with its tentacles spread across London, charging the aristocracy with pauperising the peasantry, paralysing the building trade and sucking the lifeblood of the people.
One legal provision unique to England and Wales has been of particular importance to these aristocratic landlords: over the centuries they built many millions of houses, mansion blocks and flats, which they sold on a leasehold rather than freehold basis. This meant that purchasers are not buying the property outright, but merely a time-limited interest in it, so even the “owners” of multimillion-pound residences have to pay ground rent to the owner of the freehold, to whom the property reverts when their leases (which in some areas of central London are for no more than 35 years) run out. This is unearned income par excellence.

Built property aside, land ownership itself is still the source of exorbitant wealth, as agricultural land has increased in value. According to the 2016 Sunday Times Rich List, 30 peers are each worth £100m or more.

Many aspects of those peers’ lives have barely changed over the centuries. Edward William Fitzalan-Howard, the 18th Duke of Norfolk, is still the premier duke of England, as well as being the Earl Marshal, the Hereditary Marshal of England, a member of the Lords and the holder of nine other titles. His landholdings are obscure, but, as he (under-)stated in his maiden (and only) speech in the Lords: “I farm in West Sussex and own moorland in North Yorkshire”, and he still lives at Arundel Castle. Many of those who have ceded their homes to the National Trust or to a charitable trust of their own devising (with all the concomitant tax advantages) still occupy their ancestral pads, with the added benefit of modern plumbing and wiring. The Dowager Countess of Cawdor still lives in her son’s castle thanks to a tax exemption, the Marquess of Curzon still lives and shoots at Kedleston, Derbyshire, thanks to the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), and the Duke of Marlborough still dines in the saloon at Blenheim, which charges a £24.90-a-head entry fee for visitors.

The country-house business is in fine fettle. True, the owners of lesser homes face significant challenges and a few peers have decided to downsize. In 2005 Lord Hesketh sold Easton Neston – designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor – in Northamptonshire (but kept Towcester racecourse). The 7th marquess of Bute offered Dumfries House to the National Trust for Scotland, and when they refused it Prince Charles stepped in with a consortium that found £45m to purchase the house and its contents in 2007, and endow it for the future. (It got £7 million from the NHMF.)

Grand homes such as Chatsworth, Woburn and Longleat attract many thousands of visitors, while the stately homes that survived in private hands up until 1960 are virtually all still in the same private hands today, and many peers continue their annual peregrination from one well-appointed palace to another. The Buccleuchs, for instance, have the rose-coloured sandstone palace of Drumlanrig, in Dumfries and Galloway, as their main home, but they spend winter months at the much-enlarged hunting lodge, Bowhill, in the Borders, and at Boughton in Northamptonshire, an 11,000-acre estate that includes five villages and a stately home that hosts artworks by Van Dyck, El Greco and Gainsborough. When the previous duke made this journey, he would be accompanied by Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna of the Yarnwinder – the only Leonardo in private hands – until it was stolen in 2003.

Habits and obsessions have barely changed. Of today’s 24 non-royal dukes, half went to Eton. Twenty-first-century aristocrats still belong to the same clubs their ancestors frequented: Brooks’s, Boodle’s, Pratt’s and White’s. Like Nancy Mitford in 1955, they entertain themselves distinguishing between U terms, as used by the upper classes (“napkins”, “false teeth”, “spectacles” and “vegetables”), and Non-U, or middle-class, ones (“serviettes”, “dentures”, “glasses” and “greens”). They play polo and love guns, horses and hounds. The 12th Duke of Devonshire has been the queen’s representative at Ascot, senior steward of the Jockey Club and a prominent buyer and seller of fine art (in 2012 he sold a Raphael for £29.7m). The 10th Duke of Beaufort was master of his eponymous hunt for 60 years and the hunt still meets regularly at Badminton, Gloucestershire. Emma, Duchess of Rutland, hostess of the Belvoir hunt and countless shooting parties, is so committed to making shooting a central attraction at Belvoir that she toured all the best shoots in the land and published her rhapsody to hunting in Shooting: A Season of Discovery.

How have the aristocracy achieved such a remarkable recovery of their fortunes? First, in common with their ancestors, they have systematically, repeatedly and successfully sought to avoid tax. The 18th-century satirist Charles Churchill wrote words that might have been the common motto of the aristocracy:

What is’t to us, if taxes rise or fall,
Thanks to our fortune, we pay none at all.

Thus, when the 2nd Duke of Westminster deliberately paid his gardeners in a way that obviated any tax liability and was challenged in court, the judge, Lord Tomlin, ruled in 1936 that: “Every man is entitled, if he can, to order his affairs so that the tax attracted under the appropriate act is less than it otherwise would be. If he succeeds in ordering them so as to secure this result, then, however unappreciative the commissioners of Inland Revenue or his fellow taxpayers may be of his ingenuity, he cannot be compelled to pay an increased tax.”

His fellow peers took this principle to heart. William and Edmund Vestey, the meat-packing businessmen who in 1922 bought themselves a peerage and a baronetcy from the prime minister, David Lloyd George, for £20,000, regularly begged to be excused income tax, went into tax exile in Argentina and settled their finances in a trust based in Paris, whose accounts were filed in Uruguay that saved the family £88m in tax. In 1980, Samuel, the 3rd Baron Vestey, and his cousin, Edmund, were found to have paid just £10 in tax on the family business’s £2.3m profit. When they were challenged, Edmund shrugged his shoulders and said: “Let’s face it. Nobody pays more tax than they have to. We’re all tax dodgers, aren’t we?”

When the trustees of Castle Howard, a stately home in North Yorkshire, sold Joshua Reynolds’s painting Omai for £9.4m to pay for its aristocratic occupant Simon Howard’s divorce in 2001, they argued they should not have to pay capital gains tax on it as it was part of the fabric of the castle, and therefore a “wasting asset”, which was exempt. Extraordinarily, in 2014 the Court of Appeal agreed. This tax loophole was closed in the 2015 budget.

The primary means of squirrelling away substantial assets so as to preserve them intact and deliver a healthy income for aristocratic descendants without bothering the taxman is the trust. Countless peers with major landholdings and stately homes have put all their assets into discretionary trusts, thereby evading both public scrutiny and inheritance tax. This is the case with the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor estates, whose trustees, chaired by the duke, dole out benefits and payments to members of the family while keeping the assets separate from any individual’s estate. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is entitled to a percentage of the value of the trust fund every 10th anniversary of its creation, but after exemptions for farms and businesses have been taken into consideration, the Revenue is left virtually empty-handed.
Income is subject to tax, but the patrimonial asset remains intact. In 1995, the 9th Duke of Buccleuch complained that the Sunday Times Rich List had overestimated his worth at £200m, as he owned “no shares in Buccleuch Estates Ltd”. Legally, he was quite correct. Despite being a parent company for a string of valuable joint ventures and property holdings, the company is vested in four Edinburgh shareholder lawyers at a total value of £4. Since today’s directors are the 10th duke, the duchess, their heir, the Earl of Dalkeith, and the duke’s two brothers, John and Damian, it is difficult not to conclude that the Buccleuchs are in reality the beneficial owners.

Dozens of the old nobility have done the same, meaning that the family trust can quietly provide a house, an income, a lifestyle (and, if required, a divorce settlement) to any number of beneficiaries without fearing inheritance tax or the prying eyes of the public.

Aristocrats may not like paying tax, but they don’t object to taking handouts from the taxpayer. The landed aristocracy has benefited to an extraordinary degree from payments under the EU’s common agricultural policy. The figures are staggering. At least one in five of the UK’s top 100 single-payment recipients in 2015/16 was aristocratic.

The richest have carried off the most. The Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Farms estate received £913,517, the Duke of Northumberland’s Percy Farms took £1,010,672, the Duke of Marlborough’s Blenheim Farms got £823,055 and Lord Rothschild’s Waddesdon estates received £708,919. This is all in a single year. Multiplied across the years, the payments from the EU have benefited the British aristocracy to the tune of many millions of pounds.

Exploiting the system is second nature to the landowning class. The 11th Duke and Duchess of Beaufort, the owners of Badminton House, have benefited handsomely from their property rights. Their company, Swangrove Estates Ltd, whose directors are the duke and duchess; their son, the Marquess of Worcester; and grandson, the Earl of Glamorgan, received £456,810 from the CAP in 2014/15, and in 2009 it was discovered that the duke had exercised his ancestral rights over the riverbed in Swansea by charging the council £281,431 to build a bridge across the river from a shopping centre to Swansea FC’s Liberty Stadium. With the help of the taxpayer – and no little ingenuity of his own – the duke has secured a fortune reckoned to be about £135m.

The EU is not their only source of financial assistance. Charles Chetwynd-Talbot, 22nd Earl of Shrewsbury, who lives at the 17th-century manor house of Wanfield Hall in Shropshire and is president of the Gun Trade Association, has auctioned off a number of feudal titles, including that of High Steward of Ireland, a practice that has helped keep several other peers in the style to which their families had become accustomed. In April 2015, the earl put the lordship of Whitchurch up for sale; in 1996 Earl Spencer sold the lordship of the manor of Wimbledon for $250,000; and at the time of writing Manorial Auctioneers Ltd claim to be auctioning lordships of the manor, a seignory in Jersey and a feudal barony in Ireland on the instructions of “members of the aristocracy”.

Attendance in the House of Lords brings in an income, too, although peers are keen to state that it is not a salary. When life peerages were introduced in 1958, the Marquess of Salisbury was quick to point out the three guineas a day they were paid did not represent “any additional remuneration; it is merely repayment for expenditure which has already been incurred by noble lords in the performance of their duties”. So too, today peers may claim £300 a day if the Lords records show that they attended a sitting of the house, or £150 a day if they undertook qualifying work away from Westminster.
In March 2016, when the Lords sat for 15 days, 16 earls were paid £52,650 between them in tax-free attendance allowance, plus travel costs, and 13 viscounts received £43,050. The Duke of Somerset claimed £3,600, and the Duke of Montrose was paid £2,750 plus £1,570 in travel costs: £76 for the use of his car, £258 for train tickets, £1,087 for air tickets and £149 for taxis and parking costs. The duke spoke in debate or in grand committee just twice in the whole parliamentary session, and not at all that March.

The secret to the survival of the old aristocracy through the centuries was the mystique of grandeur they cultivated. They dressed, decorated and built to impress, so that nobody dared question their right to rule. The secret of their modern existence is their sheer invisibility. As the Daily Mail commented when Tatler magazine gathered a table of 10 dukes together in 2009: “Once, the holders of these titles would have been the A-list celebrities of their time. Today, most people would be pushed to name a single one of them.”

That is no accident. British laws on land tenure, inheritance tax, corporate governance and discretionary trusts still make it easy to hide wealth from public view. Land is subsidised, and taxed more lightly than residential property. Unearned income bears less of a burden than earned income. All this quietly underpins the continued power of the aristocracy, wrapped in the old aura of entitlement, counting its blessings and hoping that nobody notices.

Curiously enough, Nancy Mitford, that sceptical daughter of the preposterously rightwing 2nd Baron Redesdale, was probably right: “It may well be that he who, for a thousand years has weathered so many a storm, religious, dynastic and political, is taking cover in order to weather yet one more.”

Entitled: “A Critical History of the British Aristocracy”, by Chris Bryant is published today by Doubleday, priced £25. To order a copy for £21.25, go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

European Parliament approves ban on pesticides in environmentally-sensitive areas

The European Parliament on 14 June 2017 endorsed a ban on the use of pesticides on environmental sensitive areas.

Ban on pesticides on sensitive areas
by John Swire on June 15, 2017
Source: FarmBusiness.co.uk
Ref: http://www.farmbusiness.co.uk/business/politics/ban-on-pesticides-on-sensitive-areas.html

A group of MEPs in the European Parliament failed to block a European Commission proposal to ban the use of pesticides on ecological focus areas.

Under the approved legislation, farmers who receive subsidies from the bloc’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for improving biodiversity on land set aside for nature conservation will no longer be allowed to spray pesticides there.

Farmers with arable land exceeding 15 hectares must ensure that at least 5% of their land is set aside for nature improvement. This includes measures that affect biodiversity such as field margins, fallow land, buffer strips and hedges and trees.

It is up to national governments to draw up a list of ecological focus areas, based on a common EU definition, and taking national circumstances into account.

Before the final vote in parliament, 363 MEPs had backed a resolution seeking to dismiss the pesticide ban, just 13 short of the 376 required for a majority.

Peoples’ Food Policy – www.peoplesfoodpolicy.org

This policy may been seen as being especially useful at a time when there is a pretty blank slate in front of us post-brexit, which big business will be ready to take over if we are not. The preparation of this originally came out of the food sovereignty gathering in Hebden Bridge in Nov 2015, and was subsequently developed by a team. There was a web-based invitation for anyone to run workshops, according to a framework and to upload what came from them.

Now the policy has been produced as a 53 page doc. www.peoplesfoodpolicy.org

Note that the name of this initiative was changed from ‘national food policy’ to ‘people’s food policy’.

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Defra secretary Michael Gove indicates departure from largess of subsidies to large landowners & refocus on environment & countryside stewardship in post-brexit UK farm subsidy system

…a flurry of sweeteners for those of us who cast a critical glance on social and environmental justice and sovereignty issues (Gove has even mooted the end of live animal export). We will assuredly hear avowed assurances on how post-brexit the UK will protect our food and animal welfare standards to extinguish any notion that the UK will capitulate to the lower environmental standards of the USA in any future trade deal, but brace yourself for a more subtle and insidious outline of his views on Agricultural-technology and “innovation” in tandem with Liam Fox’s preparations for new international trade deals across the world, with biotech an essential component of that.

The Royal Norfolk Show 2017: Defra secretary Michael Gove hears Brexit priorities from East Anglian farmers
by Chris Hill
PUBLISHED: 28 June 2017
Source: The East Anglian Daily Times
Ref: http://www.eadt.co.uk/news/the-royal-norfolk-show-2017-defra-secretary-michael-gove-hears-brexit-priorities-from-east-anglian-farmers-1-5082801

Environment secretary Michael Gove said he was in “listening mode” to understand the Brexit concerns of East Anglia’s farming community during his visit to the Royal Norfolk Show.

The cabinet minister acknowledged he is “new to the world of farming”, but keen to hear the views of farmers as he was shown the region’s latest agri-tech and science developments at the Innovation Hub, and met local producers in the food hall.

Many of the issues discussed revolved around the nation’s looming departure from the EU and its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which will demand new policies to be written which will dictate farmers’ ability to trade and compete, the degree to which they are financially supported, and their ability to recruit seasonal migrant workers.

“I’m listening,” he said. “The single most important thing I can do at this stage is to listen so I can be an effective advocate for farming in government.

“The first thing to say is I have friends in Norfolk. I have a friend who farms just outside Great Yarmouth and a friend who farms near King’s Lynn. So I already have some familiarity with the issues.

“The other great thing is that people have been completely candid with me today and I think that their concerns and hopes boil down to a number of specific areas.

“One is what would be the nature of subsidy and support in the future, and as we leave the CAP and as the CAP changes itself, will money be there for environmental support and countryside stewardship? And, if so, what will the criteria be, and will there be other ways that farmers are supported in the valuable work they do? So money is ‘issue one’.

“Issue two is labour. People want a guarantee that they will be able to secure the labour they need in order to make sure our rural economy keeps going.

“One of the things I am determined to do as we fashion a new migration policy, is to ensure the needs of agriculture and the rural economy are at the heart of it.

“I think the third thing I would mention is the opportunities presented by our new trading arrangements. Farmers recognise that as we leave the EU there are opportunities because of the high quality produce that the UK is famous for, and Norfolk in particular is noted for, there is an opportunity to sell more abroad – but we also need to make sure that as we do sell abroad that we do not compromise our high environmental and animal welfare standards.”

Mr Gove, a key architect of the “Leave” campaign during last year’s EU referendum, said Brexit represented a “huge opportunity for British agriculture”, opening up new markets overseas and freeing farmers from the “onerous bureaucracy” of the EU.

He also reaffirmed the government’s commitment to maintain current subsidy payments at their current level until at least 2022, and whatever happened beyond that, he was determined to ensure farmers could compete in international markets.

“Subsidy, if it is applied in the wrong way, can actually make farmers less productive,” he said. “So just because some other countries have subsidies it does not mean they are as productive as we can be.

“We can compete best on quality. The critical thing about British farm produce is that in a world where provenance matters more, where people want to know the journey from farm to fork in intimate detail, Britain is in a very strong position because of the high environmental and animal welfare standards that we maintain.”

Among the farming industry representatives who spoke to Mr Gove were Jon Duffy, chief executive of Anglia Farmers, who said: “I am impressed that he is here in the first place, and that he wants to go out and take soundings on people’s views. He asked questions rather than telling us what would happen.

“I said I would like to see agriculture further up the agenda within Defra, and Defra further up the agenda in Brexit. He listened, and he understood that.”

Shipdham dairy farmer Ken Proctor, Norfolk’s county delegate for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) also spoke to the Defra minister. He said: “I was impressed that he listened to the subjects we were portraying, he took evidence and asked questions, which showed the message was received loud and clear.

“He was saying that Defra is going to be a much more important department in the government now and after Brexit, and I think that is very important.”

See also: The problem with the EU Common Agricultural Policy – TLIO information briefing

Economic analysis of the Common Agricultural Policy: The CAP – cap it or scrap it?

30 Country estates given £4million subsidy in 2014 for grouse-shooting

Duke of Westminster given millions in public cash for grouse moor: investigation
Published: 28 Oct, 2016
https://www.rt.com/uk/364569-grouse-moor-public-subsidy/
English grouse moors, including one owned by royalty, have been shored up with millions of pounds in public money despite the climate of austerity.
Thirty of the estates where the birds are raised and shot received £4 million (US$4.85 million) in public cash in 2014, including one owned by the Duke of Westminster.
The duke is the richest landowner in the UK and is worth an estimated £9 billion.
The investigation carried out by Friends of the Earth supports an argument by campaigners who say that grouse farming is damaging to the environment and uses far too much space.
MPs are due to debate the issue on Monday after 120,000 people signed a petition to ban the most common form of grouse shooting……..

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Grouse shooting estates shored up by millions in subsidies
Common agricultural policy money given to estates in England, including one owned by the Duke of Westminster, Britain’s richest landowner
by Damian Carrington
Friday 28 October 2016
Ref: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/28/grouse-shooting-estates-shored-up-by-millions-in-subsidies

England’s vast grouse shooting estates receive millions of pounds in public subsidies according to an investigation by Friends of the Earth.
Thirty of the estates received £4m of taxpayer’s money between them in 2014, the year examined by the pressure group, including one owned by the Duke of Westminster, the richest landowner in Britain with land holdings estimated to be worth £9bn. The campaigners, who argue that grouse moor management harms the environment and wildlife, found the moors cover over half a million acres, an area equivalent to all the land within the M25, Greater London and parts of the home counties.

The estates are owned by a mixture of lords, dukes, earls and barons as well as bankers, businessmen and firms based in offshore tax havens.
MPs will debate the issue of grouse shooting on Monday, as the result of an official petition backed by more than 120,000 people which demands a ban on driven shooting, where beaters flush birds towards the guns.

The petition claims the management of grouse moors 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. It adds that the heather burning involved could worsen flooding and climate change.
“These shocking new figures reveal the true, horrifying scale of grouse moors in England and the madness of the current farm payments system that subsidises them”, said Guy Shrubsole of Friends of the Earth.

“Instead of handing out taxpayers’ money to billionaires and offshore firms to indulge in an elite sport, the government must reform farm payments so public money is spent on public goods – like tree-planting, restoring wildlife habitats, farming sustainably and preventing flooding downstream”, he said. The future of the £3bn a year the UK receives in EU agricultural subsidies is a key part of the Brexit debate.

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, said driven grouse shooting played an important role in conservation: “Almost two-thirds of England’s upland sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) are managed grouse moors. Management has helped conserve this unique landscape, whereas elsewhere in Britain it has been lost to afforestation, windfarms or overgrazing”. Grouse shooting in England and Wales leads to more than £15m a year being spent in rural areas and supports more than 1,500 jobs, according to Anderson. She said: “There is no place for the illegal killing of any wildlife and no place in the Moorland Association for a grouse moor owner or manager found to have broken the law.”

The Friends of the Earth investigation took a Moorland Association map showing ‘keepered grouse moors’ in England and compared it with government datasets and satellite images, which show where burning has taken place, to calculate the area. It found 550,000 acres of grouse moor, all in the north of England. FoE then used Land Registry data to identify 30 of the grouse moor estates, which cover 300,000 acres of the total. These estates received £4m of taxpayer subsidies in 2014 via the EU common agricultural policy (CAP).

The largest subsidy was given to the Lilburn estate in Northumberland, owned by Duncan Davidson, the founder of housebuilding giant Persimmon Homes. In 2014, the estate received £1.6m in CAP subsidy, with another £1.3m in 2015.

The Abbeystead estate in Lancashire owned by the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor estate received £7,200 in farm subsidies in 2014 and £203,000 in 2015. The Grosvenor Estate describes Abbeystead as “one of the premier sporting estates in the UK” and it is reputed to hold the record for most grouse shot in a single day: a total of 2,929 birds killed by eight shooters on 12 August 1915. The Mossdale estate in the Yorkshire Dales, owned by the Van Cutsem family, obtained £54,000 in subsides in 2014 and £170,000 in 2015. In June, the estate resigned from the Moorland Association after a keeper was filmed setting illegal pole traps.
Records in Companies House show that some of the 30 estates identified by Friends of the Earth are owned by firms registered in offshore tax havens, such as the British Virgin Islands, Liechtenstein, Jersey and Guernsey.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) does not support the petition to ban driven grouse shooting, but argues that new laws are needed. “As currently practised, intensive driven grouse shooting is a negative environmental impact”, said the RSPB’s Jeff Knott. “Grouse shooting can deliver benefits [for some birds], but not enough grouse moors are delivering to the highest standards”. The RSPB wants grouse shoots to require licences, which can be removed if the moors are not managed properly or if wildlife crimes occur. “Voluntary approaches clearly haven’t worked, said Knott. “There is denial that there is any problem and anyone who says otherwise is called anti-shooting.” A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We continue to work with conservation groups and landowners to ensure sustainable grouse shooting balances both environmental and economic needs”.

The UK’s forthcoming departure from the EU has sparked a fierce debate about the future of agricultural subsidies. It was revealed in September that a billionaire Saudi prince received £400,000 a year to subsidise a farm where he breeds racehorses. The National Trust and many green NGOs have argued for a complete overhaul, ending payments for simply owning land and only rewarding farmers who improve the environment and help wildlife. The suggestion is opposed by the National Farmers Union, which says food production is vital.

Land for What? – a participatory weekend of learning, thinking and planning practical action around land rights, ownership and usage

An opportunity to take part in a participatory weekend of learning, thinking and planning practical action around land rights, ownership and usage, and how this connects to housing, food, health, nature and community:

Land for What?

A weekend of conversations about land hosted by Community Food Growers Network, Just Space, Landworkers’ Alliance, London Quaker Housing, New Economics Foundation, Radical Housing Network, Shared Assets, London Community Neighbourhood Co-operative, Three Acres And A Cow and Ubele

Resource For London, Holloway, London
November 12th – 13th 2016
eventbrite – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/land-for-what-tickets-28307396184
website – http://landforwhat.org.uk/

Common Agricultural Policy: Rich List receive millions in EU subsidies (Greenpeace Report)

The Queen, aristocrats and Saudi prince among recipients of EU farm subsidies
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/29/the-queen-aristocrats-and-saudi-prince-among-recipients-of-eu-farm-subsidies?CMP=share_btn_link

At least one in five of the top 100 UK recipients of CAP subsidies were for farms owned or run by aristocratic families, say Greenpeace. The top 100 received £87.9m in agricultural subsidies last year.

Press Association Thursday 29 September 2016 11.35 BST

Wealthy aristocrats and a Saudi landowning prince are continuing to reap hundreds of thousands of pounds from the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
At least one in five of the top 100 recipients of CAP subsidies in the UK last year were farm businesses owned or controlled by members of aristocratic families, an investigation by environmental campaign group Greenpeace found.

They include the Queen, the Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Northumberland, Sir Richard Sutton, the Earl of Moray, Baron Phillimore and family, and the Earl of Plymouth.

Household goods billionaire Sir James Dyson, who campaigned for Brexit, is also in the top 100.

Greenpeace analysed the top recipients of CAP subsidies in the UK for the first time. Some 16 of the top 100 are owned or controlled by individuals or families who feature on the 2016 Sunday Times rich list, receiving a total of £10.6m last year in single payment scheme subsidies alone, and £13.4m in total farm subsidies, Greenpeace said. Aberdeenshire farmer Frank Smart topped the list, receiving nearly £3m in grants for his Banchory business, Frank A Smart & Son Ltd.
The farmer has been subject to complaints that he has been ‘slipper farming’ – a technique in which farmers buy up land principally for the grants attached to it. While not illegal, the practice has been heavily criticised.

Also on the list were organisations such as the National Trust, which Greenpeace said had used their subsidies for important conservation work like managing habitats.

The government has promised to maintain CAP subsidies post-Brexit until 2020 while a domestic system is put in place.

Prince Khalid Abdullah al Saud, who owns champion racehorse Frankel, has reportedly described his farming interest as a hobby. Juddmonte Farms, which he owns through an offshore holding company in Guernsey, received £406,826 in farm subsidies last year, of which £378,856 came from the single payment scheme.
The two large estates owned by Sir James under Beeswax Farming (Rainbow) Ltd received almost £1.5m. The billionaire rubbished claims that British international trade would suffer outside the EU as he backed the campaign to leave Europe. Hannah Martin, of Greenpeace UK’s Brexit response team, said: “It is untenable for the government to justify keeping a farming policy which allows a billionaire to breed racehorses on land subsidised by taxpayers. It’s clear that there cannot be a business-as-usual approach to farm subsidies after we leave the EU. Some of the recipients of these subsidies are doing great work which benefits our environment – but others are not – and it makes no sense that the CAP’s largest subsidy payments don’t distinguish between the two.” Christopher Price, from the Country Land Association, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “He is not getting it because he’s a racehorse owner, he’s getting it because he’s a farmer and all developed countries support farming in one way or another.” But he agreed that Britain’s departure from the EU could create an opportunity to reform the system, for which there was certainly a need.

Sandringham Farms, the estate owned by the Queen, received £557,707, while Grosvenor Farms Limited, which farms the Duke of Westminster’s estate, raked in £437,434. The billionaire landowner died in August and left his fortune to his 25-year-old son. Percy Farms, described by Greenpeace as the “in-hand farming operation” of the Duke of Northumberland, was given £475,031. The National Trust, Natural England and the RSPB were all in the top 20.

The top 100 received £87.9m in agricultural subsidies last year, of which £61.2m came from the single payment scheme, where the size of the land owned largely determines the grant amount. Greenpeace said this was more than what was paid to the bottom 55,119 recipients in the single payment scheme combined.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “The secretary of state has underlined the need for continuity for farmers and together with her ministerial team is looking forward to working with industry, rural communities and the wider public to shape our plans for food, farming and the environment outside the EU.”

Conservative ministers Lord Gardiner and Eurosceptic George Eustice, who work in Defra, also receive subsidies. The department said the pair had declared any potential conflicts of interest, complied with the ministerial code and were cleared to discuss the future of the grants post-Brexit.
[end]
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Greenpeace Report: Common Agricultural Policy: Rich List receive millions in EU subsidies
September 29, 2016
by Crispin Dowler and Lawrence Carter, Greenpeace
View data at url source: https://energydesk.greenpeace.org/2016/09/29/common-agricultural-policy-millions-eu-subsidies-go-richest-landowners/

People featured in the Sunday Times Rich List raked in more than £10m in land subsidy last year – according to a major Energydesk investigation into the top 100 recipients of direct EU farming subsidies. The investigation comes after Chancellor Phil Hammond promised that current levels of farm subsidy would continue until at least 2020, even after the UK leaves the EU.

The EU’s “direct” subsidy system – known until last year as the “single payment scheme” – has attracted criticism because it largely rewards landowners for simply owning land, rather than paying farmers to invest in environmental or other “public good” measures. A prominent Tory MP, numerous donors to the Conservative party and a Saudi Prince were also amongst the hundred biggest recipients of the subsidy, the investigation found. Commenting on the findings, the RSPB, which received £1,961,450 in single payments last year, told Energydesk that: “As a major landowner and farmer, we use the CAP funding we receive to deliver specific public benefits, such as managing vital habitats and providing a home for nature. The majority of the CAP though is still dominated by untargeted subsidies that provide little in return. As we move toward the EU exit door, we need to take the opportunity to create a policy that encourages other farmers and land managers across the country to do much more for the environment, and provides greater support for those who are already farming in ways that benefit nature.”

Wealthy owners
At least 16 of the 100 largest pay-outs under the single payment scheme last year went to entities owned or run by people featured in the Sunday Times Rich List, Energydesk found.

The group – which includes billionaires like Sir James Dyson and the Duke of Westminster, alongside others, like Lord Iveagh of the Guinness family – received £13.4m in total farm subsidies last year, of which £10.6m came from the single payment scheme alone.

Other recipients in the Top 100 include wealthy foreign owners not featured in the UK Rich List – including the internationally famous racehorse breeding operation Juddmonte Farms, owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

The Top 100 received a total of £87.9m in agricultural subsidies last year, of which £61.2m came from the single payment scheme – this is more than was paid to the bottom 55,119 recipients in the single payment scheme combined. The payments take up the vast majority of the farming subsidy pot.

The investigation also found that:
– At least one in five of the Top 100 single payments went to businesses owned or controlled by members of aristocratic families, including the Queen and the Duke of Northumberland.
– Four businesses in the Top 100 are owned through offshore companies based in the “secrecy jurisdictions” of Jersey and Guernsey, with two of those businesses using structures that hide ownership.
– Conservative MP Richard Drax received hundreds of thousands of pounds for his country estate in Dorset, while numerous recipients in the Top 100 have made donations to the Conservative Party.

Political pressure
The news comes as the government is under mounting pressure to set out how farming subsidies will work in the UK once the country exits the European Union.
A total of £3.2bn was paid in common agricultural policy (CAP) subsidies in the UK last year, according to latest published data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and the CAP accounts for more than half of UK receipts from the EU budget.

Energydesk’s analysis of the latest DEFRA data is likely to prompt fresh calls for a fundamental shift away from so-called “Pillar 1” subsidies like the single payment scheme (see below: What are direct farming subsidies?).

New environment minister benefits from thousands in EU farm subsidies
Brexit campaigners could see millions in taxpayer handouts guaranteed

Campaigners have long argued this system disproportionately benefits large landowners, and has not delivered enough public benefit for the amount of public money spent. The single payment scheme made up nearly three quarters of all CAP subsidies paid last year – £2.3bn – with the overwhelming majority of that money going to the largest landowners. More than two thirds of the £2.3bn single payment budget – £1.6bn – went to the top 20 per cent of claimants. The bottom 40 per cent of claimants received only £95m combined – just 4 per cent of the total pot. The majority of those who claimed the single area payment last year received less than £6,000, while payments to the Top 100 ranged from £336,971 to £2.9m.

Offshore ownership
For some recipients in the Top 100, farming makes up a tiny proportion of overall income.

The Saudi owned Juddmonte Farms, which is owned through an offshore holding company in Guernsey, reported a turnover of £53.4m last year, but only £1.5m – 2.8 per cent – came from farming. The rest of the money came from its thoroughbred stud farm and horse racing. Although the UK company reported profits of £8.7m in 2015 it paid no corporation tax, due to trading losses in past years. Juddmonte’s training manager has previously told the Financial Times that it is “not run as a commercial operation” and that in most years the prince puts money into the business rather than taking it out. Juddmonte was given £406,826 in farm subsidies last year, of which £378,856 came from the single payment scheme.

Three other firms in the Top 100 are owned offshore, including Saker Estates and Palgrave Farming Company Ltd, which both use complex ownership structures in Jersey that hide the identity of the owner. Saker Estates received over half a million pounds from the single payment scheme last year. Its accounts state that “The company acts as agent for undisclosed principals”. A spokesperson for Saker Estates declined to comment when asked by Energydesk to disclose the identity of the owners.

The landed gentry
More than one in five of the Top 100 are owned or run by aristocratic individuals or families, many of whom have inherited titles and thousands of acres of land.
The 4th Earl of Iveagh, a descendent of the Guinness family, benefitted from £887,538 in single area payments and £1,398,962 overall, for Elveden Farms. The business is based on a 22,500 acre country estate, of which around 10,000 acres is farmland. The company is owned through an offshore trust based in Jersey, although there is no suggestion that this is to avoid tax.

Other recipients include the Duke of Northumberland, the Earl of Moray, Lord Rothschild, the family of Baronet Sir Richard Sutton, and the Queen. A Buckingham Palace spokesperson told Energydesk: “The subsidies are open to all farmers, and like others with agricultural interests, subsidies are received on The Queen’s private estate.”

A spokesperson for the Earl of Moray said: “All our payments are received for land in hand and actively farmed by our business. As for the vast majority of farmers in the UK CAP support is an important part of our income and helps deliver the intended public policy objectives of maintaining food production, social fabric and environmental standards in rural areas.”

In addition to inherited land, several of the Top 100 recipients are estates that have been bought up by foreign billionaires. This includes Ramsbury Estates, which manages over 19,000 acres in the Home Counties and is owned by Carl Stefan Erling Persson, heir to the H&M fashion empire and reportedly the richest man in Sweden.
Conservative MP Richard Drax, who lives on the Charborough Estate in Dorset, also appears in the Top 100. Drax benefitted from £384,351 in single payments last year through ACF (Drax Farm). When contacted by Energydesk Mr Drax declined to comment.

A spokesperson for Grosvenor Farms, the Duke of Westminster’s farming operation, said: “Grosvenor Farms is a commercial agricultural business producing milk and combinable crops which employs more than 50 people and farms over 2,300 hectares of land. GFL is bound by the rules and regulations defined by the Common Agricultural Policy and in the same way as any other UK farming business.”

The National Trust, which is the second largest recipient of direct subsidies, told Energydesk: “We want to see the system of support for farming fundamentally reformed so that it delivers more public benefit. We accept that our income may go down as a result of subsidy reform. But what’s important for us is what the overall system achieves for the natural environment, not how much the National Trust gets”.

What are direct farming subsidies?
Direct farming subsidies – also known as “Pillar 1” of the Common Agricultural Policy – are intended as basic income support for farmers. Until the European Commission’s 2015 financial year (which ended on 15 October 2015) these were paid under a system called the “single payment scheme”. The figures for that financial year are the latest available, and are the figures used in Greenpeace’s analysis. The single payment scheme was based on the amount of agricultural land the claimant had at their disposal. Farmers were allocated payment “entitlements”, and to claim against them they needed to declare an equivalent number of hectares of land.

After this year, the single payment scheme was replaced by the “basic payment scheme” (BPS), which was intended to close some of the loopholes in the previous system and give greater weight to the provision of environmental public goods. However, the new system remains largely based on land ownership. Under the basic payment scheme around 30 per cent of a farmer’s payment depends on them meeting three “greening” rules. These require farmers to grow two or three different crops, to devote at least 5 per cent of their arable land to “ecological focus areas” like hedges and fallow land, and to take some responsibility for maintaining the proportion of permanent grassland in the country. The new scheme also bars some businesses from claiming the subsidy if they also operate airports, railway services, waterworks, real estate services, or permanent sports grounds. However, these businesses are still able to claim BPS if, for example, they have more than 36 hectares of eligible land.

Farm subsidies: The top ten
September 29, 2016
by Crispin Dowler and Lawrence Carter

Some of the richest people in the country are receiving millions of pounds in EU backed agricultural subsidies – according to a major Energydesk investigation.
The investigation comes after Chancellor Phil Hammond promised that current levels of farm subsidy would continue until at least 2020, even after the UK leaves the EU. The EU’s “direct” subsidy system – known until last year as the “single payment scheme” – has attracted criticism because it largely rewards landowners simply for owning land. Leading charities – who benefit from the current set-up – have called for the scheme to be reformed to promote wider social and environmental objectives.

Other recipients include members of the Sunday Times rich list, aristocrats, royalty and wealthy foreign investors.

Buying entitlements
The largest single area payment in 2015 – of £2.9m – went to Frank A Smart & Son Ltd. According to the ruling of a 2014 tax tribunal, Frank Smart is a Scottish farmer who sought to fund the expansion of his business by buying up “entitlements” to CAP subsidy. Energydesk was unable to reach Mr Smart for comment. In total, there were eight recipients who received more than £1m last year for the single area payment alone. They include Sir James Dyson’s farming operation – Beeswax Farming (Rainbow) Ltd; Farmcare Trading, owned by medical research charitable foundation the Wellcome Trust, and Strutt & Parker Farms.

Reform calls
Two charities are amongst the top ten– the National Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The two have actively campaigned for reform of the current subsidy system.

A spokesperson for the National Trust said: “We want to see the system of support for farming fundamentally reformed so that it delivers more public benefit. We accept that our income may go down as a result of subsidy reform. But what’s important for us is what the overall system achieves for the natural environment, not how much the National Trust gets.

“As we set out in our Annual Report, in the last calendar year we received £8.6m from CAP. Around two thirds of this is for agri-environment schemes delivering specific benefits for the natural environment at our places. The rest comes from the general subsidy for farmers that we receive. We reinvest this subsidy income in our farms and estates to help us deliver our charitable purpose to look after special places for ever, for everyone.”

[end]

National March for Homes, London, Sunday 13th March 2016

IMG_0082
National March for Homes
London, Sunday 13th March 2016
Organised by Kill the Housing Bill: https://killthehousingbill.wordpress.com.
Route: Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Holborn, via Waterloo Bridge and York Road to Westminster Bridge to the Houses of Parliament

Introducing The Housing Insecurity & Land-Grab Bill – aka The Housing & Planning Bill 2015-16

The government are in the process of passing a legislative bill through Parliament called the “Housing and Planning Bill”. At the heart of this legislation are ‘Starter Homes’ – targeted to boost the grossly-inflated housing market designed to transform ‘Generation Rent into Generation Buy’ by providing discounts of 20% to first-time buyers which at 4/5ths the market price will still be unaffordable to many (calculations for London demand an ‘ income of £77,000 and a deposit of £98,000). For council housing tenants, the bill requires councils to change how they charge tenants with a combined income of more than £30,000 outside of London and £40,000 in the capital. Under the so-called “pay to stay” measures, tenants will be charged the same level as the private rent sector, which could force thousands of people from their homes.

The ‘Planning’ component of this bill sets in motion a complete overhaul of the planning system primarily to give housebuilders more freedom to build more houses whilst at the same time diluting the definition of “affordable housing”, combining with the ‘Housing’ aspect of the bill to boost the housing market with measures such as expanding right-to-buy to housing association tenants and ‘Starter Homes’. However, the ‘Housing’ component of this bill also makes fundamental changes to social housing, including making tenancies less secure, and together with extending “Right-to-Buy” to housing association tenants in a massive sweeping way, forces the sale of high-value council homes – changes which will further shrink social housing and further expand the “Buy-to-Let” housing sector and private rental sector.

The Housing and Planning Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 13 October 2015. It had its second reading on 2 November 2015. The Bill passed Third Reading on 12 January 2016 and goes through the House of Lords before it can get final assent in Parliament. As many as 65 amendments were tabled and added onto the bill at 3rd Reading in the House of Commons, including replacing secure tenancies with fixed-term tenancies and allowing councils to “contract out” the processing of planning applications.

The Housing Crisis and the Government’s Solution: Subsidies to housebuilders, social housing tenants (and banks), debt entrapment fait-accomplie to new mortgagees and “Hasta la vista, baby” to council-housing
That there is a shortage of affordable housing is obvious. The campaign group Defend Council Housing point to the reason for this as having been the “chronic under-supply of new homes, particularly affordable homes for rent”, citing the steady decline in the rate of new house-build over time since the early 1970s including particularly the decline of new council housing which is now next to nothing after being 50% of total new housing stock in 1970. A rise in the “Buy-to-Let” market, an explosion in bank credit in the 1990s and a gradual long-term shrinking of the social housing base because of the long-term dwindling of council housing stock have been the main factors which have combined to create this affordability crisis in England – especially southern England – of high house prices and high rents.

With property increasingly attracting foreign investors, especially in London, and the “Buy-to-Let” market continuing to expand, the house-price spiral has further accelerated. As a result, as well as a rental affordability crisis, the proportion of the population in home ownership is starting to dip as new entrants struggle to afford to get on the property ladder.

The Tory government’s solution to the crisis has developed over the last year. Their plan is to spark demand in the mortgage market in this sea of unaffordability through subsidising new entrants for owner-occupation to get their first step on the housing ladder through a new “Starter Homes initiative”, to encourage right-to buy by housing association tenants, and on the supply side, to free up the planning system to housebuilders, small and large.

Social Housing undermined and Council-Housing under threat
Public sector assets (council homes) will be sold off, with councils forced to sell-off high-value council homes when they become empty, with proceeds from sales unlikely to be ploughed back into more social housing as the bill will formally require councils to subsidise Housing Associations’ Right to Buy discounts up to £100,000, with no guarantee of replacement homes at similar rents in the same area.

In their plans, council housing is considered only at the margins, reconceived as a resource to be utilised only as a safety net for the very poorest in society, whilst remaining poor and low-income working population are consigned to being accommodated through social housing within housing associations, where rent is marginally discounted, or in the private-rental sector, where rents are high. The existing and future Social Housing stock will shrink under these plans because there will be no statutory obligation on housing associations to provide like-for-like quantitative replacement social housing in regard to right-to buy purchases of social housing by housing association tenants, so reducing the total stock of social housing.

The long term trend of the shrinking social housing base and transfer of rentiers into the private sector rental market has increased the housing benefit bill, which has risen by £650 million a year since 2009-10 (for 2013/14 it was £24.6 billion and is expected to reach £27 billion by 2018/19).

Creating Insecurity
The bill will remove secure tenancies and replace them with 2-5 year fixed-term tenancies, after which tenants would have to “reapply”, with means testing and ‘Pay to Stay’ deals if household income reaches above £30,000 (£40,000 in London), radically undermining the stability of mixed communities. Relatives living with a tenant would lose their right to remain and take on the tenancy if the tenant dies or moves away.

Planning System overhauled – planning balance sacrificed for the short-term whims of housing market
The Housing & Planning Bill will amend planning legislation to give priority to its new Starter Homes initiative. This is a programme of funding for developers to provide “starter homes” at 80% market price. The value thresholds for starter homes in London will be £450,000 and in the rest of England £250,000 – prices which are not affordable by many middle-income households and certainly not by lower-income households.

In effect, what the government is doing in promoting a specific developer product – starter homes at 80% of average market price – over and above other more affordable housing products, is both unprecedented and contrary to the basic principle of evidence-based planning. The government is geared to imposing starter homes targets on individual local authorities so that it delivers its national 200,000 starter homes target by 2020.

A new clause introduced into the bill contains a new definition of affordable housing. It defines it as “new dwellings in England that are to be made available for people whose needs are not adequately served by the commercial housing market”, bringing Starter Homes within the definition. The National Planning Policy Framework consultation proposal is to “amend the national planning policy definition of affordable housing so that it encompasses a fuller range of products that can support people to access home ownership …This would include products that are analogous to low cost market housing”. So ‘affordable housing’ is being redefined within the confines of the market, a market which even at 80% of market price particularly in London is financially out-of-reach to large sections of the population, especially younger generations.

The central measures in the Housing and Planning Bill propose key changes to the definition of planning permission, creating a new definition of “Planning Permission in Principle” with “technical details” (such as built form, density, bedroom size, access, social infrastructure and flood mitigation measures) ironed out after initial consent is agreed in principle, a new planning framework which seems to earmark a more robust, flexible and efficient planning system that better responds to the economic environment. However, the difficulty here is that policy compliance on “technical details” are critical matters within any consideration of a planning application and they cannot be checked at the “in principle” stage, and once “in principle” consent is given it is unclear to what extent planning authorities can impose their key policy requirements.

The government is also introducing a mechanism by which the government minister can issue a local development order for a site or group of sites which in effect determines planning policy and grants planning consent for developments, irrespective of the policies set out in adopted local plans. While ministers have stated that the use of these powers will be limited to small sites or to sites on the council’s brownfield register (another new requirement), the bill itself contains no such limitations.

Duncan Bowie – senior lecturer in spatial planning at Westminster University, member of the RTPI/CiH affordable housing network and convenor of the Highbury Group policy forum – says: “Overall the bill represents a significant reduction in local authorities’ planning powers. Taken together with the recent permitted development rights and their recent extension, I would argue that the basic principles of the 1947 Town & Country Planning Act – that local authorities should adopt plans for their areas based on an assessment of the development requirements in their area and that planning decisions in relation to specific development proposals should be based on these plans – has been fatally compromised by these proposals.

In Summary
This Housing and Planning Bill undermines social housing provision across England and Wales whilst acting as a charter for developers and the big housing corporations to expand their growth, allowing them to reap structural changes to planning law that facilitate new housing development underpinned by structural changes to local government that guarantee financial subsidies to discount new house build paid for through the sale of high-value council homes. This bill will also create centralised government control and developer-led privatisation of parts of the planning system. It is not only fatally flawed, but fundamentally disastrous, will increase the displacement of vulnerable communities and elevate eviction rates. This bill is not a solution to a housing crisis; it will intensify the housing crisis. It must be opposed!

Solutions

We point to the solutions already signposted by Defend Council Housing. They are:
Alternatives to create the homes we need, including:
– Regulation of private renting with standards for repairs and controlled
rents; end retaliatory and no-fault evictions
– Stop demolition of structurally sound council and housing association housing stock
– More moorings and sites for bargees, gypsies and travellers
– Lift the bedroom tax and welfare caps
– Housing Associations to be more transparent, open and accountable
– Write off unjustified housing debt to allow building of new council housing
– 50% ‘social rent’ homes on all housing developments and 100% on all publicly-owned land
– A national housing strategy and emergency building programme targeted to meet identified need

Call for new charter to protect Britain’s ancient woodland

woodlandtrust.org.uk
woodlandtrust.org.uk

Call for new charter to protect Britain’s ancient woodland
by Emily Beament 

Published in the “I” (from the Independent) 13/01/2016 Ref:
http://www.pressreader.com/uk/i-from-the-independent/20160113/281784218087652/TextView

Campaigners are calling for a new charter to protect woodlands, trees and people’s access to nature across the country.

The Woodland Trust is spearheading the campaign by 45 conservation and cultural groups for a UK Charter for Trees, Woods and People – which would be launched on the 800th anniversary of the original Charter of the Forest.

Signed in 1217 by Henry III, two years after his predecessor King John signed the Magna Carta, the Charter of the Forest restored and protected peoples’ right to access the Royal Forests, important for grazing livestock, foraging for food and collecting firewood.

Now the campaigners say it is time for a new charter, as the UK’s woodlands and trees face “unprecedented pressures” from development, diseases, pests and climate change. It would set out the relationship between people and trees in the UK in the 21st century,ensuring access to nature and protection of woodland and other habitats, and recognising the importance of trees in combating climate change.

It would also cover forestry, the value of trees and woods, the importance of new planting and making sure landscapes are resilient, the organisations backing the charter say.

They also want local groups , clubs, councils and communities to feed ideas into the building of the charter.
[end]

48 cross-sector organisations unite to call for a UK Charter for Trees, Woods and People

Posted: 13/01/2016
Ref: http://www.confor.org.uk/NewsAndEvents/News.aspx?pid=23&id=2913

The Woodland Trust is leading 47* organisations in a campaign to celebrate the value of our trees and woods and secure their future by creating a new Charter for Trees, Woods and People.

The new charter will be launched in November 2017, which marks 800 years since Henry lll signed the original Charter of the Forest. This influential charter protected and restored the rights of people to access and use the Royal Forests.

Today, our nation’s woods and trees are facing unprecedented pressures from development, pests and diseases and climate change. They risk being neglected, undervalued and forgotten. Now is the time to create a new charter, a broader charter that recognises the importance of trees in our society, celebrates their enormous contribution to our lives, and acts now so that future generations can benefit from them too.

The coalition’s ambition is that the principles set out in the 2017 charter will articulate the relationship between people and trees in the UK in the 21st century. The charter will provide guidance and inspiration for policy, practice, innovation and enjoyment. Redefining the everyday benefits that we all gain from woods and trees in our lives, for everyone, from Government to businesses, communities and individuals.

Local groups, clubs, councils and committees will be encouraged to take part by bringing people together to celebrate the woods and trees at the heart of their communities and help feed ideas and stories into the building of the charter. The 48 Charter Steering Group organisations are also looking to recruit local ‘Charter Champions’ who will ensure their community is represented in this ambitious project, able to seize this unique opportunity to define the future for woods and trees in the UK and make their voices heard.

Guidance and information will be provided during the campaign to inspire and support local activities, and to help people create a lasting legacy in communities across the UK. Funding will be available for local events, activities and projects that reconnect people and trees. Anyone involved will be part of a UK-wide network of groups leading local events and will represent communities in this UK wide conversation about the future of woods and trees.

The charter will be rooted in stories and memories that show us how trees have shaped our society, landscape and lives. To kick the campaign off, the organisations involved are asking people from all corners of the UK to share their ‘tree stories’ of treasured or significant moments in their lives that would not have been possible without trees, to help create a charter that
reflects the true meaning and value of trees and woods to the people of the UK.

Beccy Speight, Woodland Trust CEO said: “Our collective ambition is for a charter that puts trees back at the heart of our lives, communities and decision making -where they belong. The charter will provide guidance and inspiration to allow us all to appreciate, preserve and celebrate our trees and woods for what they do for us in so many different ways. Inspired by something that happened 800 years ago, there is no better time than now to shine the spotlight again on the benefits that trees and woods bring to us all today and to future generations.”

Why does the UK need a new Charter for Trees, Woods and People?

Changing lifestyles, busy schedules, and increased ‘screen-time’ mean more people feel disconnected from nature and what it does for us today than ever before. Society and Government need to stop taking trees for granted, recognise and celebrate their huge contribution** to our lives, and take shared responsibility for securing their future.

Trees and woods are hugely valuable for our health, happiness and our children’s development. Only 51% of children achieve the recommended hour of physical activity each day (girls just 38%, compared with 62% for boys)1, and research shows that just having trees close to residential areas encourages increased outdoor exercise3. Other research highlighted that asthma rates in children fell 25% for every additional 343 trees per square kilometre2in their local area.

The State of Nature report shows 60% of woodland wildlife species surveyed are in decline across the UK4. In addition, habitat loss, through development and more intensive land use have contributed to increasingly fragmented habitats and species decline. Development, poor management and disturbance continue to threaten these fragments of habitat, and wildlife here is isolated and
vulnerable. Reductions in enrolments on forestry, land management and environmental courses compounds the problem through a lack of skilled and informed practitioners.

Valuable habitats are still under threat, the area of new woodland created annually continues to fall, far too few trees are being planted to achieve a better connected landscape, and the impact of tree disease will undermine this further. Research for the Woodland Trust by Europe Economics found that woods and trees deliver £270bn worth of benefits to society. This makes the call for a charter more important than ever.

Find out more at: https://treecharter.uk/

-Ends-

Notes to editor:

For more information please contact: Steve Marsh, Woodland Trust, press office
on 01476 581 121 or 07971 164 517 email stevemarsh@woodlandtrust.org.uk

Rural Manifesto launched to challenge the elitism that dominates UK rural policy

RURAL MANIFESTO LAUNCHED AT THE OXFORD REAL FARMING CONFERENCE,  CALLS FOR “EQUALITY IN THE COUNTRYSIDE”

The Land Workers’ Alliance and The Land magazine have joined forces to produce a rural manifesto which aims to challenge the elitism that dominates rural policy. The manifesto is also supported by the Family Farmers Association.

The manifesto was launched at the Oxford Real Farming Conference on 6 January. It includes 46 action points, on matters such a housing, land ownership, agriculture and rural employment. These all have the common aim of making Britain’s rural land and resources more accessible to a wider constituency of people.

The manifesto is aimed primarily at the progressive parliamentary opposition. Simon Fairlie of The Land magazine stated:  

“With a reinvigorated Labour opposition, and a body of Scottish Nationalists committed to land reform, we are now in a better position to challenge the dominating influence of the Country Land and Business  Association, the National Farmers’ Union, and Scottish Land and Estates.”

Rebecca Laughton of the Land Workers’ Alliance, and a market gardener, stated:

”For decades,  the number of farms and the number of farmworkers have declined remorselessy, while the cost of rural housing has become increasingly unaffordable. It is time we reversed these trends, and it is not rocket science to do so.”

A number of the action points are reproduced below.
The full manifesto,  including original illustrations by Clifford Harper, is attached as a pdf at the foot of this email. It is embargoed until 6 January.

For more information please contact:

Ed Hamer of the Landworker’s Alliance: 07858 381539 edhamer@…
Simon Fairlie of The Land magazine: 01297 561359 chapter7@…

A SAMPLE OF RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTION FROM THE MANIFESTO

• The Land Registry should not be privatized. The register of who owns which land should be completed, and made easily and freely accessible  on line. A cadastral map for each municipality should be made publicly available at council offices, as it is in countries such as France and Spain.
• The sell-off of county farms should be halted  (except where county farmland can be sold for development and the proceeds used to acquire more or better land). Local authorities should be re-empowered to acquire land for rent to small-scale farmers and new entrants where there is a proven need.
• Common Agricultural Policy direct subsidies should be capped at €150,000 per individual farmer, releasing an estimated £4million. The ceiling should be lowered progessively over time to a level that supports a wider range of thriving family farms.
• Much organically produced food and animal feed is not labelled as such because the costs of certification are too high for small-scale producers. The burden of labelling and certification should instead be borne by farmers who employ chemicals or other ecologically suspect practices, rather than by organic farmers. In other words, food products that have been produced using artificial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or genetically modified materials should be clearly labelled as such.
• Increase investment in council housing and social housing in villages.
• Measures should be taken to ensure that recently introduced  government support for self-build housing is focussed on affordable housing, and not luxury housing. 
• All  rural local authorities to set targets within their area for the reduction of carbon emissions through renewable energy generation, including solar, wind and micro-hydro — especially community schemes; and through energy saving measures such as insulation of buildings. 
• Support should be provided for the creation of “village service stations” in rural settlements that combine retail provision of food and essential goods with post-office and banking services, car-hire and minibus services, etc
 • Include land management (horticulture, arable crops, animal husbandry, forestry etc) as a subject at secondary schools on a par with academic subjects.
• Reintroduce the fuel duty escalator, a ratcheted annual increase of carbon tax on petrol and diesel, including red diesel, with the proceeds earmarked for public transport provision.