All posts by Mark

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.

************************************************************

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Demolishing of affordable complexes and replacement by more profitable buildings

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

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

– the ending of social neighbourhoods programmes, participation process etc

– Construction on public spaces, privatization of public spaces

– Lobbying governments for weakening legal standards

– Exit to private funds

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

treat tenants.

* Video on forced evictions by AIMCO at Lincoln Place

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

HOW DO REITS WORK?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FINANCIAL MARKETS: ASYLUM FOR CAPITAL

Taken from FROM CRISIS TO CRASH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Post-Brexit farming funding set out by Michael Gove

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Speech ‘no comfort’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The changes will impact on the countryside and food production.

    It’s too soon to tell exactly how.

    ‘Best possible deal’

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

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

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

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