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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.
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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.”

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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. 

Save the Land Registry!

Osborne revives plans to privatise Land Registry as The Great British Sell-Off continues

On Wednesday 25th November, chancellor George Osborne delivered the spending review.

 Comment: Hidden away in the spending review – a plan to sell off Britain’s assets
Taken from: http://www.politics.co.uk/comment-analysis/2015/11/27/comment-hidden-away-in-the-spending-review-a-plan-to-sell-of
 He spoke in parliament for an hour and a half. In all that time he barely mentioned assets. But when you dig down into the spending review documents, assets are mentioned a lot. And it’s all about disposing of them.

Although he didn’t draw attention to it, Osborne’s plans to run a surplus this year rely on his decision to sell off our assets. As the Office for Budget Responsibility puts it: “As in July, asset sales make the difference between debt rising and falling as a share of GDP in 2015-16.”

Land Registry

The spending review announced that the government wants to privatise the Land Registry from 2017. Plans to sell-off the Land Registry by the last coalition government were thwarted in July 2014 after a successful campaign opposing the change from a wide spectrum of interest groups from lawyers, solicitors to land registry staff appeared to persuade the former Business Secretary Vince Cable to do a U turn.

The Land Registry has a 98% customer satisfaction rate, doesn’t cost taxpayers a penny and has returned money to the Treasury in 19 of the last 20 years. If it is privatised, this may threaten its neutrality, drive up the cost of buying a house and the use of its service and force small, local high-street solicitors out of business. 
Sign the Petition against privatisation:
https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-privatisation-of-the-land-registry

Ordnance Survey

The spending review also reveals plans to “develop options to bring private capital into the Ordnance Survey before 2020”. We don’t know yet if that means an equity sale or new private partnerships. Ordnance Survey makes £32 million profit a year for the public purse. Its data has saved the government tens of
millions of pounds, and underpins an estimated £100 billion of the UK economy.

Ordnance Survey is a much-loved public institution at the cutting edge of data technology and it needs to stay that way.

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

The following is taken from
http://weownit.org.uk/evidence/land-registry

If you’ve ever bought a house, it was the Land Registry that documented your ownership rights. The Land Registry has been recording the ownership of land and property in England and Wales since 1862. It doesn’t cost taxpayers a penny and has returned money to the Treasury in 19 of the last 20 years, while continuing to reduce its fees.

The Land Registry has more than 24 million titles providing proof of ownership. Easy-to-read documents explaining the paper title deeds are also provided. This makes life easier and simpler for everyone involved in buying and selling property. Independent civil servants make sure every entry on the register is correct. They also produce data on house prices and transactions which is used by the government to make policy decisions.

The Land Registry has a 98% customer satisfaction rate. Last year it made £8.5 million profit for the public purse. It gave nearly £100 million back to the government in 2013. The Land Registry underpins the guarantee of title of £3 trillion of property.

It shares experience in developing a world class land registration system with other countries. The Land Registry has consistently been spoken about as being at risk of privatisation. Last year it was close to being privatised but the sale was vetoed by Vince Cable, after a campaign by a range of groups, including high street lawyers and solicitors who use the Land Registry the most. 

But while that campaign was successful there is reason to believe it will once again be considered once the government has sold financial assets like RBS and Lloyds. George Osborne united the UK Financial Investments (UKFI) and the Shareholder Executive in a new body called UK Government Investments (UKGI) soon after the general election in May 2015. UKGI is designed solely to sell public assets. 

If the Land Registry is privatised, this may drive up the cost of buying a house, force small, local high-street solicitors out of business and threaten the stability of the housing market. 

George Osborne plans to sell off £31 billion of public assets this year in the largest privatisation ever. His plans don’t include the Land Registry at the moment – let’s make sure they never do. Sign the Top Trumps petition to keep the Land Registry public.
http://weownit.org.uk/take-action/dont-sell-our-top-trumps
***************************************************************

Save the Land Registry!
A united campaign against the proposed plans to privatise the Land Registry
https://www.facebook.com/savethelandregistry/

So far over 12,500 people have signed the petition!
https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-privatisation-of-the-land-registry

Runnymede Eco-Village in Epic Court Battle – Sept 2015

Runnymede Eco-Village in Epic Court Battle – Sept 2015
Runnymede Eco-Village – a stone’s throw from the place where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215 – may be creating in its legal defence against eviction in the High Court a historic legal precedent which, in invoking within the legal challenge to fight eviction the “Charter of the Forest”, an accompanying document to the Magna Carta 800 years ago, could establish legal precedent to the recognition of a new-use class of sustainable land management within planning law and establish “rights of use” even if the existing land title would be confirmed. The ‘land use right’ could be legally upheld in this court-case between the developer and the squatters, who include amongst their number women and children and young families.

Established in 2012, Runnymede ecovillage has held its ground, stopping the development of the site. In Runnymede Digger’s own words: “Runnymede Eco-Village was founded in 2012 by a group of land activists known as the Diggers. They modelled themselves after Gerald Winstanley and the 1649 Diggers who had attempted to settle open, free, self-sustaining communities on the common lands of Britain during the English Civil War […]After squatting and being moved on from several pieces of land (more detail below), the group came upon and settled the disused former Brunel University campus, creating Runnymede Eco-Village. […] Despite eviction threats and an on going legal process to remove the community from the land, the village has remained and will soon mark its third year anniversary on the 11th of June, 2015.”

Now, having celebrated its Third Year with a summer festival, Runnymede is in court, making a constitutional case for why they should remain in occupation. Like all possession cases, the law is rigged in favour of the title holders (in this case an offshore developer), acting in the interests of that sacred cow, private property. However, the legal team for Runnymede are putting together a bold case, that references a whole gamut of law (common, European and Constitutional), that goes to the heart of ancient land rights during this period of modern enclosure. On their website, you can find the following regarding their case:
Press Release – “Historic Appeal Case Could Set Precedent for Right to Low-Impact Living”
Skeleton Legal Argument (6 pages) – Scribd
Fuller Legal Argument with Case Law and Precedents

WEBSITE: https://diggers2012.wordpress.com

FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/Diggers2012

TWITTER: @freetheland

This write-up adapted from article courtesy of SQUASH campaign – opposing anti-squatting legislation. Ref: http://www.squashcampaign.org

More on the Diggers of Runnymede:
The weekend after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, on June 9th 2012, a group of people met at Syon Lane allotments and walked along the Grand Union Canal out of London to Windsor, travelling overnight on route to Windsor Great Park having already identified disused land on crown estate land. [See original report here: http://london.indymedia.org/articles/12379 ]. The intention was to grow food, live sustainably and restore and build structures in a responsible way, rather like a re-intepretation of the origin of the word Jubilee – returning land to it’s orginal inhabitants. Pre-emptive injunctions were served on them before they had even set off. They had planned to set up an ecovillage camp on what had been identified as a disused farm (confirmed by a local in a days prior to the occupation), but when they settled on the site, the crown estate legal team produced a “farmer” who said it was a hay meadow which was soon to be cropped for sileage (a comment made was that there will be a lot of nettles in that sileage for sure)!

After a game of cat and mouse with Thames Valley Police who followed the intrepid diggers where-ever they walked (they attempted to settle on another site close by, but police were already waiting for them there and stopped them), the group spent the night on a site near Runnymede.

By Monday 11th, the group found a spot of woodland within Coopers Hill Woods adjacent to National Trust land at Runnymede where they settled down. The site is owned by Royal Holloway University. The woodland site is earmarked for housing owned by a property company Orchid who have plans to build a large housing development on the site. The occupation of the site has ensured the development plans for the site have been delayed – continued action which has overwhelming support from local people opposed to the proposed development which would be highly controversial being as the site is green-belt land.

But as well as effectively ‘digging in’ to resist this proposed development to protect an area of semi-natural woodland from monstrous development in green-belt land by continuing to contest eviction proceedings by the developer/site owner which are now being challenged in the High-Court, these modern-day diggers are also asserting a right-to-livelihood, with mothers and their small children amongst the permanent residents there.
In the Magna Carta Lecture which took place in 2012 at Royal
Holloway University, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, defined law as ”as all those protocols that stop society being run exclusively in the interests of whatever group happens to be dominant at any moment, and that thus guarantee fairness and redress independently of status or power.” In the Runnymede Diggers own words (written in 2012): “Here in Runnymede, where the notion of modern law, justice and equality are said to have sprung from, you could be forgiven for thinking that the law may reflect Rowan William’s definition. And yet the reverse appears to be true. Instead we find a minority of land owning elites hold almost total power of over access to the thing whose life we all depend on: the land. Those of us here at Runnymede Eco-Village have become quite used to breaking the laws as a by-product of simply trying to live on disused land in a low impact and harmless way. We will carry on doing what we think is just as the primary guide over and above these laws.”

SNP-led Scottish Government unveils radical plans to tackle land ownership inequality

SNP-led Scottish Government unveils radical plans to tackle land ownership inequality
The Independent
24 June 2015
Ref:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/snpled-scottish-government-unveils-radical-plans-to-tackle-inequality-in-land-ownership-10340098.html

The question of who holds the rightful claim to Scotland’s majestic glens, lochs and mountains is almost as old as the country itself, with the debate over land ownership north of the border resulting in much bloodshed over the centuries.

It is a thorny subject for the SNP-led Scottish Government to tackle. But ministers have finally published radical plans aimed at widening the ownership of land across the country, which could result in currently private estates being taken away from landowners and handed to local communities.

Ministers at Holyrood say the proposals contained in the Land Reform Bill will go some way to addressing the inequality of land ownership in Scotland. According to some estimates half of the country’s private land is controlled by just 432 different owners, while the three biggest private landowners hold almost half a million acres between them.

The proposals have been met with dismay by some of the country’s landowners, notably Viscount Astor, the stepfather of Samantha Cameron, whose family owns the 20,000-acre Tarbert Estate on the island of Jura off Scotland’s west coast. Last month he described the plans as a “Mugabe-style land grab” which would wrest estates away from landowners and leave communities in the Highlands worse off.

The Bill, which has yet to be debated by MSPs at Holyrood, will also end the tax relief enjoyed by the owners of shooting and deerstalking estates, who ceased paying business rates in 1994 after being given an exemption by John Major’s Conservative government. Landowners have claimed re-introducing the tax could make some estates unprofitable and lead to unemployment.

The SNP has suggested that the money raised from scrapping the exemption could be pumped into the Scottish Land Fund, which is used to help support community buyouts of land, increasing its annual budget from £3m to £10m. A Scottish Land Reform Commission will also be established, to recommend further changes to land laws.

Andy Wightman, the land reform campaigner and author of Who Owns Scotland, said the changes were long overdue and could easily be applied across the rest of Britain. “Scotland is a very old nation, but a very unmodern one,” he said.

“We’ve never really settled down as a modern democracy to say ‘Look, we’ve got all this land, how should it be owned and used, how should it be governed, what kind of stake should people have in it?’ Other countries in Europe had that debate 150 or 200 years ago.”

The reforms follow hot on the heels of another important piece of land legislation passed by Holyrood last week. The Community Empowerment Bill gives local groups powers to take over vacant and derelict plots of land in towns and cities – with some arguing that these changes are actually more significant than the Land Reform Bill.

The second piece of legislation has perhaps gained more attention due to the profile of those who have spoken out in protest. The Duke of Buccleuch, Scotland’s largest private landowner, said the plans filled him with “absolute dismay” and that he intended to reduce the size of his estates in response. “Over the next five or 10 years I think we will reduce our exposure to land,” he added.

Former Scottish Secretary Lord Forsyth has also criticised the reforms, arguing that big sporting estates did the country an “enormous service” by maintaining employment in remote areas and that the status quo “worked well to the advantage of Scotland”.

David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, which represents landowners across Scotland, said the reforms would result in “fundamental and far-reaching” changes to the way that land is managed and owned in Scotland and would not just affect the wealthy.

“Land reform campaigners continually say that too much land is owned by too few people. In reality, this legislation will have an impact on tens of thousands of people across Scotland who own and manage all sorts and sizes of land holdings,” he said.

The group is most concerned about the “right to buy” part of the reforms, which it says will effectively hand ministers in Edinburgh the power to remove property from a landowner if they are judged to be blocking development. It is this proposed change which has prompted accusations of an SNP “land grab”.

However, the Bill says this would only occur if a local community can convince ministers that removing the property from the landowner was likely to result in “significant benefit” to the public, and was the “only practicable way” of achieving this.

Land Reform Minister Aileen McLeod said the Bill was designed to ensure that the country’s land is “used in the public interest” and could be accessed by future generations for affordable food, housing and energy.

“At the heart of these proposals is the principle of responsibility that comes with all land ownership, and while there are many exemplary landowners in Scotland, the message is clear: it is no longer acceptable to own land in Scotland and not take the public responsibilities that come with that ownership seriously,” she added.

Scotland’s BIGGEST landowners:

The Duke of Buccleuch

Both the UK and Scotland’s largest private landowner, Richard Scott chairs the family trust-controlled Buccleuch Estates, which owns at least 220,000 acres north of the border. Its holdings include the 17th century Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfries and Galloway, one of Scotland’s finest stately homes.

Anders Holch Povlsen

The Danish billionaire owns 150,000 acres of land in Scotland, including the 24,000-acre Ben Loyal and 18,000-acre Kinloch estates in Sutherland, making him the country’s second largest private landowner. He is the CEO of European fashion company Bestseller, which was founded by his parents in 1975.

Captain Alwyne Farquharson

The 16th laird and chieftain of the Clan Farquharson owns around 120,000 acres of Scottish land at Invercauld in Aberdeenshire, including a 26,000-acre grouse moor around Braemar Castle which is managed by the local community. Situated close to Balmoral, it featured in the 2006 film The Queen.

Video of Peoples’ Parliament debate: “Land ownership: who owns our country?” March 17th 2015

Land ownership: who owns our country?
Tuesday March 17th 2015, 6.30pm – 8.30pm, Committee Room 15, House of Commons
The Peoples Parliament on Land Ownership in Britain
host: John McDonnell MP, speakers: Kevin Cahill, Tony Gosling, Fiona McCleirigh, Yoni Higgsmith. St Patricks Day, March 17th 2015 at the Houses of Parliament.