Category Archives: Posted

Council stopped from bulldozing Huddersfield allotments – thanks to their own records from 85 years ago

Council plan to bulldoze allotments stopped – thanks to their own records from 85 years ago

Kirklees wanted to make way for a school but campaigners fought the plan – and have won a High Court battle

Tenants of Cemetery Road Allotments, in Huddersfield, with supporters from the National Allotment Society, at the High Court in Leeds for a judicial review into Kirklees Councils plan to take their plots as part of plans for a new primary school.

A battling allotment holder has scored a High Court triumph in his fight to stop Kirklees Council taking over his prized plots for construction of a new primary school.

Jonathan Adamson, who cultivates four plots at the Cemetery Road allotments in Birkby , was served with notice to quit by the metropolitan borough council in September last year.

He was told his plots were needed to provide playing fields and car parking space for the primary school, on which work is due to start imminently.

Mr Adamson supports the new school, but wants the plans reconfigured so as to spare his allotments, London’s High Court heard.

Although he and other allotment holders have been offered alternative plots, they are “not satisfied” with them, said top judge, Mr Justice Kerr.

Mr Adamson argued in person that he could not be deprived of his plots without permission from Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire.

Debby Fulgoni and Isaac Romain , plot holders on the Cemetery Road Allotments, which are under threat from building proposals
Debby Fulgoni and Isaac Romain , plot holders on the Cemetery Road Allotments 

The council fought his judicial review challenge tooth and nail – but now Mr Adamson has been handed a stunning victory by the judge.

The council’s September 2018 decision to “appropriate” the allotments for education purposes was overturned.

And Mr Adamson, together with 13 other allotment holders who supported him, had their notices to quit quashed.

An aerial view of Birkby from 1949 showing allotment space. The pink areas have since been lost to housing. The yellow area indicates the size of the current allotment site at Cemetery Road.

The judge’s ruling involved an in-depth survey of the history of allotments in Huddersfield going back to 1920, long before the council came into existence.

It was in that year that an Act of Parliament authorised the council’s predecessor, the Huddersfield Corporation, to purchase the Ramsden Estate – of which the allotments now form part – for £1.36 million, payable over 80 years.

The council denied that the Corporation had ever formally appropriated the land for use as allotments and that the Secretary of State’s consent was therefore not required.

But, after analysing Corporation minutes going back decades, Mr Justice Kerr found that it had done just that when the land was “zoned for allotments” at a meeting in 1935.

The allotments had been described as “permanent” at the time and the Corporation had directed that local maps be amended to show them.

Cemetery Road Allotments, Birkby.
Cemetery Road Allotments, Birkby. (Image: Huddersfield Examiner)

The allotment holders therefore had “security of tenure” and, under the Allotments Act 1925, they could not be stripped of their plots without the Secretary of State’s say so.

The judge rejected council arguments that Mr Adamson had delayed too long in bringing his case to court.

And Kirklees’s plea that Mr Brokenshire was “highly likely” to approve the appropriation of the allotments for the new school also fell on fallow ground.

The judge paid tribute to the “skill and courtesy” with which Mr Adamson presented his case and ordered the council to pay his legal costs – which came to £12,199.

Kirklees Council said it was “disappointed” with the decision.

They added: “A new primary school is needed in this area to meet the demands for places.

“As a council we’re committed to ensuring all children in Kirklees have access to the same high standard of education. This school is an important part of this.

“This decision will delay us in providing the new school local children deserve.

“We will be presenting additional information to the judge and hope this decision will be reviewed. We will also be seeking permission from the Secretary of State to proceed with the development following this decision.

“Allotments are part of our local communities and it’s important that we have enough spaces for those that want them.

“The amount of unused space on this site means that it is possible to have both a fantastic new school and a vibrant allotment site.

“Affected allotment plot holders were offered new plots in the same allotment where work has been done to bring them up to a very high standard with new paths, edging, and access to water, so tenants can get straight into the art of growing.”

Craig Murray: XR – Extinction Aversion

Extinction Aversion Craig Murray 23 Apr, 2019

Man made climate change has appeared to me for three decades to be sufficiently proven, and it has that cardinal virtue of a scientific hypothesis, you can see the things which it predicts will happen, come to pass before your eyes, like being uncomfortably hot in your Edinburgh flat on Easter Monday.

Direct action of the illegal kind is a very important weapon in the arsenal of protest. It represents a challenge to the state’s monopoly of force. While it may appear non-violent, in fact by imposing your body into a space and blocking it off, that is an assertion of physical force. What the Extinction Rebellion protests showed this week was the reticence of the Metropolitan Police in dealing with nice, middle class and largely white protestors. That reticence is to be welcomed; the fact that it is not extended to other groups is what is to be deplored. The alternative is to argue for everyone to get beaten up by Plod equally, which is not a sensible line to take.

I broadly support the Extinction Rebellion protest. In terms of gatecrashing climate change on to the political agenda, they have had a good and entirely necessary effect. Their use of what was in effect force, certainly did some harm in restricting the movement of people around London, and in some cases will have impacted the ability of struggling people to earn their living. It also disrupted public transport systems which are a good thing. But these are minor items if you accept that climate change is whirling its way to becoming an existential threat – and that is a premise which I do accept. The disruption is outweighed by the intent to do a much greater good, in terms of the justification of the people doing the protesting. Whether it succeeds in prompting real action by government and achieving a balance of good, is a different question. I fear we have to get rid of the Tories first.

I accept that climate change is a worldwide phenomenon and action in individual states of limited utility. But individual states can inspire by example, not least by showing that a switch to a greener economy can lead to a major stimulation of economic growth. I do not pretend to expertise in green economics. What follows are rather some homely policy nostrums which I believe should form a part of a coherent approach to green policy.

1) Home Insulation

The Tory Government has effectively abandoned and cancelled home insulation schemes; in effect nothing whatsoever is happening. Yet the government’s own plan to reach committed emissions targets by 2050 explicitly depends on one third of all savings being achieved by insulation in Britain’s existing stock of over 20 million very poorly insulated homes.

There is the clearest case here for government action. The aim should be to upgrade 4 million homes a year. Full funding should be provided to local authorities and housing associations for their stock. Householders should face a legal obligation to bring home insulation up to high defined standards – with generous means-tested grants available from central government funds, which should meet 100% of the cost for all those in straitened circumstances, and a decreasing percentage thereafter based on income and wealth. Private landlords should be forced to comply and self-fund up to the value of four months’ rent, with grants available for higher costs. Failure to comply should lead to the landlords’ property being confiscated by the local council, with tenancies protected.

Those are the broad outlines of a policy which would provide massive employment and contribute to a major Keynesian boost for an economy crippled by years of austerity, as well as make a major difference to emissions.

2) Ocean Energy

Wind energy has made massive strides, and to a lesser extent solar and hydro. But disappointingly little has been done to harness the restless energy of the seas. Government support for research programmes into utilising wave and current energy is pitifully small, given the potentially vast and reliable energy resource available, to the UK in particular.

On tidal energy, those objecting to the Severn or Wash barrage schemes on the grounds of effect on wildlife habitat are failing spectacularly to see the wood for the trees. Of course biodiversity is massively important, but we are fighting a battle in which some resources will need to be sacrificed. The Severn, Wash and Swansea Bay schemes do not require substantial technological innovation – they are basically just low head hydro – and should be pushed ahead as urgent projects. Simultaneously major research funding should be given to innovation. I suspect the harnessing of currents rather than waves would be the first to fruition.

3) Aviation Fuel Tax

Cheap flights are the opiate of the people. I cannot buy in to the argument that aviation fuel tax is only viable if everybody does it. Planes landing can very easily be taxed on any fuel they have in their fuel tanks brought in from third countries. If hub passengers transiting are reduced in favour of fuel tax free destinations, I cannot see that as a bad thing. An aviation hub is a particularly undesirable thing to become, from any sensible environmental view.

Flying is a major contributor to pollution and there is far too much of it. The tax free fuel status that makes flights cheaper than trains is ludicrous. Aviation fuel should be taxed at the same levels per calorific value as road fuels.

4) Expand Rail Networks

Nationalisation and re-integration is of course the sensible prelude to any development of rail transport. The UK is chronically behind most of the developed, and even much of the developing, world in terms of high speed rail lines. This needs to be rectified as does the chronic over-concentration of transport resource on South East England. HS2 should run on to Aberdeen and Inverness, not just be confined to the southern third of the UK.

On a wider note, with demand for rail transport buoyant, re-establishment of many Beeching axed lines should be undertaken with a view to a simple containerised nationwide freight distribution system as well as passenger transport. Rail is far more energy efficient than road. The preponderance of road transport is simply the result of perverse incentive from government policy.

Light rail and tram systems should be expanded in cities. Here in Edinburgh, the poor planning and execution of the start of a tram system should not put us off. Trams should be a local service, not fast and stopping frequently, but rather akin to buses, as in Manchester. They should not be confused as in Edinburgh with an express airport service, with very few and inaccessible stops.

5) Encourage Micro-Generation: Abolish Nuclear

The UK had an immensely successful programme of encouraging domestic solar generation through feed in tariffs, so the Tories cut it, as they cut the less successful insulation grants. Generous feed-in tariffs for domestic generation should be rebooted, while technologies such as heat pumps and exchangers should be zero rated for VAT (as should bicycles).

By contrast, the massively expensive nuclear power projects should be scrapped immediately. I lived almost all my adult life under the impression nuclear energy involved some fiendishly clever technology, until I realised it generates from bog standard steam turbines, and the nuclear part is simply a ludicrously complicated, incredibly expensive and devastatingly dangerous way to – boil water.

The real attraction to governments of nuclear power is the precise reason governments dislike micro-generation – nuclear power promotes a massively centralised security state, and links in well to weaponisation. It is the most expensive electricity of all, and should be immediately closed down.

The above represent my own thoughts on possible short term policy responses to climate change. I acknowledge quite freely that it is not my area of expertise and is perhaps insufficiently radical, and certainly insufficiently broad and detailed. It has however focused my mind on the great economic stimulus that can be gained from wholesale pursuit of the necessary technologies at the government level.

I have deliberately concentrated on unilateral measures rather than international negotiation, because I am sceptical there is sufficient will for progress on the latter or that governments around the world intend to stick to commitments. I have viewed it from a UK not a Scottish perspective because action is required immediately, and Scotland starts from a much better place anyway.

That I am thinking on this at all is in a way evidence that Extinction Rebellion achieved their aim from their immediate action, though it is those in power they seek to influence, not random bloggers. I am very sceptical of their declared desire to ‘negotiate with government’. If David Cameron were still in power, he would undoubtedly ‘hug a swampie’ and make all kinds of green noises, then continue shutting down environmental programmes. Those around Theresa May are quite clever enough to recommend such an approach, as a potential Tory rescuing image as the party otherwise crashes to electoral disaster.

I would recommend Extinction Rebellion to keep blocking the roads and stay clear of the politicians. If they could refine their tactics to concentrate more on direct action against the big polluters and their financial backers, and move away from shocking the public through inconvenience, that might be tactically good for a while. But on the whole, I applaud. Vigorously.

Rewilding: Thomas Malthus, Aurochs and ‘green fascism’. The dark side of misanthropic environmentalism

Danish billionaires plan to rewild large swath of Scottish Highlands

Scotland’s largest private [Viking] landowners want to reverse years of land ‘mismanagement’, says adviser

Rewilding and Malthus

ON DECEMBER 27, 2016 BY GRAHAM   In September I was fortunate to attend the excellent Future of Wild Europeconference at Leeds University. Over three days, keynote speakers and early-career researchers in the environmental humanities gave presentations on rewilding, ethnography and many other fascinating topics related to political ecology.

When the Nazis Tried to Bring Animals Back From Extinction

By Lorraine Boissoneault – March 31, 2017
Their ideology of genetic purity extended to aspirations about reviving a pristine landscape with ancient animals and forests

Brown bears and wolves to be reintroduced to woods near Bristol after council gives permission

By Alex Wood 4 JUL 2018 Bear Wood could reopen in time for next summer, and will house brown bears as well as lynx, wolves and wolverine in woodlands

The trouble with rewilding

Posted on 14 December 2016 by entitlecollective By Irma Allen*  A rewilding movement that bases itself on arguments around overpopulation, without interrogating the power structures that are enabling it, is in danger of failing to generate the kinds of solidarities, social justice outcomes and progressive visions of wildness that we so desperately need.

In September I was fortunate to attend the excellent Future of Wild Europeconference at Leeds University. Over three days, keynote speakers and early-career researchers in the environmental humanities gave presentations on rewilding, ethnography and many other fascinating topics related to political ecology.

Pretty much my first academic conference, I found it hugely stimulating, and a great opportunity to accost authors of papers I was citing in my dissertation at coffee break. It was also not without a share of controversy and a range of different and at times conflicting visions were presented as to what a ‘wild Europe’ might mean and how to get there.

Irma Allen of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm also attended the conference and has written about her impressions in a thought-provoking blog, The Trouble with Rewilding. Here, she poses some challenging questions about what she felt was revealed concerning  the ideological underpinnings of the rewilding movement. Three main issues  concern her: the racialized Malthussian origins of rewilding; concerns about land abandonment and passive rewilding in Europe being facilitated by importing ‘virtual’ agricultural land; and rewilding initiatives being concentrated in the historically marginalized regions of Central and Eastern Europe.

  1. Malthus and the discourse of over-population

Environmentalism has a dark history of Malthussian ‘Limits to Growth’ thinking and misanthropy. A focus on and at times pre-occupation with over-population as the primary driver of environmental destruction, frequently accompanied by the reification of a sublime Nature above human well-being, has lead to an assumption that the only truly healthy Nature is one devoid of humans.

As Allen says, this issue was most famously addressed by William Cronon in his 1996 essay The Trouble with Wilderness (pdf) (Cronon 1996):

Perhaps partly because our own conflicts over such places and organisms have become so messy, the convergence of wilderness values with concerns about biological diversity and endangered species has helped produce a deep fascination for remote ecosystems, where it is easier to imagine that nature might somehow be ‘left alone’ to flourish by its own pristine devices. The classic example is the tropical rain forest, which since the 1970s has become the most powerful modern icon of unfallen, sacred land ‘a veritable Garden of Eden’ for many Americans and Europeans. And yet protecting the rain forest in the eyes of First World environmnetalists all too often means protecting it from people who live there.
Those who seek to preserve such ‘wilderness’ from the activities of native peoples run the risk of reproducing the same tragedy ‘being forceably removed from an ancient home’ that befell American Indians. Third World countries face massive environmental problems and deep social conflicts, but these are not likely to be solved by a cultural myth that encourages us to ‘preserve’ peopleless landscapes that have not existed in such places for millennia.
‘exporting American notions of wilderness in this way can become an unthinking and self-defeating form of cultural imperialism’

Cronon goes onto argue that the dichotomy that the concept of wilderness creates- that of a separation of anything touched by humans from pristine Nature- leads us to de-value the more prosaic world that we inhabit, and thus disregard the nature and the natural that is all around us, in our backyards, or even in the heart of the city. If we hold an essentially illusory image of ‘the wilderness’ – since nature untouched by humans hardly exists anymore, and arguably has not for a long time- as the only true nature worth preserving or paying attention to, we will neglect to look after the less exciting but equally important diversity than can often be found all around us.

In her post, Allen goes onto trace these Malthussian strains from one of the originators of rewilding, deep ecologist Dave Foreman, to the founder of Rewilding Europe, Toby Aykroyd, who also gave a presentation at the Leeds conference. Allen found that Aykroyd is also the founder of the Population and Sustainability Network, which focusses on the links between reproductive health, population and the environment, and provides free family planning services in developing countries- all well and good she says, but – when motivated by concern over natural resources and carrying capacities, and linked to power-laden development agendas, this shades into murkier territories and rationales that I find deeply uncomfortable. –

In my dissertation on rewilding (available here) I also referenced some of these associations:

The darker side of misanthropic environmentalism still pervades more extreme rewilding discourses and can readily be found on online forums and blogs (see for example The Happy Anachronism blog, 2012; The Rewild West n.d.). Drastic reductions in human population, either forced or through some kind of ecological collapse, are seen by these writers as a necessary and even desirable pre-requisite to any genuine rewilding (Foreman 2015). At times, these views can seem uncomfortably close to certain strands of Nazi ideology, which was itself strongly informed by belief in the purity of pristine Nature, underpinned by their mythology of the urwald (primeval forest) which they associated with the Fatherland and Aryan supremacy (Biehl and Staudenmaier 1995; Schama 1996).

While some find thinking about this uncomfortable and would rather not have it discussed, or claim that it is no longer relevant, the conservation movement needs to own openly to its origins in a history of forced evictions of native peoples in order to create protected wilderness areas (Dowie 2011), a practice that is still going on today.

In this way, ‘wilderness’ can be seen a cultural artifact, literally created by the forced removal of people (Ginn and Demeritt 2008). This is what Monbiot (1994) calls forced rewilding  (it is a curious aspect of his work that he gives scant mention of these issues in his more recent influential rewilding book Feral [2013]).

Perhaps oddly, neither Allen in her post, nor as far as I could see from a quick search on the PSN website, make any mention of the demographic transition-the well researched process of development, by which birth rates decline, sometimes dramatically, with economic development, as infant mortality declines and people move away from subsistence farming, and no longer require large numbers of children to ensure enough survived to work the land (Galor and Weil 2000).

Given that the data has been in on this process for decades and just keeps getting stronger, psychological explanations are being employed, as referenced by Allen,  to explain why overpopulation is still routinely referred to as ‘the elephant on the room’, a kind of ‘public secret’ when in fact it has always been a core underpinning of the environmental movement, championed most prominently by Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich (1968). A challenge for rewilding then will be to make a clean break with such Malthussian ideology.

Dolly Jorgensen, who also spoke at the conference, comes to the same conclusion in her review of rewilding:

Taken as a whole, rewilding discourse seeks to erase human history and involvement with the land and flora and fauna

(Jorgensen, D. 2014)

In response, Prior and Ward (2016) make the case that many rewilding ‘experiments’ are indeed well integrated with human activity and presence, citing two examples of beaver re-introductions in Scotland, and the Oostvaardersplassen reserve in the Netherlands. However, my own research last summer suggests that people are likely to continue to use ‘rewilding’ in many different ways, and even if efforts are made to shake off the idea of rewilding being about the reconstruction of an imagined ‘pristine’ nature, there is bound to be some considerable slippage in public discourse. Rewilding will remain strongly associated with wilderness discourse and continue to draw from a broad church, including Malthussian deep-ecology.

Rather than focus on over-population, Allen sees over-consumption as being a more significant issue, bringing her to her second issue: exporting productive land overseas to allow increased conservation at home.

2. Virtual land trade in Europe

Citing the 2010 OPERA report (von Witzke and Noleppa 2010) on land-sparing, Allen points to data suggesting that Europe’s dramatic increase in productive land abandonment- hailed by some as an opportunity for passive rewilding ( Navarro and Pereira 2012) and regreening (the topic of my last post)  has come only at the expense of a ‘virtual land grab’ outside the EU, mainly in developing countries, who have seen a consummate loss of forest cover. If so, this would provide a challenge to those, like myself, who have argued for intensification of agriculture as a way of freeing up farmland for nature.

However more recent data show that post-2008, the trend within the EU of increasing its virtual land imports has reversed, declining more than a third from the peak of 2007/8:

Source: Noleppa, S., & Cartsburg, M. (2014). Another look at agricultural trade of the European Union: Virtual land trade and self-sufficiency. Hffa Research.

While Europe still imports a large amount of ‘virtual farmlandland’, mainly in the form of oilseed crops, primarily soya from South America, the trend for other crops is in the other direction as Europe increases efficiency and raises yields. Moreover, a proportion of this virtual acreage is for the production of crops to meet the EU biofuel mandates. Under scenarios explored in the earlier study, this could already account for some 3-4m ha, rising by another 10% if biofuel mandates are increased.

Allen also points to the issue of land-grabbing in Europe, fingering EU-backed neo-liberal policies. While this may be a serious problem, dislocating traditional farming communities, this cannot be the same land that is being abandoned, but is rather for intensive production- which itself could lead to more abandonment of marginal land and subsequent re-greening. Implicit in her post is also a degree of ‘anti-capitalist’ rhetoric, which ignores the considerable data for overall long-term improvement of living conditions under capitalism.

Allen argues that rather than welcoming the process of depopulating rural areas and land abandonment, rewilding should align itself with High Nature Value farming (HNV) and the benefits known to be provided to wildlife by by small farms- in other words, a land-sharing approach:

The key point here is that there is nothing neutral about processes of rural depopulation. Rather than passively celebrate their demise, should rewilding advocates not align themselves with small-scale farmers, whose practices, at least in Europe, can often encourage far greater biodiversity, and are themselves perhaps part of the very notion of ‘wild’ we might want to cultivate – non-homogenous, diverse, non-standardised, and self-willed?

This does seem to obviate the whole point of what rewilding seeks to achieve: If rewilding means anything at all distinctive, it is as a challenge to conventional conservation policies, which are deeply meshed within agri-environment schemes coming out of Europe the past 40 years. In contrast to rewilding, whereby natural processes are given priority to lead where they may (not unproblematic in itself), HNV farming has more in common with what we already have, which seeks to maintain specific habitats, generally those found in pre-WW2 pre-industrially farmed landscapes.

Agri-environment policies are already geared to promote land-sharing. But with world food demand set to rise dramatically over the coming decades, we will also need land-sparing, including new technologies to increase yields. A stalling in  innovation is cited as one of the major reasons for the slow-down in agricultural yield increases globally, and in Europe especially, where GMOs for example are strongly opposed and largely restricted. The OPERA report concludes that excessive regulations and bureaucracy have stifled agricultural innovation in the EU, while an increase in lower-yielding Organic agriculture across the EU would only lead to in an increase in virtual land imports.

3. Bio-capitalism in Eastern Europe

Allen’s final point is to question how, although rewilding generally has been focussed on the developed world, yet within Europe, most initiatives seem to be in the poorer eastern countries. This is true at least for one of the more prominent rewilding organisations, Rewilding Europe, which has most of its projects located in the poorer European countries of eastern Europe.

I think this is another valid point which is worthy of further discussion and research. This could be focussed for example on how eastern Europe may be at an earlier stage of the demographic transition through which more devloped countries have already passed, and how this relates to forest transitions. From informal discussions and other presentations at the Leeds conference, there were suggestions that RW Europe, and perhaps other organisations, see the depopulation of rural areas much to their advantage, and their assumption that alternative livelihoods in eco- and wildlife tourism can seemlessly make up for the decline in farming in these areas needs to be demonstrated rather than assumed.


Irma Allen has raised some perhaps uncomfortable questions for the rewilding movement. Its Malthussian origins should not be ignored and vigilance is needed to ensure it just does not become just the latest vehicle for misanthropic green fascism. Nevertheless, there are some contradictions in her arguments, and a danger of replicating these very same issues in her own apparent preference for small farms and extensive agriculture, while opposing agricultural technology that is badly needed to feed a still growing world population aswell as freeing up more land for nature. This is not to undersate the social disruptions which are likely to accompany such transitions, and further study should be undertaken to assess the social impacts of both agricultural intensification and any possible ‘green-grabbing’ being carried out in the name of rewilding.


Biehl, J. and Staudenmaier, P. 1995 Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience AK

Cronon, W. (ed) 1996 Uncommon Ground- Rethinking the Human Place in Nature
W.W.Norton & Co. New York/London

Ehrlich, P. 1968 The Population Bomb MacMillan

FAO. 2016. State of the World�s Forests 2016.
Forests and agriculture: land-use challenges and opportunities. Rome.

Foreman, D. 2015 [online] An Interview with Dave Foreman [last accessed 12-07-2016]

Galor, O. and Weil, D.N. 2000 Population, Technology and Growth: From Malthusian Stagnation to the Demographic Transition and Beyond American Economic Review Vol. 90, No. 4 (Sept 2000), pp 806-828

Ginn, F. and Demeritt, D. 2008 Nature: A Contested Concept Ch.17 in Clifford, N.J. et al 2008 Key Concepts in Geography, Sage Publications Ltd.

Jorgensen, D. 2014 Rethinking Rewilding Geoforum 65 (2015) 482-488

Monbiot 1994 No Man’s Land: an investigative journey Through Kenya and Tanzania, MacMillan, London

Monbiot, G. 2013 Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea and Human Life Allen Lane

Navarro, L.M. and Pereira, H. M.2012 Rewilding Abandoned landscapes in Europe  Ecosystems (2012) 15: 900-912

Noleppa, S., & Cartsburg, M. (2014). Another look at agricultural trade of the European Union: Virtual land trade and self-sufficiency. Hffa Research.

Prior, J. and Ward, K. 2016 Rethinking rewilding: A response to JorgensenGeoforum 69
(2016) 132-135

Schama, S. (1996), S. 1996 Landscape and Memory Vintage

Von Witzke, H., & Noleppa, S. (2010). EU agricultural production and trade: Can more efficiency prevent increasing ‘land-grabbing’ outside of Europe? Study Commissioned by OPERA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who owns England?

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

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

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

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

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


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

Research by author reveals corporations and aristocrats are the biggest landowners

by Rob Evans, The Guardian Date: 17Apr2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

‘Untermensch’ with nowhere to go: Myanmar farmers under siege from land law

Nowhere to go: Myanmar farmers under siege from land law

The Myanmar government has tightened a law on so-called ‘vacant, fallow and virgin’ land, and farmers are at risk.

by The law puts farmers at risk, mostly in territories that are home to ethnic minorities [File: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP Photo]
The law puts farmers at risk, mostly in territories that are home to ethnic minorities [File: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP Photo]

Yangon, Myanmar – Han Win Naung is besieged on his own land.

Last September, local administrators in Myanmar’s southern Tanintharyi region put up a sign at the edge of his 5.7-hectare farm that read “Under Management Ownership – Do Not Trespass”.

They felled the trees and started building a drug rehabilitation facility and an agriculture training school on opposite ends of his plot.

He was eventually informed that the administrators were challenging his claim to the land and had filed charges against him under a controversial law that could see him jailed for three years.

“I didn’t know what this law was,” the 37-year-old farmer told Al Jazeera. “I didn’t understand what was happening to us. They also asked us to move. We don’t have anywhere else to go.”

Han Win Naung is accused of violating the Vacant, Fellow and Virgin (VFV) Lands Management Law which requires anyone living on land categorised as “vacant, fallow, and virgin” to apply for a permit to continue using it for the next 30 years.

According to estimates based on government data, this category totals more than 20 million hectares or 30 percent of Myanmar’s land area. Three-quarters of it is home to the country’s ethnic minorities.

The law has sparked outrage among land-rights activists, who say it criminalises millions of farmers who do not have permits and lays the ground for unchecked land seizures by the government, the military and private companies.

Han Win Naung’s farm was seized by the Myanmar authorities under a new land law and his crops are now untended [Han Win Naung/Al Jazeera]

Struggle to survive

“The more people learn about this law, the more they will use it against farmers who cannot afford lawyers,” said a lawyer who is representing Han Win Naung. She asked to be identified only as a member of Tanintharyi Friends, a group that represents several farmers who have been sued under this law.

Now Han Win Naung’s farm is in disrepair. Because of the lawsuit, he has been unable to tend to the mango, banana and cashew trees that have sustained his family since his father set up the farm 28 years ago.

“We haven’t been able to do anything on the farm since September … We are facing a lot of trouble getting food on the table,” he said.

The VFV law is modelled on a British colonial policy in which land occupied by indigenous people was labelled “wasteland” in order to justify seizing it and extracting its revenue. After independence, Myanmar’s military rulers adopted the strategy as a way to ensure they could feed their ranks.

In 2012, the nominally civilian government under former general Thein Sein enshrined the strategy into law, referring to the targeted land as “vacant, fallow, and virgin” instead of “wasteland”.

Last year, despite coming to power on a platform of protecting the land rights of smallholder farmers and promising to reverse all military land grabs within a single year, the government of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) made the VFV law stricter.

With the NLD’s endorsement, arrests and evictions of farmers like Han Win Naung are accelerating.

In September 2018, Myanmar’s parliament, which is controlled by the NLD, passed an amendment that imposed a two-year prison sentence on anyone found living on “vacant, fallow, and virgin land” without a permit after March 11.

This gave millions of farmers, many of them illiterate or unable to speak Burmese, just six months to complete a Kafkaesque process of claiming land they already consider their own.

According to a survey conducted by the Mekong Region Land Governance Project, in the month before the deadline, 95 percent of people living on so-called VFV land had no knowledge of the law.

Han Win Naung’s family outside their home in Myanmar’s southern Tanintharyi region [Han Win Naung/Al Jazeera]

‘Torn up’

As the deadline approached, local land-rights activists jumped into action, sending petitions to the government demanding that the law be repealed.

In November, 300 civil society organisations signed an open letter denouncing the law as “an effort to grab the land of ethnic peoples across the country”, especially land belonging to hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people who have no ability to apply for permits.

In December, the Karen National Union (KNU), a powerful ethnic armed organisation that had recently withdrawn from the national peace process, called for the VFV law to be “torn up”, raising the spectre of future conflict.

But these petitions fell on deaf ears, and as the deadline expired, millions of people, many of whose families had been on the same land for generations, became trespassers.

Saw Alex Htoo, deputy director of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN), blames the NLD’s pursuit of foreign investment for the policy.

“The NLD is pushing for investment to come into the country without really looking at what’s happening on the ground,” he said. “That’s the only way they could support this VFV law, which is inviting conflict and will displace millions of farmers across the country.”

When asked why the party would pass an amendment that could harm so many people, NLD spokesperson Myo Nyunt said that while land disputes might arise, the purpose of the law was not mass dispossession.

A sign on what was Han Win Naung’s family farms warns against trespassing, while a drug rehab facility and agricultural training facility are being built there [Han Win Naung/Al Jazeera]

“The purpose of the law is to promote the rule of law,” he said.

“When we implement the new law, those affected have the responsibility to understand and follow it. If they have grievances, they can report them to the relevant committee addressing land grabs. There will be some people who are affected negatively by this law, but that is not the intention of this law.

“The government is working to improve the livelihood and quality of life in Myanmar and the rule of law.”

Ye Lin Myint, national coordinator for the Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA), said enforcement of the VFV law actually calls the rule of law into question because it contradicts several earlier government commitments, including the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) between the government and eight ethnic armed organizations.

“The NCA clearly states that during the peace process, there should be no land seizures,” he said. “This law will start a domino effect of ethnic conflict.”

Conflict over the VFV law has already begun. At least one activist has been arrested for protesting against it and observers say the NLD’s role in generating conflict risks a backlash in next year’s election.

“The ruling National League for Democracy party are really shooting themselves in the foot with the VFV law,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “This will be a human rights disaster that goes to the doorstep of millions of farmers across the nation, and it’s a fair bet they will punish those they consider responsible in the next election.”

Han Win Naung attests to this. Since he was sued, his 80-year-old father has stopped eating and cannot sleep. His children, nieces, and nephews are embarrassed to go to school.

“People like us have been suffering since this government came to power,” he said. “We don’t think we will be voting for the NLD in 2020.”

Labour’s antisemitism fiasco has led to a drop off in pro-Palestinian activism – it’s time we found our voice again

Labour’s antisemitism crisis has led to a drop off in pro-Palestinian activism – it’s time we found our voice again

In 2014, the killing of 1,900 Palestinians in the Gaza strip saw 150,000 people take to London’s streets. Yet the UK’s Palestinian solidarity movement has been noticeably muted in recent months

It is eight years since I attended a protest in the West Bank where unarmed Palestinian activist Mustafa Tamimi was killed after being shot in the face with a tear-gas canister at close range by the Israeli army. Horrified by the brutal injustice of his death, I attended Mustafa’s funeral days later. I witnessed the Israeli army shoot the tear gas canisters that killed Mustafa at his grieving family, as they mourned at his graveside.

It often feels that so little has changed since then, and that only the list of Palestinian dead has grown longer. Israel continues to kill Palestinians with impunity, and I never cease to be outraged by the British government’s shameful “diplomatic silence” and its failure to condemn the Israeli government for its actions.

In the last year alone, the Israeli state has killed 194 Palestinians, including 41 children, during the weekly Great March of Return protests that began in Gaza on 30 March 2018. Although a UN report has now suggested that Israel’s actions could constitute war crimes, UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt abstained on a vote at the UN last month that would have held Israel responsible for its intentional use of “lethal force” against civilian protesters.

The most infamous of these civilian deaths was that of Razan al-Najjar, a 21-year-old nurse who was shot in the chest by the Israeli army while wearing her white medic’s uniform as she attended to injured protestors in the Gaza strip.

Britain’s failure to condemn this potential war crime has undoubtedly further emboldened the Israeli state. This week, Israel killed another medic; teenage volunteer medic Sajid Muzher was shot in the abdomen while giving medical attention to protestors in a Bethlehem refugee camp. Young enough to be a student in the sixth form at the school I teach at, Sajid’s death hangs particularly heavy in my mind.

The failures of this government to intervene in these crimes only highlights how important a grassroots Palestinian solidarity movement truly is. After all, we must never forget that while it was Thatcher’s Conservative government who supported South African apartheid to the very end, it was ordinary British people who stood in solidarity with the struggle of South Africans in their fight for equal rights and freedom for all.

Just like South Africa then, the UK’s solidarity movement has repeatedly shown that many people in this country will refuse to stand on the sidelines as the British government allows Israel’s actions to go unchecked.

Tens of thousands of protestors marched through London in 2009 after 400 Palestinians were killed by Israel’s Operation Cast Lead offensive. In 2014, these demonstrations had grown exponentially; the killing of 1,900 Palestinians in the Gaza strip saw 150,000 people take to London’s streets once again.

Yet the UK’s Palestinian solidarity movement has been noticeably muted in recent months; demonstrations outside Downing Street last year in solidarity with Gaza’s Great March of Return saw only around 2,000 activists in attendance, and a protest outside the Israeli embassy this weekend is likely to be much the same size.

There could of course be a myriad of reasons why this is the case. But it is increasingly clear that the antisemitism crisis that has rocked the Labour Party in recent months has deflated the confidence of Labour Party members like me who would have previously taken part in mass demonstrations against Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

This is not to deny, of course, the very real, abhorrent cases of antisemitism that do exist within Labour, which must be vociferously challenged. But many now feel that these have become even more difficult to root out because of the way antisemitism has often been conflated with anti-Zionism by those who seek to shut down legitimate criticisms of the Israeli state.

The Palestinian solidarity movement must not be afraid to speak out in the face of such attacks. We need more grassroots actions like those taken by members at the Labour Party conference in 2018, when the hall was filled with delegates waving Palestinian flags and chanting “Free Palestine” as a motion was passed unanimously agreeing to freeze arms sales to Israel, were a Corbyn government to be elected.

Corbyn himself could make a bold statement if he agreed to speak at a national demonstration in London on Saturday 11 May, just as he did in 2009 and 2014 before being elected Labour’s leader. This could reaffirm Corbyn’s long-standing commitment to Palestinians’ liberation, and generate the confidence needed to build a mass solidarity movement once again.

As Palestinians in Gaza take to the streets this weekend to mark the anniversary of the Great March of Return, Israel is unlikely to respond with either caution or restraint, making the UK’s grassroots solidarity movement as important as ever. We must never underestimate the powerful message this international solidarity sends to Palestinians struggling everyday against their oppressors.

30% profit on every Persimmon home sold last year thanks to taxpayer ‘help to buy’ subsidy

Outrage as help-to-buy (help-to-sell) boosts Persimmon profits to £1bn

Builder condemned for making massive gains from taxpayer-funded programme

Housebuilder Persimmon has reported full-year profits of £1.09bn.
Housebuilder Persimmon has reported full-year profits of £1.09bn. Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian

Housebuilder Persimmon made a record-breaking £1bn profit last year – equal to more than £66,000 on every one of the homes it sold – with almost half of its house sales made through the taxpayer-funded help-to-buy scheme.

The York-based builder, which sparked widespread public and political outrage for attempting to pay its former chief executive Jeff Fairburn a bonus of £110m, posted pre-tax profits of £1.09bn.

The huge profit – the biggest ever made by a UK housebuilder – means Persimmon banked £66,265 from every one of the 16,449 homes it sold last year. The average selling price was just over £215,000,

The profit from each house it sells has nearly tripled since 2013, when the government introduced the help-to-buy scheme in an attempt to help struggling families buy their first home. Last year the company paid an average of just £31,536 for each plot of land, and spent £112,295 on actually building each home.

Cable demanded that the government immediately end the help-to-buy scheme and take action to crack down on “outrageous” executive pay. “This greed is coming at the expense of the public purse through the subsidies in help-to-buy,” he said. “Help-to-buy is a scam, enriching developers while forcing buyers off the ladder by pushing up prices.”

Greg Beales, the campaign director of the housing charity Shelter, said: “Persimmon represents everything that is wrong with the housebuilding system. The firm has generated huge profits from taxpayer subsidies whilst doing very little to help solve the housing crisis we face.

“Piecemeal schemes such as help-to-buy have made the situation even worse by inflating house prices and giving big developers a leg-up – while doing next to nothing to help those most in need of a genuinely affordable home.”

Many Persimmon customers have complained that their homes are poorly built, with pipes springing leaks and windows cracking just days after they moved in. Persimmon has been awarded only a three-star Home Builders Federation customer service rating every year since 2014, compared with four and five stars for its major rivals.

Victoria Baker, who bought a £380,000 five-bedroom Persimmon house in Ingleby Barwick, near Stockton, last year described the building work on her home as horrific. “We noticed leaks straight away as we were putting things away under the sink; there was a pool of water under the sink in the kitchen,” she said. Baker, who lives in a home built by Charles Church, a brand owned by Persimmon, said numerous other leaks later appeared. She is part of a Facebook group called “Charles Church (Persimmon) Homes From Hell”.

Persimmon has made so much money in recent years that it triggered a near-£500m bonus bonanza for its 150 most senior bosses. The company’s former chair quit when he recognised that the huge bonuses were wrong, but was unable to prevent them being paid out.

Persimmon’s former chief executive Jeff Fairburn was eventually persuaded to give up part of his payout but still walked away with £75m. His replacement, Dave Jenkinson, collected more than £40m.

The company’s huge gains from the help-to-buy scheme, in which the government provides a guaranteed interest-free loan, have sparked a ministerial review. James Brokenshire, the housing minister, is said to be “increasingly concerned by the behaviour of Persimmon”.

A source close to the minister said: “Given that contracts for the 2021 extension to help-to-buy are being reviewed shortly, which overall is a great scheme helping hundreds of thousands of people into home ownership, it would be surprising if Persimmon’s approach wasn’t a point of discussion.”

A government spokesman said officials would “carefully” examine the vast profits made by Persimmon and other housebuilders. “Help-to-buy will look different,” the spokesman said. “We’ve already said it will look only at first-time buyers and we will definitely not be funding leasehold properties. We will look carefully at developer performance over recent years.”

Jenkinson, who was appointed Persimmon’s new chief executive on Tuesday, defended the company’s use of the help-to-buy scheme, saying the company had “helped hundreds of first time buyers” and “given them the opportunity to own their own home”.

He said the help-to-buy scheme was just one element behind the firm’s financial success and the government had not contacted the company with any concern about its use of the help-to-buy scheme.

Jenkinson said his £40m bonanza “isn’t distracting [him] – I’m incredibly focused”. He said his bonus payment was tied up in Persimmon shares, which he had no intention of selling soon. He was not paid a bonus in 2018 and will not receive one in 2019. His basic pay is £518,000.

More than a year ago, Fairburn pledged to set up a charity with a “substantial proportion” of his bonus but has so far failed to do so. He has not registered a charity with the Charity Commission or made any inquiries about how to set one up.

Independent property expert Henry Pryor said: “There is no doubt that help-to-buy has been the crack cocaine of the housing industry. Listen carefully and you can hear the housebuilder bosses chortling into their cornflakes as taxpayers pump up the executive bonus pool.

“With 100,000 kids waking up in B&B accommodation this morning, it’s a national outrage that the government is still pouring accelerant on to the smouldering housing market. Bosses who have trousered the profits from selling to taxpayer-supported buyers have taken the place of bankers on my dart board. They have a business model, thanks to successive governments, that would make Al Capone blush.”

Kirklees land grab: Huddersfield’s David and Goliath allotments fight heads for the High Court

David and Goliath allotments fight is going to the High Court

The one-day case will be heard in the High Court in London

Cemetery Road Allotments, Birkby.
Cemetery Road Allotments, Birkby. 

Campaigners fighting to stop their allotments being bulldozed for new school playing fields in Huddersfield have been granted a judicial review.

It is the latest twist in the David and Goliath battle between plotholders in Birkby and Kirklees Council.

The one-day case will be heard in the High Court in London between March 11 and April 17.

Tenants with plots at Cemetery Road Allotments in Birkby say the ruling is a landmark moment that could have national implications.

The application was filed by Jonathan Adamson, a plotholder and a member of Friends of Cemetery Road Allotments.

Senior Labour councillor Graham Turner said the matter was now a legal process and he could not comment further.

He did advise that the judicial review would not affect the construction of the new £9.7m school, which is expected to open in time for the September term.

Tenants have been offered new, alternative plots.

Campaigner Debby Fulgoni commented: “This is a brilliant result for us and could be a landmark case for allotment holders up and down the UK.”

The decision by the Honourable Mrs Justice Andrews comes just days after  senior councillor Graham Turner said the council was not anticipating facing a judicial review.

Debby Fulgoni and Isaac Romain , plot holders on the Cemetery Road Allotments, which are under threat from building proposals
Debby Fulgoni and Isaac Romain, plot holders on the Cemetery Road Allotments, which are under threat from building proposals.

Her letter warns the council not to develop the disputed land until the review is complete and adds: “The claimant appears to me to have a real prospect of persuading the court [that the allotments carry statutory status].”

Kirklees Council is building a 420-place primary school at Clare Hill in Edgerton. It intends turning tenants’ allotments at neighbouring Cemetery Road into playing fields.

The council says the land at Cemetery Road is designated as temporary allotments.

Campaigners reject that. They say the land would have been appropriated during the Second World War for allotment use and that that provision would have been made permanent in the 1950s.

That argument forms the basis of the tenants’ fight.

The campaigners have been backed by the National Allotment Society, which has been listed as an interested party along with Housing Secretary James Brokenshire.

Mrs Fulgoni added: “This is happening up and down the country.

“Councils are picking off allotments because they think they are easy targets. Then they can put the land in their land banks.

“Now our case is going through the proper process that it should have gone through from the start.

“The council knew that the court had ruled in our favour and that the judicial review was going ahead before Clr Turner made his comments last week. It should have been mentioned.

“The question that I am asking myself is why was he unaware?

“We are happy for the school to go ahead. We want the school. Our argument is that there is plenty of room for the playing fields elsewhere.

“We have previously repeatedly offered alternative suggestions but the council doesn’t want to know.

“If they succeed in taking the top section of our allotments they will eventually come for the rest.”

Book review: The New Enclosure by Brett Christophers – the sale of public land in neoliberal Britain

Since the 1979 dawn of Thatcherism, the state has sold 10% of Britain’s land, and 50% of its public land. Why is no one scandalised?

Will Self – Thu 6 Dec 2018

If you’re someone who’s interested in Britain – and I mean Britain tout court: the whole 80,823 square miles of its physical existence – then this is a book you must read. If, further, you’re any kind of student of the nation (its politics, its social forms, its economic particularities) then Brett Christophers’ painstaking survey of land privatisation since the Thatcher era will tell you many things you already know. But it will also reveal how all these things you already know are, in fact, underpinned by a single terra incognita – in this case a literal one. For, after painstakingly scrutinising the evidence, and crunching the numbers, Christophers arrives at this extraordinary estimate: since 1979, no less than 10% of the land area of Britain has been sold by the state – in all its various guises and incarnations – to the private sector.

What land exactly are we talking about here? There’s certainly been a great deal of Forestry Commission land shed (at its peak, in 1981, it’s estimated that some 10% of Scotland was owned by the commission), although not as much as you might expect. And there is the land associated with the formerly nationalised industries – railways, coal, steel, water etc. Local authorities have notably allowed schools to build on their playing fields, and allotments to be concreted over, while the NHS, since the establishment of the so-called internal market, has disbursed itself of great swatches of the green and pleasant stuff, together with assorted buildings. As a result, some trusts now find themselves in the invidious position of having to buy back land to build hospitals on. As do some of those councils with the temerity to start building social housing again, because, of course, the land beneath the properties Margaret Thatcher gave their tenants the “right to buy” has been flogged off as well. So has a lot of the Ministry of Defence’s estate – old aerodromes and redundant firing ranges – but Christophers devotes considerable space to the utter fiasco attending the sell-off by the MoD of its residential properties. I could go on: suffice to say we’re talking billions of pounds here, approximately 400 of them. Christophers estimates total land privatisation sales to exceed the government’s bail out of RBS by a factor of 12.

This is the “new enclosure” of Christophers’ title: a transfer of rights to land comparable to the great centuries-long alienation of the so-called “commons” that constituted – for Marx at least – the “primary accumulation” of capitalism. We’re all familiar with the narratives associated with these original enclosures. For boosters, civilisation as we know it was born out of putting up the fences and stopping the peasantry from grazing their livestock. Christophers is at pains to distinguish between the alienation of rights involved in these historical enclosures (which didn’t necessarily entail transfer of title), and the new ones, where ownership is of the essence. In both instances, however, the rationale has been increased efficiency of resource exploitation.

The grand narrative of liberal progress, from improved agriculture, to investment in new industrial processes, to the giddy elevation of the City’s glassy epitomes of purely financial capitalism, arguably rests on this very prosaic footprint: land. As for neoliberalism, Christophers, after considering the available options, plumps for privatisation itself as its defining element. If privatisation, he writes, “is indeed the cardinal feature of British neoliberalism, then the biggest privatisation of them all, that of land, is arguably the country’s seminal political-economic development over the past four decades”. Why then, do we know so little about it – especially given we Britons are currently going through such a grand public convulsion regarding our sovereignty?

Christophers acknowledges the pioneering work of the late Doreen Massey (to whom his book is dedicated), whose analysis of land tenure in the period immediately preceding Thatcher’s privatisation drive sets the scene for what ensued. Massey was quick to understand that land was becoming “financialised” before the term was even coined – quick, also, to grasp its implications for both the commonwealth and individual rights.

That her initial work wasn’t taken further – or was developed only sporadically – is in large part, Christophers suggests, due to secrecy. The parties involved in the land privatisations have made no effort to publicise them. What’s more, while a vast array of state organisations have been charged with selling off their land to the private sector few have kept comprehensive records. This, perhaps, shouldn’t surprise us. The underlying pattern of land ownership in Britain has always been weirdly opaque, with no mandatory and centralised registration of title as there is in other countries. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see something sinister in this: Britain’s landlords are blatantly accorded more political power than the dispossessed. Christophers estimates that a quarter of currently sitting MPs are landlords of one sort or another, and avers that the most radical measure introduced by the Blair government was undoubtedly the abolition of the hereditary peers’ right to sit in the House of Lords, because this represented the last overt linkage between ownership and suffrage. But then casting a vote isn’t the only way of making the political weather – Christophers tellingly observes: “There is a clear symmetry or alignment between input (lobbying) and output (land privatisation and its beneficiaries) that is impossible to ignore or dispute.”

Land and power have been inextricably bound up with each other throughout British history, certainly since William of Normandy claimed ownership of the entire landmass by right of conquest. We can see the attenuation of monarchical and aristocratic power writ into law in the form of successive Reform Acts, which lowered the property requirement for suffrage – see it also in the large scale acquisitions of public land that began with the first world war, then continued throughout the 20th century, up until the Thatcherite climacteric.

If their justification for the big sell‑off was to invoke the “hidden hand” of the market as an agent of greater efficiency – both as an exploiter of the land’s resources, and as a means of signalling optimal investment opportunities – then the Thatcherites really didn’t know their Adam Smith. Christopher’s, by contrast, quotes gleefully from The Wealth of Nations: “As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where never they sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce.”

An arch-liberal of the 19th century, John Stuart Mill, was yet more pointed: the landlords “grow richer, as it were, in their sleep, without working, risking or economising. What claim have they, on the general principle of social justice, to this accession of riches?”

So acute was Smith’s diagnosis of the problems associated with a market in land – namely, monopoly practices, followed inevitability by price volatility – that Christophers observes there could have been no Marx without him. (And it’s worth recalling that the first demand made in The Communist Manifesto is for the nationalisation of all land.) Far from private landowners utilising land more efficiently, and thereby boosting the overall economy, Christophers demonstrates that privatisation leads to the inversion of the so-called “tragedy of the commons” (the idea that if a community shares the ownership of something, nobody bothers to maintain it), because in their pursuit of the highest possible rents they restrict everyone else’s opportunity to enjoy social amenities. Taking the long view, it’s easy to see that the privatisation of public land since 1979 has heralded the beginning of the end of public space itself – if by that is meant the civic and rural spaces enjoyed by a notional “public”.

Christophers isn’t the only one to have addressed these troubling developments – more than a decade ago, Anna Minton’s Ground Control offered a prescient view of the impact of neoliberalism on urban space; and the sell-off of Britain’s once enviable stock of public housing has been well catalogued by James Meek in Private Island. Christophers points out that the most valuable element of a council property is usually the ground it stands on – as it is with many other properties: and this is because permission to build remains extant. There were measures in the past to ensure that the increased value of land zoned for construction would be shared by all – the so-called “betterment” levy, enshrined in the 1947 Planning Act – but the landlord interest soon saw to its abolition. In its place we have instead the land-banking practised by the so-called “big six” British house builders, as they drip-feed the market with a view to maximising their shareholders’ profits.

A rentier economy (Christophers uses the term unapologetically) is driven by profits, which have increased in real terms as the poor have been denied social housing and instead compelled to pay increased rates for ageing private stock. Setting to one side the scandal involved in quite so much land being shed – and often at prices well below market rates, given that if a seller is compelled, they’re hardly in a position to haggle – this transformation of the national wealth struck me as at once utterly bizarre, and strangely predictable. It’s a rule of contemporary economics that the sort of annual growth rates historically required to make Britain great were in the region of 6-7%; in the past we managed these mostly by ripping off stuff belonging to poorer people in other parts of the world, or by selling them stuff we’d made using equipment they didn’t have. But nowadays such comparative “advantages” no longer obtain, while the stock market has continued to decline, as have the bond yields of chronically indebted western nations. So it seems that in order to maintain the necessary returns on capital, we’ve resorted to a weird form of auto-cannibalisation: forcing our least advantaged to pay rents that, serendipitously, have increased by 6-7% per annum since 1979. Meanwhile, the rentier class keep right on reaping where never they sowed.

• The New Enclosure is published by Verso. To order a copy for £17.60 (RRP £20) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.


The collapse in public ownership of land

NOVEMBER 8, 2018 By: Brett Christophers

In this guest post, Brett Christophers, professor in the Department of Social and Economic Geography at Uppsala University in Sweden, outlines the recent history of land privatisation in the UK. His latest book, “The New Enclosure: The Appropriation of Public Land in Neoliberal Britain” was published by Verso Books on 6 November 2018.

It is an oddity of political discourse in Britain that far-and-away the biggest privatisation also happens to be the one about which least is known.

This is the privatisation of land. Since 1979, when Margaret Thatcher entered Downing Street, approximately 2 million hectares of land — or 10 per cent of Britain — has disappeared from public hands, the vast bulk of which has entered private, as opposed to charity or community, ownership.

Around the same amount of land remains in public ownership today, and the government currently values this estate at £420 billion. Let’s say for the sake of argument that the land that has been sold is worth a similar amount. (In reality, it is probably worth much more: the most valuable parts of the public estate, such as local authority land, have suffered the biggest proportionate reductions; individual public-sector bodies have typically sold their most marketable sites; and much of the disposed land, unlike that remaining in government ownership, had planning permission). By way of comparison, no other UK privatisation has been worth more than a tenth of that sum.

There are many reasons this transfer is scarcely acknowledged in the vast archive of media and scholarly commentary on privatisation. The key one is that this has been a quintessential case of death by a thousand cuts. There are in the region of 1,000 different public bodies in the UK and the vast majority have sold sites, ranging from forest to defence land in the case of central government bodies, and from recreational to farm land in the case of local government bodies.

It is impossible to say with any certainty how many individual pieces of land have been sold in total: record-keeping, at least until recently, has generally been dire. But it is certainly several tens of thousands; there have been over 10,000 sales of local authority-owned school playing-fields alone. And yet because nobody has connected up the dots, land privatisation has essentially been ignored. After all, compared to the privatisation of British Telecom or a regional water utility, the privatisation of one hectare here or two hectares there is all too easy to overlook.

If the realisation of land privatisation has been fragmented, its origination has not. From the start this has been a deliberate program, driven centrally from Whitehall, and pursued with particular gusto during periods of Conservative-led government.

A variety of mechanisms have been employed to get landholding bodies to sell. Whitehall has dangled carrots, sometimes allowing sellers to retain and reinvest (some) disposal proceeds. It has set disposal targets. It has squeezed budgets, more-or-less compelling landholders to liquidate assets. And it has introduced laws preventing landholders from blocking sales, as it did most notably with local authorities and housing land under the Right to Buy.

Given the amount of land that has been sold and the fact that government guidelines stipulate that public bodies should secure market value on disposal, it is perhaps surprising that the UK’s public finances remain in such a parlous state. But the reality is that, very often, market value has not been achieved.

Sometimes this is because public bodies have been forced sellers. Sometimes it is because they have seen fit to ‘de-risk’ sites (read: sell them below market value) to appease developers, who have been the principal buyers of public land. Sometimes it is because discounts have been part of the very policy fabric — Right to Buy is again the best example. And sometimes it appears to have resulted from plain incompetence.

Throughout the past four decades, and especially since the global financial crisis, one of Whitehall’s principal justifications for driving the sale of public land has been to enable the private sector to build new homes on it. But it is increasingly clear that the private sector has under-delivered.

Much of the public land released to developers in recent years has not been built on but has instead simply been added to their already engorged land banks. The average number of years of housing supply sitting in the major UK housebuilders’ ‘current’ banks — those containing land that has, or is close to receiving, planning permission — doubled from around three in 2006 to around six a decade later.

Although Sir Oliver Letwin’s final report into landbanking practices was a damp squib, the letter he wrote to Philip Hammond and Sajid Javid midway through his investigations made clear the issue. When developers bank rather than build on land (including ex-public land) they do so not due to the alleged “web of commercial and industrial constraints” but because building too many homes too soon risks ‘disturbing the market price’ of housing. In other words, it hits profits.

The government bears significant responsibility. Inexcusably, it has consistently failed to impose any requirement that developers actually build houses (still less affordable ones) on land privatised specifically for that purpose.

If it is hard to see any material gains from the history of land privatisation in Britain, examples of disbenefits are hiding in plain sight. Ex-public land fills the land banks that buttress housebuilder share prices that, in turn, determine housebuilder executive remuneration. The £75 million bonus recently ‘earned’ by the former chief executive of the UK builder Persimmon must be understood is this light.

Land privatisation is also intimately linked to the declining capacity of the public sector, especially the local public sector, to continue to provide many of the basic social and environmental infrastructures that it has done historically. Such benefits include affordable housing to allotments, libraries to leisure facilities, and playgrounds to parks, all of which depend on the ready supply of land.

Short of widespread compulsory (re) purchase, which would be inordinately expensive in the absence of reform of the 1961 Land Compensation Act, it is too late to do anything about the 2 million hectares of public land that have been lost to Britain. It is not too late, however, to pause and think carefully and creatively about appropriate ownership and use of the 2 million hectares of public land that remain.

There is no reason to believe that land is always necessarily better off under public than private or community ownership. But nor should privatisation remain the default policy option that it has effectively been since the end of the 1970s.

Related Links:
No, the housing crisis will not be solved by building more homes

Buckingham Palace ‘should be converted into housing for 50,000 people’

Tanveer Mann Wednesday 23 Jan 2019 –

A company has come up with a bold solution to affordable housing in London – by transforming Buckingham Palace. Architecture firm Opposite Office believe their redesigns for the Queen’s home would provide living arrangements for a staggering 50,000 Londoners.

Named ‘Affordable Palace’, the company’s designs would completely transform the 775 rooms that currently make up the palace, which was opened in 1703.

Architecture firm Opposite Office believe their redesigns for the Queen’s home would provide living arrangements for a staggering 50,000 Londoners

There is a downside though – in order to squeeze so many residents into one place, the designs include no corridors and barely any circulation areas, while folding screens and walls would allow for certain spaces to be repurposed as needed.

Private single and double bedrooms would have access to shared living rooms and dining areas. Apartments within the palace would be connected by eight staircases, and part of Opposite Office’s plans would involve a multi-story extension that would be placed on top of the structure. Founder of the company Benedikt Hartl, who also wrote an open letter to the Queen about the proposals, said: ‘For us, it is important that you live together with people, not next to each other.

Apartments within the palace would be connected by eight staircases

Part of Opposite Office’s plans would involve a multi-story extension that would be placed on top of the structure

‘The Affordable Palace should be a collective space for living, meeting people, cooking together, and drinking tea with the Royal Family – a democratic house. ‘All men are created equal – that’s why all rooms are the same size.

A normal earner can no longer afford to live in many large cities. ‘Rent explodes and people live in precarious conditions. We live in a time of madness, a time when everything seems to be possible. ‘Why shouldn’t it then be possible to transform Buckingham Palace, a symbol of royal power and wealth, into social housing?’

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