All posts by Mark

Is Bill Gates TOO Powerful? asks Russell Brand

Russell Brand on YouTube
MUST-WATCH-VLOG – subject: “The Great Reset: Is Bill Gates TOO Powerful?”

A presentation/discussion by Russell Brand on the subject of the extent of the global asset ownership of Bill Gates – the 4th richest man in the world – in relation to the Global Food System. Brand gets his information from an article by Robert F Kennedy, Jr ‘Bill Gates & Neofeudalism: A closer look at Farmer Bill’. The extent of the global asset ownership of Bill Gates and the extent of power Gates now wields across numerous interconnected facets of what comprises the global food system is staggering. For instance, Gates owns 242,000 acres of farmland across the USA, holds in his grasp increasing concentrations of asset ownership across interconnecting sectors that comprise the structural make-up of the global food system such as large commanding shares in several of the largest food multinationals (Nestle, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Kelloggs, Kraft, General Foods) and chemical (& seed) companies such as Bayer and Monsanto plus investments in seeds companies including seed patents and GMO crops. His asset ownership and influence extends to further interconnecting interests such as aid-projects sponsored by the Gates Foundation – influencing development policies in the South, investments in AI technologies through front-companies such as Digital Green promoting new Green Revolution schemes (propagating the continuation of the predominant convention grounded in intensive agricultural practice, long exposed to cogent critique by the inadequacy of it’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ methodology) utilising cell-phone technologies, and commanding influence within media outlets such as those in big-tech (commanding stakes in Google, Facebook, Apple & Amazon).

Brand tries to unravel the subject, identifying actual consequences of some of the work Gates has been doing (such as poverty increases in Africa after the pursuance of Gates-funded aid-projects to boost agricultural productivity) and stopping just-short of speculating on Gates’ overall agenda. Ref: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zdv06jXloD4

See also: https://tlio.org.uk/5-globalfoodsystem/

 

Solutions:

  • Building a network of food coops, buying groups & other community food enterprises: https://www.sustainweb.org/foodcoops/
  • “Ourfield” – a cooperative co-farming/crop share investment collective grains movement: https://tlio.org.uk/introducing-ourfield-a-cooperative-co-farming-crop-share-investment-collective-grains-movement/
  • Sustainable Land-Based Solutions (south of England): https://tlio.org.uk/sustainable-land-based-solutions-3/
  • PM Johnson urged to extend Right-to-Roam

    Johnson urged to extend public’s right to roam over English countryside
    Letter signed by 100 people including Stephen Fry and Ali Smith points out freedom to roam only extends to 8% of country

    by Matthew Taylor, The Guardian
    Mon 30 Nov 2020
    Ref: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/nov/30/johnson-urged-to-extend-publics-right-to-roam-over-english-countryside

    More than 100 authors, musicians, actors and artists have written to Boris Johnson urging him to extend the public’s right to roam over the English countryside.

    The letter, signed by leading figures from Stephen Fry to Jarvis Cocker, Sir Mark Rylance to Ali Smith, calls on the prime minister to give people greater access to nature to improve the public’s physical and mental health.

    “In the books we write, the songs we sing, the art that we make, we celebrate the essential connection that we feel with nature,” the letter states. “Our love for nature resonates with our millions of fans and followers, but in England, it is actively discouraged by the law. This is not only unfair; it is also untenable.”

    The authors point out that in England the public has “freedom to roam” over only 8% of the country, while “only 3% of rivers in England and Wales are legally accessible to kayakers, paddle-boarders and wild swimmers”.

    They are calling on Johnson to go further by extending right to roam to cover woodlands, rivers and green belt land.

    “Lockdown has demonstrated how vital it is for us to have access to green outdoor space, both for our physical and our mental health,” the signatories write. “There is now a body of scientific evidence showing just how essential nature is for our wellbeing.”

    The intervention comes on the 20th anniversary of the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act, which created a partial right to roam in England and Wales. The letter was organised by the right to roam campaign, set up earlier this year by the authors Nick Hayes and Guy Shrubsole.

    Shrubsole said: “Extending right to roam would be a bold and far-reaching act by this government, and its effects would resonate for generations to come. Now, more than ever, the time is ripe to give people the freedom to reconnect with nature, for the sake of public health.”

    ‘Biggest farming shake-up in 50 years’

    £1.6bn subsidies for owning land in England to end, with funds going to improve nature

    by Damian Carrington, Environment editor, The Guardian
    Mon 30 Nov 2020
    Ref: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/30/environment-to-benefit-from-biggest-farming-shake-up-in-50-years

    Wildlife, nature and the climate will benefit from the biggest shake-up in farming policy in England for 50 years, according to government plans.

    The £1.6bn subsidy farmers receive every year for simply owning land will be phased out by 2028, with the funds used instead to pay them to restore wild habitats, create new woodlands, boost soils and cut pesticide use.

    The wealthiest landowners – those receiving annual payments over £150,000 a year – will face the sharpest cuts, starting with 25% in 2021. Those receiving under £30,000 will see a 5% cut next year.

    Some of the biggest recipients of the existing scheme have been the Duke of Westminster, the inventor Sir James Dyson, racehorse owner Prince Khalid bin Abdullah al Saud and the Queen.

    Farmers will also get grants to improve productivity and animal welfare, including new robotic equipment. The goal of the plan is that farmers will – within seven years – be producing healthy and profitable food in a sustainable way and without subsidies.

    The environment secretary, George Eustice, acknowledged the damage done to the environment by industrial farming since the 1960s and said the new plans would deliver for nature and help fight the climate crisis. Farming occupies 70% of England, is the biggest driver of biodiversity loss and produces significant greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution.

    The radical changes in agricultural policy are possible due to the UK leaving the EU, whose common agricultural policy is widely regarded as a disaster for nature and even critics of Brexit see the changes as positive.

    Farming and environment groups largely welcomed the plans but said more detail was urgently required. Brexit is looming at the end of December and uncertainties remain over food tariffs and trade deals. Many groups are also concerned about the potential import of food produced to lower animal welfare and environmental standards.

    “[This is] the biggest change in agricultural policy in half a century,” said Eustice. “It makes no sense to subsidise land ownership and tenure where the largest subsidy payments often go to the wealthiest landowners.

    “Over the last century, much of our wildlife-rich habitat has been lost, and many species are in long-term decline.

    “I know many farmers feel this loss keenly and are taking measures to reverse this decline. But we cannot deny that the intensification of agriculture since the 1960s has taken its toll. Our plans for future farming must [also] tackle climate change – one of the most urgent challenges facing the world.”

    The total of £2.4bn a year currently paid to farmers will remain the same until 2025, as promised in the Conservative manifesto. Currently, two-thirds of this is paid solely for owning land, but the proportion will fall to one-third by 2025 and zero by 2028. Funds for environmental action will rise from a quarter of the total to more than half by 2025, with the remaining funds used to increase productivity.

    The new green payments will be trialled with 5,000 farmers before a full launch in 2024. But the level of payments for work such as natural flood defences and restoring peatlands and saltmarshes has not yet been set. Nor has the likely cut in carbon emissions been quantified.

    The president of the National Farmers’ Union, Minette Batters, said: “Farming is changing and we look forward to working with ministers and officials to co-create the new schemes.”

    But she added: “Expecting farmers to run viable, high-cost farm businesses, continue to produce food and increase their environmental delivery, while phasing out existing support and without a complete replacement scheme for almost three years is high risk and a very big ask.”

    The cuts are expected to reduce the income of livestock farmers, for example, by 60% to 80% by 2024, Batters said.

    Kate Norgrove, of the WWF, said: “Our farmers have the potential to be frontline heroes in the climate and nature emergency, and this roadmap starts us on the right path. It must see increased investment in nature as a way to tackle climate change.”

    Tom Lancaster, principal policy officer for agriculture at the RSPB, said: “This is a make or break moment for the government’s farming reforms, which are so important to both the future of farming and recovery of nature in England. [This plan] provides some welcome clarity, but faster progress is now needed over the coming months.”

    But Craig Bennett, CEO of the Wildlife Trusts, said: “We are deeply worried that the pilot [environment] schemes simply cannot deliver the promise that nature will be in a better state. Four years on from the EU referendum, we still lack the detail and clarity on how farm funding will benefit the public.”

    Other measures in the government plan include funding improvements in how farmers manage animal manure – slurry is a major polluter of both water and air – and a scheme where farmers seeking to leave the sector can cash out all the subsidies payments they are due up to 2028 in 2022, part of efforts to help new farmers enter the sector.

    The government said it would be cutting “red tape” for farmers, with warning letters replacing automatic fines for minor issues and more targeted – though not fewer – inspections.

    In July, the government said rules about growing diverse crops, fallow land and hedges would be abolished in 2021, claiming they had little environmental benefit. Farming policy is a devolved matter and other UK nations have yet to bring forward firm new plans.

    Government set to pass new ‘hostile’ anti-Traveller laws this autumn

    Taken from the Traveller Times
    Date: 22 July 2020
    Ref: https://www.travellerstimes.org.uk/news/2020/07/government-set-pass-new-hostile-anti-traveller-laws-autumn

    The Travellers’ Times can reveal that lawyers and campaigners are ready to act after the government recently announced that new ‘hostile’ anti-Traveller laws, which could include the criminalisation of trespass, will be delivered this autumn.

    The laws are set to follow the Government’s consultation on unauthorised camps and sites late last year and the Conservative Party’s 2019 General Election manifesto promise to criminalise trespass.

    Traveller law experts are already set to challenge any new laws in court, say lawyers.

    “At the time the consultation was in progress we made it clear why we felt that the Government’s proposals were discriminatory and unlawful,” a senior lawyer from Community Law Partnership told the Travellers’ Times.

    “If the Government bring in these proposals, then we are already instructed to take forward court challenges.”

    Last week, Home Secretary Priti Patel told MP’s that new laws based on the 2019 government consultation on unauthorised Traveller camps and sites would be brought forward in autumn.

    Earlier this month, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons, told MP’s that the Government intended to deliver on its election promise to make trespass a criminal offence.

    The consultation on unauthorised camps and sites was announced on November 5th, three days after the general election was called, prompting many Gypsy, Traveller and Roma campaigners to complain that the Government were using them as a political football to win votes.

    In the consultation the Government threatened to:

    • Make trespass a crime – resulting in prison, a fine or your vehicle being taken from you.
    • Make it a crime for you to stop alongside or on the road – they will be able to move you along.
    • Make it so police can act when there is two vehicles, instead of six. A car, a trailer and a van would count as three vehicles. A horse drawn wagon would also count as a vehicle, say lawyers.
    • Make it so police can force you to go to a transit site in another county.
    • Make it so you are banned from an area for one year instead of three months.

    The Conservative 2019 election manifesto promised to:

    • Tackle unauthorised traveller camps.
    • Give the police new powers to arrest and seize the property and vehicles of trespassers who set up unauthorised encampments, in order to protect our communities.
    • Make intentional trespass a criminal offence and also give councils greater powers within the planning system.

    The Conservative Party won a thumping 80 seat victory in the November 2019 election, meaning that there is very little opposition parties can do to stop the Government making new laws.

    However, The Scottish Government will not be bringing in any new laws that make life harder for Travellers’ – as revealed in the Travellers’ Times last year.

    Abbie Kirkby, Advice and Policy Manager at Friends, Families and Travellers, told the Travellers’ Times that the prospect of yet more ‘hostile’ anti-Traveller laws was worrying.

    “At a time where we are seeing discussions of race inequality ignited, we are faced with hostile Government proposals to criminalise Gypsies and Travellers,” said Abbie Kirkby.

    “Over the years there have been countless reports and evidence highlighting how Gypsies and Travellers face some of the most severe inequalities but what do we see? – The prospect of more draconian powers to penalise families because they live in different kinds of homes and have a nomadic way of life.

    What’s so baffling about this is that there are some very simple solutions available that are workable for all communities,” added Abbie Kirkby.

    At the time of the Government’s 2019 consultation, Friends Families and Travellers organised a campaign that generated 10,000 responses – all of them against the new threatened laws.

    “We were overwhelmed to see so many allies submit their views into the Home Office consultation so for Government Ministers to be talking about the proposals as a done deal is worrying to say the least,” said Abbie Kirkby.

    “We will be seeking legal advice as soon as the Government publish their response to the consultation, to ensure the views of the community and allies have been given full consideration as part of the consultation process.”

    The UK’s Gypsies and Travellers have a cultural heritage of travelling, and many families still travel to look for work, go to fairs, visit relatives, and attend funerals and weddings. Many Travellers also travel and set up unauthorised camps because they prefer to do so or because they have nowhere else to go.

    The fight against the new laws that could effectively smash all nomadic ways of life could unite all Traveller groups, say campaigners.

    The threatened new laws are also raising concerns among New Traveller and Van Dweller groups.

    Critics also say that the criminalisation of trespass and the other threatened laws could also criminalise homeless camps and protest camps and is an attack on the civil liberties of everyone – not just Gypsies and Travellers.

    Writing in the Guardian, campaign journalist George Monbiot said that the new proposed laws were a trap and could affect everyone – not just Gypsies and Travellers:

    “The harder you look, the more disguised powers appear to be lodged in this consultation. Even if new trespass laws are aimed only at those residing on land, they will affect not only Gypsies, Roma and Travellers, but also rough sleepers.

    Any new laws are also likely to be used against protesters. We’ve seen how previous legislation – such as the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act, the 2000 Terrorism Act and the 2005 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act – has been immediately deployed against peaceful protest, in some cases after the government promised that it would not be used for this purpose.”

    [end]

    Forgive us our trespasses: forbidden rambles with right-to-roam campaigner Nick Hayes [Observer article]

     
    Forgive us our trespasses: forbidden rambles with a right-to-roam campaigner

    The law excludes ordinary people from 92% of English land, but that doesn’t stop activist, artist and writer Nick Hayes

    by Rachel Cooke, The Observer, 9/8/2020
    Ref: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/aug/09/forgive-us-our-trespasses-forbidden-rambles-with-a-right-to-roam-campaigner

    As Simon Jenkins notes in his book England’s Thousand Best Houses, were it not for the fact that it sits in 400 acres of historic parkland, Basildon Park house in west Berkshire might almost be a Piccadilly terrace: big, but not gargantuan; elegant and harmonious, but too straightforward to be entirely flashy. Glimpsed through trees on a warm summer evening, its magnificent portico crested by golden sunlight, it rises like a beacon, a sight from which it’s hard to tear the eyes. Even when I’m walking away from it, I keep turning my head to check that I didn’t only imagine it; that it hasn’t suddenly vanished into thin air.

    But bewitchment is in the air tonight. This place is ours. Though the National Trust reopened these grounds to visitors in June, those who booked tickets for today are long gone now, it being past five o’clock. Circumnavigating the estate’s flinty, tumbledown perimeter wall, we barely saw a soul – only one mountain biker, doggedly following the same bridleway as us – and since we slipped inside the park itself, having finally found a gap just wide enough to allow us to do so, we’ve encountered no one at all. We stride, willy nilly, utterly free, grasshoppers leaping at our feet, the soft wind in the branches above us. What leafy seclusion. It’s so enveloping, and so soothing, I jump halfway out of my skin when a pheasant shrieks in the undergrowth.

    There are bylaws around respecting National Trust land but I do not feel deep down that I’m doing much wrong by being here. What harm is there in enjoying such loveliness? I’m a paid up member of the Trust, so this is no embezzlement. Nevertheless, I don’t suppose I would have wriggled through that tempting space had I been alone. I see walls, literal and metaphorical, and often wonder what’s to be found behind them, but I’m too timid, often, to climb them. On this occasion, however, I have courage in the form of company. I’ve been led astray by Nick Hayes, the author of The Book of Trespass, a powerful new narrative about the vexed issue of land rights and a volume that he hopes will both refocus the ongoing campaign to reform the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act by encouraging more people to do as we are doing right now, to walk on privately owned land, and to help build protest against the Conservative party’s plan – a manifesto commitment – to make trespass a criminal offence. Not only is Hayes practically a professional trespasser these days, no sign too forbidding to be ignored, no fence too high to be climbed. In my case, he’s like a naughty younger brother, egging me on, urging me blithely to step over whatever impediment happens to be in my way. “They can’t do anything to us,” he says, cheerfully. “They can ask us to leave, but we can’t be prosecuted. Trespass is a mechanism for seeking redress for damage, and it would be absurd to suggest we are damaging anything.” (Trespass can be actionable through the courts, whether or not the claimant has suffered damage – but such cases are rare, and usually only brought to deter persistent trespassing, or where there are boundary disputes.)

    This is the part of Berkshire, not far from the River Thames in Pangbourne, that inspired Kenneth Grahame to write The Wind in the Willows, and Hayes, who likes to kayak, knows it intimately. He grew up a few minutes away, in the village of Upper Basildon, and it was there, 10 years ago, that the seeds of his book were sown, when he came home from London to live with his parents while he worked on his first graphic novel (he makes his living mainly as an illustrator). One day, he and his mother were walking together after lunch. They were, he says, having the kind of heart-to-heart that could only really happen in “the easy chaos of the countryside”, wandering towards a spot that, at the time, was the sole place he’d ever seen a kingfisher. But they never made it. Suddenly, a quad bike came chugging over the paddock, and parked itself, just a little too close for comfort, in their way.

    The gambit of the landowner or his agent to the trespasser is often a facetious “are you lost?” But this guy was more direct. “You’ve no right to be here,” he said. “You are trespassing.” Hayes and his mother reflexively apologised and promptly left. Only later did he consider the astonishing effect just a few words had had on them; it was as if they were two puppets, and this stranger had simply yanked their strings. “We were doing such a lovely thing,” he says. “So to be interrupted in such a gruff manner… This invisible force came over us. Outwardly, it was just decency [on our part]. It would have been indecent for us to argue; that would have spoilt our day. But his ability to turn us on our heels through 180 degrees felt like power to me, and it’s quite rare for a white, straight, middle-class man [like me] to feel the operation of power like that. There was this feeling of shame – as though I’d done something wrong. And that didn’t square at all with my inner morality.”

    After this, Hayes began strolling on private land more and more often. This wasn’t, he insists, a political act, or even just a two-fingers to those types who like to border the land they own with signs that read “Keep out”. “It was more a case of wanting to support my feeling intellectually that it’s the wall that is the crime, not the climbing of it,” he says. “I wasn’t going to stop trespassing, but I also came to realise that it’s all right for me. This is something I can do. I’ve got quite a posh voice, I’m white, I’m a big enough dude not to be physically submissive; I don’t flinch when someone comes at me. The book grew not only out of my own trespassing, but out of a desire to try and make the countryside more available to people without my privileges.” England, he would go on to discover, is still owned by a relatively small number of wealthy individuals and institutions: by the law of trespass, we are excluded from 92% of the land and 97% of its waterways. How can this be? The feeling grew in him that change must and can come. When The Book of Trespass is published later this month, he and Guy Shrubsole, the activist author of Who Owns England? (which came out last year), will together launch a new campaign, the primary focus of which will be the fact that the nation’s mental and physical health would be improved immeasurably by increased access to it. “I don’t believe property is theft,” Hayes says. “That’s a ridiculous proposition, one that ignores human nature. This isn’t the politics of envy. All we’re asking is that the lines between us and the land are made more permeable.”

    This doesn’t mean, however, that political history is of no interest to him. Quite the contrary. For Hayes, Basildon Park house serves as one symbol among many of the way, down the centuries, land was effectively stolen from the people, its grand estates constructed on the back of their exploitation. Built in 1776 by John Carr of York, it was designed for Francis Sykes, a wealthy member of the East India Company, who returned home with fingers that were, as Hayes puts it, “sticky from the colonial cookie jar” (Sykes himself explained the bleeding dry of India as a basic choice of “whether it [the wealth extracted under British rule] should go into a black man’s pocket or my own”).. Hayes doesn’t disapprove of the National Trust; he’s largely supportive of both it and English Heritage. But he wonders why, given the history of Basildon Park, some of its 400 acres could not be given over to, say, local allotment holders. And what about those who cannot afford its ticket prices? “I think the vision of Octavia Hill [the social reformer, and one of the three founders of the National Trust] for the working classes has gone a bit wayward. It does seem very white and middle class. It holds some of our cultural soul, and it could change the narrative if it tried.”

    We walk on. The preternatural quietness holds. The atmosphere is almost muffled. The cows, it seems, can’t be bothered to low at this hour, in this heat. But just as we’re on our way back to our entry point, we meet a woman on the path. She has long, silver hair and a black spaniel, and a manner that, though polite, expresses a certain dismay at our presence. Do we work for the National Trust? No. Then why are we here? We tell her that we’re merely enjoying the park, and then we turn the tables, asking her a few questions of our own – which is how we find out that she is the wife of a National Trust warden, and that she lives in a house in the woods. Also, that she is Dutch. Do people have the right to roam in Holland? No, she says. It’s worse there than here.

    But she won’t be put off so easily. We should go. Soon, this spot will be dangerous for us. In half an hour, hunters are coming to shoot deer, which must be controlled. “Well, they’re not going to shoot us, are they?” says Hayes, breaking into laughter. She doesn’t fully smile at this – though whether this is because we outnumber her and she feels vaguely intimidated, or whether because she simply believes we’re being foolhardy, I can’t quite tell. Either way, though, I’m momentarily chastened: I experience what Hayes calls, in his book, a “mind wall” – an invisible barrier rises, over which I feel I must now hop as quickly as possible to the side where I rightfully belong.

    My fellow trespasser and I do most of our talking in a hay field belonging to someone known to him as Farmer Ambler, a man who eventually appears, carrying long stems of ragwort (ragwort is toxic if eaten by cows), but who speaks to us gently, and doesn’t tell us to scram.

    Hayes wasn’t what you might call a child of nature. “We came up to the rec to smoke hash as teenagers,” he says. “Sometimes, a couple of woods on from where we’re sitting now, we made fires and messed around. But we weren’t there for nature; it was just free space.” After public school and Cambridge University, he did an art foundation course and eventually, after a series of jobs working in communications for charities, he began working full time on his first graphic novel, The Rime of the Modern Mariner, a take on Coleridge’s famous poem. He has since published three more.

    The Book of Trespass is his first non-graphic book – though the text is punctuated by his marvellous illustrations, linocuts that bring to mind the Erics, Gill and Ravilious – and in it, he weaves several centuries of English history together with the stories of gypsies, witches, ramblers, migrants and campaigners, as well as his own adventures. Its sweep is vast. Among the places he trespasses, sometimes camping out overnight, are Highclere Castle in Hampshire, home of the Earl of Carnarvon and now best known as the real Downton Abbey; Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, the seat of the dukes of Rutland; on the Sussex estate of Paul Dacre, the former editor of the Daily Mail; and on land, also in Sussex, owned by the property tycoon Nicholas van Hoogstraten. He also kayaks on the River Kennet from Aldermaston, in west Berkshire, to the point near Reading where it meets the Thames – a journey that takes him through the estate owned by Richard Benyon who, until 2019, was the richest MP in Parliament (Benyon lives in Englefield House, which dates from 1558, and which passed to his family by marriage in the 18th century; some of their money was made via the East India Company, too).

    His book begins with the mass trespass of Kinder Scout in 1932, an act of civil disobedience that may be one of the most successful in British history (it led to the creation of our national parks). But then he tracks back: here is William the Conqueror, seizing England with “both his hands”; here are the Tudor barons, frantically enclosing common land in what amounted to a kind of rural gold rush; and here, much later, is the Public Order Act of 1994, a piece of legislation, triggered by a rave at Castlemorton Common in Worcestershire, that Hayes regards as “the final nail in the coffin” for freedom in the countryside, and that has a great deal in common with vagrancy acts of earlier centuries in the way that it targets particular groups of people, notably Travellers. Along the way, he also explores more nebulous territory. Why, he wonders, do we quietly accept the limits to our freedom – the signs and the barbed wire, the CCTV cameras and the walls – when we’re out and about? Where does such obedience come from? Nationalism, he believes, suits the landowning classes – Paul Dacre, who also owns a 17,000 acre grouse farm near Ullapool in Scotland, now among them – because it gives people a sense of ownership without their actually owning anything at all.


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

    Our green and pleasant land. Except it isn’t – ours, I mean. A third of Britain is still owned by the aristocracy; 24 non-royal dukes alone own almost 4m acres of it (in 2016, 17 of these men together received farm subsidies worth £8.4m). Then there is the new aristocracy, the self-made millionaires who can afford to buy up the land: men like Richard Bannister, the retail tycoon who bought Walshaw Moor in Calderdale in 2002, and whose “management” of this rare habitat brought him into conflict with Natural England – until, that is, the agency dropped its claim, settling out of court (Bannister now owns some 16,000 acres of the valley). Finally, there are the offshore companies, which in 2015 owned 490,000 acres of England and Wales, meaning that an area larger than Greater London can legally avoid stamp duty and inheritance tax (the largest swathe of English land registered to offshore companies is the Gunnerside estate, whose 27,258 acres of North Yorkshire moorland are registered in the British Virgin Islands and which, over the last decade or so, received some €430,000 of taxpayer handouts in the form of agricultural subsidies). According to Hayes, there are “good landowners”: he would single out the Crown Estate and Sir Julian Rose, the owner of Hardwick House, also in Berkshire, whose farm is run on ecological principles and who allows a nonprofit group to run outdoor activities for children with disabilities on his land. But these people are, in his view, in the minority.

    Was he, as he researched The Book of Trespass, surprised by the numbers? “No. In a way, I was almost encouraged by them. They’re so stark, they do the arguing for you. The orthodoxy is that land campaigners are very unreasonable – that they’re people who want to overturn civil society, who have this mad communist desire to overrule people’s private sanctity. But if you look at the figures, it’s clear that it’s not at all unreasonable for us to require greater access to the land.” He’s surely right about this – and in Scotland, people already have the right to roam; none of the walks in his book would count as trespass north of the border. But it also raises the question: why does it still matter so much to landowners if people cross their land? Why does it make some of them so furious?

    “Because, under a certain philosophy of property, one we’ve had since the time of William the Conqueror, something is only yours if you own it exclusively; a park doesn’t really belong to you if you can’t throw someone out of it. Counter to this, of course, there is another philosophy, one that says that you don’t leave this world with anything in your pockets, and you don’t come into it with anything in them, either. At best, you borrow the land from your children; you’re a custodian. Unfortunately, these are entirely opposing definitions of property.” Chewing idly on some grass, I wonder aloud why some people need so much. Hayes looks at me as though I’m slightly stupid. “It’s not about use,” he says. “The rich man wants more. You know that.”

    There are, he tells me, groups out there who are interested in the idea of reparation; who believe that if more people knew the stories behind places like Basildon Park, they would be more exercised over the issue of land rights. But he would rather concentrate, in campaigning terms, on the future rather than the past. “If I had two minutes on the Today programme, I would talk about the science involved in the relationship between nature and mental and physical wellbeing, and about a future where landowners aren’t robbed of anything at all, except the right to exclude the mass public. Douglas Caffyn [a canoe campaigner] speaks about the Magna Carta when he makes the case for access to our rivers. But we can either argue about historical precedent, or we can clear the table of that, and discuss why, say, rivers are so essential to people.”

    He is not – again, he tells me – looking for a revolution. “The one thing I think is a genuine and valid concern [on the part of landowners] is vandalism and litter. But this is why we need an early and visceral relationship with nature. Children need to learn about dragonflies by having them land on their noses so that as adults they will find it abhorrent to see a Wispa Gold wrapper next to an orchid.” He and his fellow campaigners are looking to “rewrite” the Countryside Code. “It asks too little,” he says. “It shouldn’t only tell you to take your litter home; it should tell you to pick up any litter that you find. We would like it to be more moral, to incorporate how we should be together – because the way we treat nature is the way that we treat each other.”

    So what happens next? “We want to engage all the people who are already sold on access – the fathers and mothers, the ramblers, climbers and kayakers – and tell them that something is happening, and get them to join us. Then we need to persuade all the people who don’t have much access to land why their lives would be improved if they did. And then, we need to lobby MPs.” His book, he believes, is the beginning of something, not the end. “We will say to people: come trespassing with us!” He grins. “Our hashtag will be #extremelynonviolentdirectaction. There’ll be animal masks and botany, picnics and poetry. But if someone asks us to leave, that’s exactly what we’ll do.”

    See righttoroam.org.uk

    The National Trust bylaws can be seen here: https://nt.global.ssl.fastly.net/documents/the-national-trust-byelaws-1965.pdf

    • The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes is published by Bloomsbury (£20). To order a copy for £17.40 go to guardianbookshop.com. Postage charges may apply.

    Walkers urged to help save historic footpaths before 2026 deadline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Environmental protesters barred from HS2 site in west London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

    Who owns England?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    Research by author reveals corporations and aristocrats are the biggest landowners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Law Commission proposal for leaseholders to buy a freehold at discount

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

    Radical plans to end huge costs of buying a freehold unveiled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [end]