The question of land – who owns it, who benefits from it and who makes decisions about it- is beginning to become part of the political agenda. Scotland has begun to make changes and have passed two Land Reform Acts that have at least started the process of transformation. The Labour Party has commissioned a report, Land for the Many, which opens a conversation on land reform. This conversation requires powerful voices from the grassroots to ensure a more radical framing. This will involve building a large, diverse movement that campaigns for a land reform programme that comes from the ground up: a People’s Land Policy (PLP).
To develop the PLP, it is vital that that it really does belong to the ‘people’. We need to decide together what policies we think would best achieve our vision;. below are potential launchpads for discussion and debate. We expect people to develop more ideas as part of the dialogue of the People’s Land Policy.
Aim One: Land is a complete ecosystem. Decisions about land should be made holistically and take into consideration the complex relationships between social and natural processes.
- Develop a national land strategy that is based on full participation of everyone in society, especially those who have been traditionally excluded from decision-making.
- Establish a Land Commission that covers ownership, land rights, land management and the use of land, both rural and urban. This will take evidence at public events held regionally and operate with high levels of participation from all sections of society.
Aim Two: Land should be considered as a Commons, a source of wealth that belongs to all of us, protected and managed on the principle of stewardship.
A. Reduce the concentration of ownership and increase public, community and co-operative forms of ownership
- Public land, including all land owned by the national and local State (eg NHS, London Transport, MOD and Crown Estates) should be used for promoting social and economic justice and the long-term interests of society. State bodies should no longer be encouraged to act like private landowners, nor sell off assets.
- Encouraging different forms of common/collective ownership and management – from commons to housing co-ops and community land trusts – will build strong and sustainable communities at a human scale. This could include a ‘community right to buy’ as in Scotland, or ‘community stewardship’ in which land is still owned by the public but the local community manages the land and any assets on that land.
- Increased powers to compulsory purchase land in order to meet public needs and to increase public and community land ownership. This should be at the existing use value rather than potential or ‘hope’ value.
- Make large-scale landownership by individuals economically unviable. This could include inheritance taxes, increased taxes on larger units of land.
- Reform the agricultural subsidy system. Instead of the existing subsidies that encourage the creation of expanding farms, payments should support smaller farms. Payments should be made on the basis of workers per agricultural landholding rather than on the amount of land and subsidy payments should be conditional on delivering public goods.
- Minerals and water should be returned to public ownership and developed in keeping with the national priorities for environmental and social aims, and not for profit. There should also be local community input to the management of mines and water to ensure that there are no adverse effects on that community.
B. Ensure more equitable distribution of land and its benefits
Reduce speculative demand
- Transfer land to a community/public trust so it no longer exists as a commodity in a private market. People would only own what is on the land- have exclusive rights to using that land for a lifetime. It is the use of land that could be bought and sold and not the land.
- Use the tax system to reduce or eliminate land speculation. To do this the value of land and the value of what is on the land must be separated. This would enable the land to be taxed to the point that it has no value. Other taxes could be levied on what is on the land. An example is the Land Value Tax.
- Limit the benefits that a landowner gets from owning land, eg rent paid to landowners. Introducing strict rent controls will reduce profitability of landownership, and thus the land itself.
- Improve the situation of tenants. Policies could include rent controls, linking rent increases to wage increase, giving life-long tenancies, and preventing landlords from evicting tenants who do not break the terms of their lease.
- Replace business rates with a Land Value Tax, calculated on the basis of the rental value of local commercial land and payable by the owners not the tenants.
- End Land Banking. This means that developers will not be able to buy up land with planning permission and then wait until the value of that land goes up before building on it.
- End practices by which developers acquire and hoard land with options of future development.
- End ‘buy to leave’. This would mean that individuals or companies would not be able to buy land and not use it for an agreed purpose, such as leaving a property empty. A purpose, however, could include leaving the land wild for biodiversity.
- Remove incentives such as ‘right to buy’, ‘build to rent’ and ‘buy to let’ that encourage buying land as an investment.
- Replace Stamp Duty with capital gains taxes on unearned increases in value, not due to improvements made by the owner. This could mainly target second homes and investment properties but could also be used on the primary residence at a lower rate.
- Remove legal ability of housing associations, and other institutions such as universities, to cash in on formerly public land (now used as financial assets). Housing Associations should be returned to their original purpose and legal requirements.
- Anyone owning land must be resident in the UK. Individuals and companies should not be able to buy land as an investment from outside the UK.
Reducing other demand for land
- Introduce other reforms that reduce financial insecurity such as providing adequate pensions for retirement.
- Increase the amount of good quality, secure, and truly affordable social housing so that there is less pressure on people to buy homes.
- Heavily tax the buying of a second home.
- End empty homes and make better use of our building stock. This would reduce the need to build homes on green spaces.
- Facilitate the extension of the co-operative model for homes, agriculture and business.
- Reform the financial system such that the both the financial system itself and the economy does not depend on ever rising house prices.
Capturing the value of land price increases
- Taxation such as capital gains tax applied to all increases in the price of land that arise from factors not linked to improving of the land by the owner. This would be continuing and not just when the land was sold.
C. Increase access to land and land-based assets
- The right to roam should be extended to include all land unless it is around a house or building.
- Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) (large squares, parks and thoroughfares that appear to be public but are actually owned and controlled by developers or other private companies) should be banned. Public and democratic controls can reclaim these public spaces from corporate interests.
- Curtail the use of parks for paid public events. Parks need to be funded by the public and not through money-raising events.
- Decriminalise squatting. Squatting is a means for people to house themselves when they are in difficult circumstances. There are many empty properties and squatting should be seen as a legitimate way of utilising what is wasted space, and forcing a negotiation between squatter and absentee owner that can result in ‘legitimate’ legal contract.
- Make it easier (financially, legally) for groups to gain access or ownership to land in order to set up co-operatives, establish community centres or gardens, build homes, and set up farms. The right to defend land valuable to a community should be strengthened by improving existing legislation (like Assets of Community Value). There should be recognition of the non-economic value of land.
D. Take into account the interests of all, including future generations
- Tax all activities that increase carbon emissions
- Halt to all fossil fuel extraction, eg Fracking
- Stop airport expansion and limit air travel
- Promote through taxation and subsidies agriculture that is based on agroecological principles.
- Promote rewilding and reforestation for biodiversity climate change mitigation. through economic benefits and incentives,
Aim 3: Decision-making regarding land and its management must be fully participatory, democratic and inclusive.
- Make the Land Registry transparent, complete, compulsory and freely available, so the public can find out with ease who owns land and how to interpret such information. It should include a full map of land ownership and integrate with other information about land, such as land valuation and public access provisions. It should also include the history of ownership and information about previous covenants that applied to the land.
- Local Authority asset registers to be a statutory register, transparent and easily accessed, with a legal right for communities to protect and manage these assets as a common wealth (or commons). Local Authorities must maintain a list of assets available for transfer to community organisations.
- A ‘Community Right to Manage’ would enable communities to propose new management arrangements for assets of community value, including agricultural land and buildings.
- Develop mechanisms and processes that deliver effective, meaningful and continuous community participation at all stages of strategic and local planning and decision making. This will specifically include educational and outreach work.
- Curtail the power of those with wealth so they are unable to unduly influence the planning system.
- Establish democratic structures for managing public housing which include representatives of tenants and residents and representatives from the wider community and the local authority – though tenants and residents must retain the power of veto, and the right of succession through asset transfer. This is the only safeguard against forcible dispossession and displacement. This will also increase the volume of collectively owned land for housing, but only in line with the wishes of the community.
- Forests should be managed according to policies that have been formulated by participation from the wider public as well as local interests. Forests have an important role to play in fulfilling aims of all people, eg offsetting climate change as well as providing resources. However, local communities also have an interest in how forests are managed and should be involved in management.
- Extend community rights to neighbourhood planning as an important platform for participation in planning policy and policy implementation, with programmes to ensure take-up in working class neighbourhoods and the participation of under-represented and excluded groups.
- Use participatory budgeting in an ambitious way, not the mere allocation of small grants, so that citizens influence major/strategic spending decisions.
- Learn from and develop experiments with participatory decision-making such as Citizens’ Assemblies.