This week we published a very important document: Land for the Many. I asked George Monbiot and his team to make a report for Labour – and the wider country – to consider.
Land for the Many deals with one of the central questions which any country should ask from time to time: who owns and controls the land, and to what purpose. It is a comprehensive, authoritative and radical document which deserves debate.
Did you know, for example, that there is no public, freely accessible register of land ownership in England? Or that vast tracts of our beautiful country, this green and pleasant land, are still owned by the same families who owned it for generations past? Did you know that 70% of the price of a new house is the cost of the land on which the house sits?
These are matters which ought to be debated. But you wouldn’t think so from the press.
“Labour has shown once again that it wants nothing less than the abolition of private property.” This is according to the Telegraph, just one of many scare stories pumped out by the right-wing press following Tuesday’s launch.
As for the broadcast media, it is no exaggeration to say that one might think knowledge of the report was suppressed. No mention at all.
This revealed something about the state of right-wing media in this country: journalists often don’t research what they write about, or in this instance even bother to read the report.
Instead, they have used misinformation to try to whip up fear and anxiety among the middle-class. But these are some of the very people who have suffered from the problems outlined in Land for the Many. Problems which are linked to our broken system of land use, such as unwanted developments, environmental degradation and financial crises.
I could list more, but that’s besides the point. Because the interests these media outlets defend are rarely those of their middle-class audiences. They are instead those of a small but powerful elite.
This same elite – aristocrats, corporations, oligarchs and city bankers – own most of the land in England.
Indeed, half the land in England is owned by 1 percent of the population–a few thousand people and big corporations–giving this small group tremendous influence and wealth.
It is preceisely this matter that Land for the Many sets out to tackle. And it is because of this that the right-wing media are so rattled.
And they are right to be. Taken together the proposals in this report offer the possibility of an irreversible shift in wealth and power in favour of the many.
Because when it comes to the land use, control and ownership, it is about wealth and real power.
Since 1995 the value of land in the UK increased from around £1 trillion to over £5 trillion. By 2016, the cost of land accounted, on average, for 70% of the price of a home. The price of agricultural land has increased 462% since 1995.
As it currently stands, these vast increases in value are accruing to a tiny minority of the population, many of whom own the land simply because their aristocratic ancestors did. Meanwhile, the inflated cost of land pushes the cost of housing out of reach for a growing number of people.
But there is more to it than this. For too long people across the country have had little or no say over the decisions that affect the places in which they live.
This has its roots in our dysfunctional political system, which is over-centralised, flooded with big money, and largely undemocratic.
But it also has roots in our broken system of land ownership. Critical decisions about changes to the physical environment of our villages, towns and cities are repeatedly taken with little or no accountability, beyond what objections financially-starved and overstretched local authorities can mount.
Because of this it can often feel like change happens to people without their consent, which leads to a sense of agency being undermined. It also leads many people to feel they do not recognise the communities they grew up in.
It’s time we tackled this head on, and Land for the Many is a ground-breaking step in this direction.
When it comes to the proposals in the report, there are many I could discuss here, but let me list just a few that have captured my attention.
In order to challenge developers or councils building unwanted developments or failing to provide the necessary social housing, the authors propose propose establishing a Community Participation Agency, with a mandate to involve communities and under-represented groups in planning at every level.
So too do they advocate introducing a Community Right To Buy, based on the Scottish model, which has the potential to shift power away from a small elite to the grassroots.
The authors also recommend stopping the sell-off of public land and giving public authorities the power to require land left vacant or derelict to be sold by public auction, via Compulsory Sale Orders, which could help stimulate housebuilding.
Labour will be considering the policies in Land for the Many for inclusion in our next General Election Manifesto, and the authors of the report, along with myself, will be appearing at events across the country to discuss this critical issue and hear what people think of these crucial ideas, and where we can build on them.
If you are interested in hosting one of these events or carrying on the conversation in other ways, let my office know, and we’ll be in touch. Why not invite us to your next meeting. Or organise a Tribune readers group to discuss the matter.
Let’s use Land for the Many to catalyse a national discussion, and remind people that if elected Labour will be a genuinely transformational government capable of changing this country for the better.
And this is something worth fighting for.