England there are plenty of Keep Out and No Trespassing signs.
England is owned by a tiny number of people and organisations. Land
is the bedrock of the economy: the food we eat, the homes we live in,
the natural world that supports human civilisation.
is by far the greatest of the monopolies,” Churchill observed, “…
the land monopolist has only to sit and watch complacently his
property multiplying in value, sometimes manifold, without either
effort or contribution on his part; and that is justice!”
5% of English land is owned by householders, while 18% due to the
sell-off of ancestral lands to the “new money” of hedge-funders
and oligarchs, is
in the control of corporate structuresand
offshore companies, many of them opaque. 30% rests in the hands of
the feudal Norman “cousinhood”, whose offspring have until
recently preserved their birthright.
to Cambridge colleges with their 126,000
acres of land and property portfolios worth some £3.5bn, are among
the largest institutional landowners. The
colleges are corporate bodies with huge purchasing power. Oxford's
John’s has total property assets of £250m.
Church Commissioners own some 105,000 acres of the country; the Duke
of Northumberland owns at least 100,000 acres, nearly 10% of the
county that gives him his title.
France, you can pitch up at your local town hall and ask to see, free
of charge, a map of who owns what in your neighbourhood. In England
such a request carries a fee and is often frustrated by vague legal
niceties around compulsory registration. For an individual to
discover all that is known about land ownership in England would cost
more than £72m. Around 15% of the freehold land in England &
Wales is unregistered. What this means is that if you go to the Land
Registry and ask them ‘Who owns this piece of land?’, they simply
can’t tell you, for a huge chunk of the country.
10% of land in England is open access, and that proportion shrinks to
1.5% in Berkshire.
significant amount of land is off-limits MoD land but far more
significant was the land held by corporate family structures,
including the Yattendon estate, 9,000 acres owned by the Iliffe
family, much of it planted to supply 80,000 Christmas trees annually;
or the Englefield estate, 14,000 acres in the prime M4 corridor owned
since the 18th century by the Benyon family.
Benyon, current owner of Englefield (and in receipt of £278,180
taxpayer-funded farm subsidies), is the richest of the current crop
of Conservative MPs with estimated wealth of £110m.
competitor for that title is Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Enle-Erle
Drax, who sits in the Commons for South Dorset. Drax who owns the
7,000-acre Charborough estate, originally established with profits
from the sugar and slave trades. The estate is bounded by the longest
wall in England, made up of 2m bricks; the public get to look beyond
the wall for two days a year, when tea and cake is served to locals.
In campaigning for Brexit, Richard Drax (as he judiciously calls
himself) argued a strong anti-immigration line, stating: “I
believe, as do many of my constituents, that this country is full.”
impression that we are a small and overcrowded island, that property
is scarce and worth a lifetime’s work and debt to come by, that a
little patch of suburban garden should reasonably be the aspiration
of any true-born Englishman, has long been advanced by politicians of
different stripes and for different reasons. You can rest assured,
however, that the nation does not look very crowded from the
Palladian windows of Englefield House or from Drax’s mullioned pile
of land in the UK
as a whole – 40m acres – is owned by 0.36% of the population;
24m families, meanwhile, share the “urban plot” of 3m acres. The
notion of the country being “full” is a political fantasy.
once asked how young entrepreneurs might succeed in Britain, the late
Duke of Westminster, Gerald Grosvenor (owner of 131,000 acres,
including much of London’s Belgravia and central Liverpool),
observed, drily, that they should “make sure they have an ancestor
who was a very close friend of William the Conqueror”. The
aristocratic Grosvenor Estate, besides owning 135,000 acres of farms
and grouse moors, also has some
of the hottest super-prime real estatein
London. It’s no accident that Mayfair is the most expensive
location on the Monopoly board: in real life, house prices there
average out at a staggering
£21,000 per square metre.
The Grosvenors obtained Mayfair three centuries ago through an
inherited dowry, when it was still fields; through a lucky roll of
the dice, it’s now the
basis of their £9bn fortune.
wealthy owners of grouse moor estates received over £10million in
public farm subsidies last year. 61 estates covering a vast 380,517
acres raked in £10,983,718 in taxpayer subsidies via the Common
Agricultural Policy. grouse moor owners are effectively also the
owners of the UK’s single
largest carbon store
peat bogs. Yet the slash-and-burn
moorland management practicesused
by estates to maximise grouse breeding have been shown to dry out the
carbon-rich peat, causing it to release large quantities of carbon
dioxide into the air and worsening flooding downstream.
are a non-native species in Britain, introduced for shooting; and
though we tend to think of them as a harmless species, their numbers
are now vast – a
staggering 35 million are released in the UK every year (20
million of which are in England) simply to be shot by the rich. A
study showed the biomass of introduced pheasants outweighed the
biomass of all wild bird species in the UK. One postcode district,
YO61 in North Yorks, contains over a million pheasants
housing crisis is a land crisis. The laundered cash that has poured
into London property, much of which lies empty, has been facilitated
by a taxation system that largely ignores the productive and
commercial value of land. 60,000
long-term empty properties
to lie vacant across England and Wales. In the shires, there is a
radical shortage of building plots and a critical housing problem,
while legacy landowners are subsidised to exploit the estates granted
to them when the country’s entire population was equal to that of
present-day Greater Manchester.
US, France and Germany have their property hotspots, yet most of the
land remains relatively cheap and rents in most large cities can be
still be affordable. In
the UK, we are all paying out huge sums on rent and mortgages that
could be used to pay tax on collective goods and services, or to buy
those goods and services directly. In 2017, the total
amount of rent paid by tenants in Britain
soared to more than £50bn, more than double the level seen a decade
ago. The total level of mortgage payments has changed little in that
time, as the old pay off their loans and own homes outright, while
the young take on bigger loans over longer periods to pay ever higher