I hope we can one day make a video this compelling about land rights in England!
On Sunday 12th November, the day after our Land Justice Network Leicester gathering, a group of us will be trespassing onto the lands of Boughton House, the location of the slaughter of 50 commoners, 410 years ago. We will take the train from Leicester to Kettering, one stop down on the London line, and walk into the grounds owned now by the Duke of Buccleugh, one of the largest retainers of private land in the UK, for a cheese-themed picnic, in honour of Captain Pouch and the commoners that lost their lives in the battle against enclosure.
If you are interested in staying overnight, and trespassing with us, please bring sleeping bags and roll mats to indoor camp at this address: Graceworks, Wycliffe URC, The Common, Evington, Leicester LE5 6EA. And for the walk, remember sturdy shoes and water, and some choice cheeses!
This picnic will be a gentle walk in the country, with no intention of public fanfare and confrontation with the landowners (perfectly feasible due to the acreage of the property). It will be a first foray into direct action, a nice little practice for what the group has planned next.
Also, please register your interest with Nick Hayes so he can tell you when and where to meet, firstname.lastname@example.org
Historical Context, or, why cheese?
Across the Midlands in 1607, large numbers of commoners were gathering to tear up the fence posts that had enclosed so much of their commons in recent years. 14 years earlier, the Tudor dynasty had relaxed the enclosure laws, and common land had been swallowed into private ownership, never to return.
In Kettering, Sir Thomas Tresham was the pantomime villain landlord, widely reviled. By 1597, he was grazing over six hundred sheep in the parish and had been prosecuted in the star chamber for this but to no avail, because a decade later, the whole parish was fenced off for sheep, with no lettings to commoners for their grazing needs. In 1599, he bought another swathe of land from his neighbouring cousin, also Thomas Tresham, which allowed him to destroy five more tenant farms, and enclose the land for his sheep. With poor harvests and a growing population served by ever diminishing commons, the Midlands was a hotbed of discontent, and in 1607, led by the mystic figure of Captain Pouch, peaceful protests of up to 5000 people occurred in Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, pulling up fences and routing hedgerows. Captain Pouch, aka John Reynolds, was the charismatic leader of this disorder, picking the sites of disorder strategically, to make the most political impact. A tinker by trade, uneducated, he carried with him a leather pouch in which he claimed was a special substance that gave him and his followers the protection of God and the Crown. By the time of the Newton Revolt, Reynolds was already in custody, and the 1000 locals that met in Rockingham Forest were leaderless, and this time armed, prepared to die for their beliefs.
James 1st commanded the Montagus, another wealthy family of the area, to suppress these people by whatever means necessary, They had trouble drumming up a militia from the local population, but when they did, they met the rebels on June 8th, 1607. After twice reading the royal proclamation commanding the people to disband, the troops charged on horseback, murdering 50 to 60 people, and injuring many more. Most of the survivors were pardoned, provided they signed their names on a list, now kept in Boughton House. Several of the ringleaders were hanged, and with them, John Reynolds, was hanged drawn and quartered. After his death, the contents of his pouch were revealed to be nothing more than a lump of locally made green cheese.
In some ways, the revolt was a success. Just two months after the uprising, King James ordered a royal inquiry into the state of enclosure, which lead to several landlords being prosecuted by the star chamber, and fined. However, none of the land was returned to common grazing, and these fines amounted to nothing more than a tax on enclosure for a paltry few of the landlords guilty of land grabbing. England was given its scapegoats, and the system of enclosure was, if anything, reinforced. The Tresham’s power faded into obscurity over the next century, whilst the Montagus thrived, Boughton Hall becoming, through marriage, the English seat of the Dukes of Buccleuch, one of the most prominent land owning dynasties of the UK.
Dukes and Peasants: Land Justice Network calls for a Day of Action for International Peasants Day
Land ownership in Britain is one of the most unequal in the world with 0.6% of the population owning over 70% of the land. More than a third of our land is still owned by the aristocracy, whose ancestors seized it during the Norman Conquest. By fencing off land and using violence to exclude people, landowners have deprived the rest of us of what is rightfully a shared resource. The vast majority of us own little or nothing, making us effectively landless peasants.
Land distribution lies at the heart of so much inequality and environmental degradation in society today. Landowners are able to control and exploit our natural resources and force the rest of us to be beholden to them for food, shelter and other needs. Despite their huge wealth, our taxes are used to pay landowners millions in farming subsidies and housing benefit, increasing inequality still further.
In order to highlight the injustices of unequal land ownership, the Land Justice Network is calling for a Day of Action for International Day of Peasant Struggles on April 17, 2018. We will show the Dukes that the peasants have had enough!
The Day of Action’s next planning meeting will take place on at 12pm 22nd October, Friends of the Earth. The Printworks, 139 Clapham Rd, London, SW9 OHP.
This report documents the workshop on taxation which took place on September 17th 2017, hosted by the Land Justice Network policy and legislation group.
Over 30 people, including grass roots campaigners, academics and professionals, gathered at UCL to discuss the issues surrounding taxation and land reform. The workshop began by presenting the Land Justice Network and its aims: more equitable distribution of land, long-term stewardship, not short-term profit, increases in land value should be given to society, pro-active community planning and transparency. The aims of the workshop were then explained: given that landowners benefit greatly from owning land, how could we change the taxation system to ensure public benefit.
- Duncan Bowie focused on housing as it is now the greatest source of wealth. He outlined the purposes of a taxation system before moving on to outline a number of taxation options to deal with issues such as ineffective use of land and capacity and capital gains from residential development. Some options include: changes to residential council tax banding, reforms to inheritance tax and reforms on levies to new developments. The key point is that we must examine tax options according to what our aims are and in this case the main aim is to ensure that housing policy are met.
- Heather Wetzel from the Labour Land Group outlined the problems that arise from the fact that land is not the cornerstone of our taxation system. Though there are other taxes needed to meet other public objectives, a tax on land should be central to government policy. This is called the Land Value Tax. Rather than a series of taxes (as presented by Duncan) there would be one tax which would achieve many of our land reform objectives. This tax would not be based on production and would not hit the homeowner. She stressed, however, that in addition it is important to keep land in public hands.
- David Mountain, a research student from UCL, presented his research findings on capturing land value in opportunity areas of London.
Q and A and group discussion
There was a wide-ranging discussion which showed the links between taxation and other land issues. A selection of points:
- The planning system is related to land values. If a piece of land has been given planning permission for residential properties and many of the requirements that would benefit the public are waived (eg percentage of homes for social rent, number of stories) then the value of the land increases.
- Relationship between land and finance. The ease of lending can increase the value of land.
- Source of problem is making housing a market.
- Need to take into consideration both urban and rural areas and also outside London. The situation is very different outside London.
- Much concern about developers in general and how they are getting away with making huge profits at our expense.
There were also a number of concerns that focused on the taxation issues.
- For the Land Value Tax, how do we know how to value the land?
- For all tax options, what about your average homeowner who lives in their home but who is now worth more because of the rise in prices? Would they be penalised?
- It is difficult to focus one tax changes or one tax change because there may be other consequences to consider.
- Question of whether it is best to have several different task changes or one major one like the Land Value Tax.
- Issue of whether it is best to approach the problems we gave identified through tax changes and capturing the land value or whether we should be ‘capturing the land’, in other words putting land into public ownership/trust/the commons.
General: Summing up?
- Everyone is very concerned and passionate about issues around land. These issues affect us as a society but also as individuals.
- People learnt something about land issues and the taxation options though some felt that there was a lot more to learn about how the different options might work in practice. There were people with different degrees of expertise and experience as well as different kinds of expertise and experience.
- Most thought that we had been a little premature in focusing on tax options without thinking about what our aims are. Though the Land Justice Network has its Common Ground Statement it is not enough when trying to identify what tax system to introduce or even whether the problems can be address through the tax system. The issue of effective use of land, or how do we decide what the public and communities want from land and land reform needs to be included.
- Need to find a way of making sure that the movement is led by people at the grass roots in campaigns and communities whilst at the same time gaining the support of all the excellent work done by researchers (who will also be in campaigns and communities in many instances!).
- A Land Reform Bill may be a bit ambitious at this stage without looking more closely at what the aims are. Then there will need to be discussions about how broad or narrow the bill would be.
- There was also concern expressed about how to mobilise people to support land reform.
The policy working group will consider how to facilitate a discussion on elaborating on the Common Ground statement. All people affiliated to the Land Justice Network can participate in this. You can affiliate by e-mailing email@example.com. Since the workshop, Just Space has volunteered to work on a summary document of various tax options and how they deal with the aim of capturing land value. There will be some workshop at the November 11th meeting in Leicester and the next London workshop will be on ownership. We will aim to combine both a discussion of aims as well as different strategies for achieving those aims.
Remember that there are other working groups on issues to do with outreach and education and actions.
That lost Marion Shoard documentary isn’t so lost anymore:
(both updates via the excellent Senscot weekly briefing)
When the Community Empowerment Act extended the right to buy to all of Scotland – there was an optimism about what this could mean for communities in our cities. However, news this week that the community buy-out of Edinburgh’s Sick Kids Hospital has been thwarted is a further dent to this optimism – and not the first example of this in the city. Once again property developers have won the day. Questions need to be asked about whether or not the Act – in urban areas – has bitten off more than it can chew.
Andy Wightman, Scotland’s intrepid land reform campaigner, claims in a report published this week that there are almost 4000 derelict sites in Scotland; the Scottish Greens want to give local councils the power to tax them – a ‘vacant site levy’. According to their research, 70% of this land is suitable for development – and taxing it would generate £200m a year to build affordable homes. In Jan 2016, the Greens tried to amend the land reform bill to tax vacant land – but the SNP rejected it. The worsening shortage of affordable housing suggests that this report will get some serious consideration.
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Saturday 11th November @ Graceworks, Leicester
(Wycliffe URC, The Common, Evington, Leicester, LE5 6EA)
10.00am – Land for What?
An introduction to land as a common ground social justice issue
11.45am – Biscuits and tea
12.00am – Understanding the housing crisis in song and pie charts
1.00pm – Shared pot-luck lunch
(Bring a dish if you can… there will be plenty of food provided if you can’t)
2.00pm – Land Justice Network meeting (2-3 hrs)
Agenda to be participatory agendered soon
Please reserve your place here –
There is the possibility of a minibus coming up from Brighton via London. Please email landjusticeUK@gmail.com if you are interested, letting us know whether you’d prefer to go up Friday evening or Saturday morning.
Also worth dropping us a line if you can offer a car share or need assistance with travel costs (we have some budget to support expenses).
This group will (amongst other things) write and campaign for a People’s Land Reform Act; making our voices heard inside the parliamentary system.
This working group is researching and planning direct action and land occupations to highlight key issues and raise awareness of the network.