English Land Secrecy Blog

Three stories about English land secrecy

 

Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net) , from Wikimedia Commons

Professor Antonia Layard’s blog post explores three stories of land secrecy in England: the land registry, beneficial ownership of land, and commercial confidentiality in affordable housing. An informative read reflecting how secrecy about land ownership and deals remain part of English land developments.

 

Also mentioned are Guy Shrubsole and Anna Powell Smith of the excellent Who Owns England blog, as well as Anna Powell-Smith’s extremely useful blog showing how you can use local land registry data to explore who owns land in your area.

 

Anger at government plans to fast-track fracking applications

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/may/17/fast-track-fracking-plan-by-uk-government-prompts-criticism

By Joshua Doubek [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Ministers have recently revealed plans to classify fracking applications as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects. This would mean decisions regarding fracking applications would be made by government-appointed planning inspectors at a national level, instead of decisions at a local authority levels, essentially bypassing local involvement in fracking applications.

The government is also making £1.6 million available for planning authorities, to assist with fracking applications. Under these regulations, the actual process of shale gas extraction would still need applications at local level, however exploratory drilling can be approved by government-appointed planning inspectors at national level.

Fracking applications have proven deeply unpopular at local consultations, with councillors in North Yorkshire on the Kirby Misperton fracking site receiving 4375 objections as opposed to 36 representations in support of the application to frack. By classifying fracking applications as NSIPs, Greenpeace argue that the government will make ‘exploratory drilling as easy as building a garden wall or conservatory’.

Daniel Carey-Dawes, senior infrastructure campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said in The Independent: “This announcement signals an outright assault on local communities’ ability to exercise their democratic rights in influencing fracking applications. Whilst fracking has been banned in Scotland, the government in England seems determined to introduce shale gas extraction, despite its unpopularity.

Friends of the Earth and Go Fossil Free are currently running divestment campaigns against the fossil fuel industry. Friends of the Earth report that local councils are investing up to £16bn of workers pensions into fossil fuel companies, and are encouraging people to lobby their local councils to divest from fossil fuel investments. Divestment campaigns are a successful way of putting pressure on governments through a public demand for action. Those done at a local level can empower communities in the fight against fossil fuel extraction, giving campaigners a platform through which to protest the government plans to restrict local community involvement in the application process.

Visit the Friends of the Earth divestment website for support and advice in starting a local campaign in your area.

Using Blockchain technology to improve land registry in India

http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/blog/2018/Using-blockchain-to-make-land-registry-more-reliable-in-India.html

IT specialists are investigating how Blockchain technology can be used to make the land registry in India more reliable and accountable.  Blockchain technology allows information ‘to be distributed but not copied‘, creating platforms for sharing information that cannot be hacked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The project, a collaboration between the Blockchain Learning Group and the United Nations Development Programme, is currently in the process of creating a land registry in the city Panchkula, in the state of Haryana. By creating accountable and accessible land registries, Blockchain technologies can provide transparent and secure information about land ownership in areas where there is otherwise limited knowledge about ownership, empowering citizens.

Blockchain is being viewed as a way to minimise corruption in the Land Registry not only in India but in western Europe too.

 

 

Report from our national gathering

On Sunday 15th April we held our national gathering at the Friends of the Earth offices in London.

This was the day after our buzzing and well-attended tour of London’s housing crisis, organised as part of our Week of Action for Land Justice. Many people at the meeting had organised or taken part in the tour, and celebrated its success long into the evening… I think Nick Hayes summed up the feeling in the room when he said “I’m so happy and tired I think I’m going to cry!”

Continue reading Report from our national gathering

Report from The Landlords’ Game

On Saturday 14th April, after a week of rain, on what felt like the first warm and sunny day of the year, just shy of a hundred people gathered in central London for the inaugural Land Justice Network Landlords’ Game guided walk.

The meet point and official start was Brown Hart Gardens, a POPS (privately owned public space) in the heart of Mayfair.

Continue reading Report from The Landlords’ Game

London Renters Union take action

In London, tenancies are short, disrepair is common, and rents are higher than almost anywhere in the world.

After just a few weeks of organising, London Renters Union members at Eros House flats in Catford took action to demand an end to evictions and for urgent safety and disrepair issues to be solved.

The steadfast residents of Eros House in Catford took action to demand an end to unsafe conditions and evictions in their homes. They delivered a letter, with lots of energy to Lewisham Council and one of the management companies that runs the tower block they live in. They were supported by LRU members and activists from Newham and across our city.

They’ve struggled with electrical hazards, serious damp and mould and faulty heating for too long – and some residents are facing eviction by the private company they rent from.

Amina and Michael, LRU

London Renters Union was set by a coalition including Radical Housing Network, Take Back The City, Generation Rent, Digs (Hackney Renters), and People’s Empowerment Alliance for Custom House (PEACH). They’re currently building their first pilot branch in Newham and hope to have branches across the city by the end of 2018.

You can show your support for LRU members at Eros House by sharing the report back from today’s action on Twitter or Facebook:

The Tweet to retweet is at https://twitter.com/LDNRentersUnion/status/984081149050916864 .

The Facebook post to share is at https://www.facebook.com/LondonRentersUnion/posts/434286730327689 .

The full blog post with more info is at: http://londonrentersunion.org/2018/04/11/eros-house-letter-hand-in/

Hypo wot thecation? A blog post about tax

Tax by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0

Hypothecation – I’d never hear about this before but it maybe of interest connected to issues around Land Value Tax and Land Uplift Capture or whatever else we are calling ways of preventing land speculators from profiteering these days…

The Responsible Tax Lab write:

The concept of hypothecation, where revenues from specific taxes would be ringfenced for a particular expenditure purpose – and publicly communicated in this way – has traditionally been unpopular with many. This is because of the notable challenges, relating to complexity, transparency, and public perceptions, with which it is associated. However, there is growing interest in how hypothecation could help engage with tax policy and increase public trust in the system.

Many people who call for a change in the way land is taxed also have called for the new tax income to be ring-fenced for using on connected issues. E.g. a land value tax going towards buying land for self build homes or re-commoning or supporting entrant farmers etc.

Anyways, here is an article written by the Head of Tax from PWC which goes into more depth! https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/could-health-and-social-services-be-safeguarded-by_uk_5a783496e4b0414342903948

 

 

Urban Right to Buy Developments in Scotland

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

An Aberdeen community have used new community buyout powers to claim a piece of private land as their own, becoming the first in Northern Scotland to utilise the Urban Right to Buy scheme. The land, that was once a bowls club, will be used as a community market garden and cafe.

http://www.scottishcommunityalliance.org.uk/articles/2720/

Scottish Land Commission publish discussion paper about diversifying land ownership

From Photochrom Prints Collection at the Library of Congress – Picture in the public domain

Scotland, as many know, is quite a few years ahead of England with land reform.

The Scottish Land Commission has just published a discussion paper by Peter Peacock about diversifying land ownership which is our recommended reading this week!

https://landcommission.gov.scot/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Land-Lines-Land-Ownership-Peter-Peacock-March-2018.pdf

The impact of overseas corruption on the London property market

A summary of Faulty Towers: Understanding the impact of overseas corruption on the London property market by Transparency International UK (2018)

As well as providing homes, the UK property market has long been recognised for providing a reliable investment opportunity. Whilst much of this investment will be from genuine investors seeking a steady income, there is now substantial evidence to show that:

‘UK real estate, particularly in London, is attracting corrupt officials and businesspeople who have stolen money from some of the most impoverished and repressed countries in the world’ (p4).

Since 2015, Transparency International UK (TI UK) has been examining the potential impact this illicit wealth might be having on London through surveying Londoners and analysing open source data such as the Panama Papers, articles by investigative journalists and Land Registry data. In so doing, they reveal how people launder stolen money into the property market, often through the use of ‘anonymous’ companies registered overseas. These organisations cannot be found on a public register and leave few paper trails, allowing their owners to enjoy their gains without scrutiny.

The London housing crisis

In London, house price rises consistently outstrip wage increases, dozens of prospective buyers compete for a shrinking pool of affordable stock whilst rent prices rise ever higher. As a consequence, it is becoming more difficult to afford to stay in London for average people, with the Government admitting the UK housing system was ‘broken’ in February 2017.

Overseas investment is just one of a range of factors that may be driving the crisis. Others include the lack of social housing, increased domestic demand and the shortage of development land. But TI UK’s report reveals that corruption overseas is also likely to play a significant contributory role, albeit in some slightly unexpected ways.

Understanding overseas investment into property

A significant amount of illicit investment into the property market stems from individuals buying homes to launder corrupt funds to conceal its criminal origins. This cleanses large amounts of illicit wealth in a single transaction and provides the individual with a valuable asset. London property retains value and often offers almost certain profit, with prices rising even amidst uncertainty over Brexit in early 2016.14

Corrupt individuals also buy homes in London because they provide a bolt hole in case they fall out of favour in their home country. Buying mansions in sought after areas of London or in exclusive new build developments comes with status, helping corrupt individuals distance themselves further from past corruption offences a practice which can be described as ‘reputation laundering’.

Key findings

The London property market is highly vulnerable to corrupt wealth flowing into it. Analysis of open source material found over £4.2 billion worth of properties bought with suspicious wealth.

Corruption causes high levels of instability abroad leading to ‘crisis capital’ being placed in safe havens like London. Since 2006 around £100 billion of hidden inflows have entered the UK.

House prices are affected as illicit wealth and crisis capital entering the UK increase demand in the London housing market, particularly at the top-end; ‘the ripple effects they generate resonate across London’,

New build developments are built targeting wealthy international investors and are not meeting demand for affordable homes. In 14 landmark London developments almost 40 per cent of future homes were bought by those from high corruption risk jurisdictions.

London’s role as a global safe haven is resulting in homes being purchased and not used. Areas with higher levels of property owned by anonymous companies also have high levels of abnormally low electricity usage; an indicator for empty or underused homes.

Young people are moving out of London in record numbers due to the cost of housing. Over half of Londoners responding to our survey said wealthy overseas investors are causing house prices to rise and more than 1 in 5 believed money laundering was a motivating factor for overseas investment.

Transparency International UK warns that if these issues are not addressed, corruption abroad will continue to have a negative impact on the London housing market.

Recommendations

The report’s findings pose a problem for policy makers: how can you ensure the property market is not distorted by corruption overseas without unintentionally excluding innocent investors, many of whom might be seeking to escape from tyranny and instability in their home?

Transparency International UK makes the following recommendations to the UK government:

  • Introduce greater transparency to the property market
  • Reform the UK’s anti-money laundering system
  • Retain tackling global corruption as a key priority

If these recommendations are followed, says TI UK, the negative impact overseas corruption inflicts on the people of London and its property market will be reduced and the UK’s role as a safe haven for illicit wealth will be diminished.