Theory & Struggle

Reviews

Theory & Struggle (2020), 121, (1), 156–180.

Abstract

Reviews The great British land grab — and what we can do about it Marija Anteric One of the features of UK land ownership is the lack of a cadastre: any central, complete and accessible record of who owns what. In the nine centuries since the Domesday Book of 1086, attempts to document ownership — the tithe maps of the 1830s, the 1873 Return of Owners of Land, the 191015 Valuation Office maps and the 1941-43 National Farm Survey — have all been incomplete and the results confidential. Initiated by the French revolution, and common throughout Europe, our closest equivalent to a cadastre is the Land Registry. Founded in 1862, this remained largely dormant until 1925 when registration at the point of sale became compulsory. But information on who owned what was still strictly secret — not even the police were allowed access without the landowners’ permission (greatly hindering any challenge to corruption and money laundering). The Labour government’s 1974 royal commission on the distribution of income and wealth declared that ‘The paucity of comprehensive up-to-date information on land ownership is remarkable […] it is difficult to carry our analysis any further.’ The report of the 1979 Northfield Inquiry into the Acquisition and Occupancy of Agricultural Land contains a record of landholdings by the public sector, financial institutions and some overseas buyers, but nothing on large private landowners who owned (and still own) the majority of ‘our’ land. Then Margaret Thatcher came into office and impetus for land reform disappeared. Information is slowly opening up. The 2017 housing white paper announced that the Land Registry would aim to complete a register of land ownership, and that datasets showing land owned by UK and overseas companies (three million titles, covering a third of land in England and Wales) would be publicly available. But none of this until 2030! Although Land Registry records of title have recently been opened to public access, this is only for single properties (identified by an address or a postcode) and for a fee. Even if you can locate the owner of a property, you have to download a pdf plan (not mappable) of the title (another fee) and there is no way of finding out what other land that individual or organisation owns. And despite the Conservative Party’s 2017 manifesto commitment to merge the Land Registry, Ordnance Survey and 156 theory&struggle 2020 Who Owns England? How We Lost Our Green and Pleasant Land and How to Take It Back by Guy Shrubsole (William Collins, 2019) Marija Anteric is a historical geographer interested in the relationship between landscape, history ‘ownership’ and conflict. She works as an evaluator for major National Lottery-funded landscape projects and is honorary treasurer of her local community association which manages one of Britain’s awardwinning, smallest — and publicly owned — urban parks

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