Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Housing and land activists to join forces

In the run up to a November event Robin Grey makes the case for urban and rural communities to work together to tackle land rights, ownership and usage

August 30, 2016
6 min read

essexToday, as a country, we face huge problems – widening inequality, a chronic housing crisis, a dysfunctional agricultural system, multiple public health issues and impending climate collapse. Land use is one of the root causes of these problems but is rarely discussed. Indeed, land has been the elephant in the room of English politics for so long we have become accustomed to its absence during important debates.

The fundamental importance of land becomes clear when you start reframing common questions about the key issues affecting society today:

1. The housing crisis is partly caused by patterns of land ownership that prevent us building enough new, affordable homes
Britain has the second highest concentration of land ownership in the world with 0.36% of the population owning two-thirds of the land. Despite claims we are running out of land, a recent Office For National Statistics report found that a mere 2% of our country is built on. So is the housing crisis caused by an increasing population or should we be tackling patterns of land ownership that prevent the building of new homes?

2. The rising cost of land is directly linked to policies that make it lucrative to hoard land and treat it as an investment
Agricultural land is currently seen as safer and more lucrative than stocks and shares, and a way of avoiding tax, regardless of whether it is even being used for farming – indeed prices have trebled in the last ten years. In some parts of the country, landowners see their land increase in value more than a hundred fold just for securing permission to build housing. How can land and housing prices be brought under control when government policies and market speculation actively drive them up?

3. Inequality finds its oldest expression in the clash between the landed and the poor
A third of UK land is still owned by the traditional aristocracy and landed gentry. 47 wealthy landowners each receive over a million pounds a year in land subsidies, whilst the smallest farms receive nothing. How can we develop a more equal society, whilst giving massive tax breaks and public money to large landowners, at the same time as cutting back on support and services for those in need?

4. Many public health issues are directly linked to trends in land use
Recent studies have connected issues like cancer, respiratory disease, and poor mental health with city living. Cash-strapped councils have started to sell off public parks and playing fields to plug funding gaps. Tate and Lyle Sugar have received more in agricultural subsidies than any other UK organisation this century. How can we tackle obesity and other health issues whilst subsidies flood the market with low quality, cheap food, and people are disconnected from the outdoors?

5. Environmental decline is directly linked to mainstream land management
British soils are at a crisis point. Industrial farming methods, deforestation, and land cleared for sport shooting, have all been linked with floods that have devastated the UK in recent years. How can we tackle environmental issues whilst subsidising the industrial farming techniques that help cause them?

In short, the status quo benefits the few at the expense of the common good. So how do we address this imbalance? One answer is to support the coming together of all groups who have a stake in this fight, be that urban housing and planning advocates, rural land and farming communities, health campaigners or climate change activists.

What sort of conversations would residents of a council estate up for redevelopment have with a young farmer? What common ground would be found between people campaigning for less sugar in our diets and people campaigning to reduce the negative environmental impacts of farming? What can an urban planning expert learn from people campaigning to protect our public footpaths in areas of natural beauty, and vice-versa.

Finding common issues

These groups, and indeed the population as a whole, share a common issue – that land is not being used for the common good. They also share potential campaign targets – the planning system, land-based subsidies, and transparency and distribution of ownership, to name just a few.

Who knows what else they share? Up to now there has been little overlap between these groups, and almost no focus on land as a common issue. Framing our struggles in terms of land rights, ownership and usage, will allow us to find much in common with a wide range of people.

Building a movement

This autumn a coalition of activist networks and organisations are coming together to begin building a movement, hosting events under the banner of ‘Land For What?’. We aim to raise awareness of land as a common struggle. This will mean increasing people’s knowledge about land ownership and the history of land struggles; connecting people to share skills and experiences; and inspiring people and groups to take learning and energy for change back to their communities.

The coalition includes the Community Food Growers Network, Just Space, Landworkers’ Alliance, New Economics Foundation, Radical Housing Network, London Quaker Housing, Shared Assets and Ubele. Please join us.

‘Land for What?’ will take place 12-13 November 2016, London

This article was produced in collaboration with Tom Kenny (Shared Assets), Duncan McCann (nef) and Robin Grey (Three Acres And A Cow)

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going


109