Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The UK is some 60 million acres – that’s roughly an acre for each person living here. Yet some individuals own a great deal more, and have for a very long time.
Some 36,000 aristocratic families and businessmen own about half of all the rural land in England and Wales, according to a 2010 study by the journalist Kevin Cahill. The vast majority of it is in the hands of just 1,200 aristocrats and their relatives.
The 7th Duke of Westminster, for example, recently inherited an estate of around 140,000 acres worth £9 billion. As the previous duke once said, when asked for advice on how young entrepreneurs could succeed: ‘Make sure they have an ancestor who was a very close friend of William the Conqueror.’
Power and wealth like to conceal themselves, to avoid scrutiny and envy. Who owns our land is one of the darkest, most closely-guarded secrets in the long history of England. Earlier this year, I set up a blog, Who Owns England? (whoownsengland.wordpress.com), to investigate that question, map land ownership, and campaign for an answer. The interest it’s provoked – and the offers of help I’ve had – has astonished me. Perhaps that’s because the task, while seemingly audacious, can be easily broken down. Everyone can get involved in finding out who owns land where you are. Here are some tips:
Explore your local area Go for a walk, looking for signs of ownership – large estates, corporate offices, council properties, religious establishments. Ask your neighbours, the pub landlord and local shopkeepers: who owns this place?
Put in some Freedom of Information (FOI) requests FOI law is a powerful tool for getting information out of public authorities, including on land ownership. Send an FOI request to your local council asking for a digital map or register of all the land and property they own. That will start to give you a picture of the publicly-owned land near where you live – and whether it’s being put to good use. For tips on submitting FOI requests and email addresses for local authorities, visit the website www.foi.directory
Check out the Land Registry Our country does have a map of who owns the land – the Land Registry – but it’s hidden behind search fees, and is incomplete; about 20 per cent of land is still unregistered. There are growing calls for the Land Registry to be opened up and for a complete register of land. It’s still a useful tool for targeted searches. Create an online account and use its MapSearch site (gov.uk/guidance/mapsearch) to identify plots of land near your home. You can then use it to buy land titles at £3 a time to see who owns the land.
See if big landowners have had to register rights of way One way to find out about big private estates is to see if they’ve had to deposit maps with the council because a public right of way passes through their land. This is thanks to an obscure clause in the Highways Act 1980, section 31(6). Most councils will have a ‘register of declarations’, with maps, either online or viewable at council offices. If none is obvious, submit an FOI request.
Become a mapping geek If you want to really get into investigating land ownership, install free digital mapping software called QGIS (qgis.org), and then download INSPIRE Index Polygons from the Land Registry (gov.uk/government/collections/download-inspire-index-polygons). These are freely-available maps of land parcels without ownership information. They’re really helpful for, say, identifying large estates that own a big block of land. You can then use the INSPIRE ID that comes with each land parcel, or ‘polygon’, to look up and buy ownership details on the Land Registry.
Join the dots Mapping land ownership is like a jigsaw puzzle, piecing together clues to form a bigger picture. You’re likely to find you need a combination of the tips and tactics here (and more besides) to start building up a picture. It takes time and perseverance, but the end result can be satisfying. Be sure to share what you uncover, such as through a blog, so that others can build on what you find.
Land ownership underpins everything: where we build our homes, how affordable they are, how we grow our food, where we get our energy from, the state of our wildlife, our resilience to flooding. Although a full answer to the question ‘Who owns England?’ is only likely to come through campaigning for an open and complete Land Registry, starting to map land ownership is a vital part of raising awareness and holding power to account.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead