[diggers350] Land party for affordable housing

Malcolm Ramsay malcolm.ramsay at talk21.com
Wed Dec 8 23:17:04 GMT 2004

I think it's worth remembering that every law and every tax rests on a threat of force - and every time we introduce a new one, we bind ourselves more tightly to an ethos that most of us abhor. Creating a new tax to mitigate some of the bad effects of distorted land laws could certainly have benefits, but it would also help to lock in the underlying injustice. If we are ever to live in a just and healthy society it must be built on coherent, rational and principled laws; and to arrive at them we need to understand the essential strengths and weaknesses of what we currently have, and refine and strengthen the parts that are good and find a way to discard the parts that are bad.

The danger I see with seeking change through the existing political processes (and other people have certainly made this point) is that if the political establishment sees any real groundswell of anger on the issue, they will - as has happened in the past - make just enough changes to defuse that passion, without addressing the fundamental fault. And we will reach a point, if we haven't already, where the existence of a majority who have something to lose, makes impotent a significant minority who have next to nothing.

Personally, I think that there is a possibility of progress on land rights by getting the courts to examine the roots of our present laws. (Though they would also need to recognise the existence of a natural right to the use of land - I posted a piece on that subject, 'Birthright in Law', to the Diggers group a few weeks ago). As far as I can see, the only justification people give for our present patterns of ownership is historic, but I think that, if we look at it clearly, history can provide the courts with reasons to alter how they interpret the law.

I don't know what motivated William the Conqueror and his supporters, but it seems to be widely accepted that our present systems of government and ownership have their roots in his rule. That is enough to satisfy me that he brought something of real value into this country - if he had not, he would have been forgotten like countless other warlords before and since. And what matters, when we examine the nature of ownership and its place in our history, is not his motivation, but the aspects of what he introduced that made it acceptable, despite its obvious flaws, to the people of this country.

As I see it, before William, Britain had had government, but it had never had a system of government. This is what he introduced, and it provided a framework in which the institutions that now make up the core of our society were able to grow up. And land ownership was right at the heart of what he introduced; land ownership was part of the machinery of government.

Historians write about William 'rewarding' his followers with land holdings - and this may indeed be how they saw it. But I suspect that it was the exercise of power that interested him, and them, more than the material benefits of holding land, and I'm sure that it was that aspect of it which gave it value to the country at large. When he gave his tenants-in-chief tenure of areas of land, what he was giving them was dominion over the people on that land - he was giving them the responsibility of governing, in his name and for his purposes, and the benefits that he allowed them to take from it were their payment for exercising that responsibility. And their sub-tenants were, in the same way, agents of the Crown, with their land-holdings defining the scope of their jurisdiction.

The point I'm trying to make here is that what we now call 'private ownership' of land came into being, not for the benefit of the individual owners, but for the benefit of the state - and the personal benefits that the landlords took were their payment for the exercise of power. But the benefit of the state was not just the pleasure of the king; there was an implicit contract between the Crown and the people, by which they acknowledged his sovereignty in exchange for protection of their rights - and the landlords' holdings could be forfeited if they abused their power. The idea that freehold tenure exists primarily to benefit the individual is a complete distortion of its original nature; it exists essentially as a practical method of distributing public responsibility for an intrinsically complex matter - and it is absurd to treat private gain as a proper use of that responsibility.

This might all seem a bit tenuous, but the law turns on fine points, and the courts have a deep need to feel that they stand on solid ground. They cannot afford to disregard history, because their own authority depends on it. If we argue that the land was stolen from the people by William and his robber barons, we are arguing, in effect, that the court itself has no authority, because it is built on the same foundations. But if we argue that the present interpretation is a betrayal of those foundations....well, they might still not listen, but we would at least be taking the argument into new territory.

Malcolm Ramsay

8th December 2004

Mark Brown <markibrown at hotmail.com> wrote:
Apologies as James' previous message was empty.
What James may not know is that the good old Green Party as well 
as the Labour Land Campaign already subscribes to much of what 
he suggests. 
I would add a rider that the Diggers believed a fair 
distribution of land would precipitate the abolition of money so 
they probably wouldn't have been into land tax.
Tony - 0117 944 6219

UK Planning Laws are the palisade on the rock defending the 
landowners' goldmine
From: "james armstrong" <james36armstrong at hotmail.com>

Land increases in utility value over the years a hundred and a 
thousand fold because of the industry of the people - yet greedy 
and predatory land speculators  hold the population to ransom 
and regulate and stifle the growth as they pocket the windfall 
gains they do not generate by turning others' need for land into 
cash.   £3,500 an acre agricultural  land transforms into  
£1.25million an acre development land overnight when planning 
permission is granted for housing on the edge of village, town 
and city throughout the country.

Houses built on the land  for £50,000 are priced at £350,000. At 
present this windfall gain goes into private pockets.

Tenant farmers going out of business.  In spite of £3billion 
annual subsidies and EU price protection small farmers are not 
surviving on £8,000 a year incomes- the land owners have 
multiplied their  rents!

Town Centre Shops closing down. £40,000 rents in Dorchester town  
centre drive the small shopkeeper out and the start-up trader  

Road safety Compromised. Rest and refreshment road pull-ins are 
sparsely sited  to yield rent and profits  not convenience or 
safety. Car Parking Charges are a hidden and a private Land Tax 
Short term parking at Stansted Airport costs £5.75 per hour. 
There are several acres of car parks. Each acre  generates 
£1million every 3 months for BAA- land which  cost BAA only 
£1,000 per acre to buy outright.

At French air and sea ports parking is free- because the people 
kicked out the landholding courtiers in 1788. The vernacular  
cottage and garden- the people's artform are proscribed while 
opera is  subsidised, paintings  valued for rarity and unmade 
beds and fag ends passed off as art.  Cottages are replaced by  
utility  housing  schemes of no architectural merit. As current 
planning  laws favouring land monopolists disfigure John 
Constable's landscape.  Where are the beautiful new villages of 
individually  designed houses  being built? Certainly not at 
Poundbury..  When did you last see a farmer building a stone 
barn with tiled roof? A misguided architectural preservation 
mentality focusing on the houses of the elite, with  a blind 
eye turned to landowners spreading  rural squalor, is 
substituted for freeing the proved genius of the  people to 
beautify the landscape by artisan house- building. Community 
feeling is always identified with locality:  "Private" land  
isolates , divides and  individualises people.

What is the meaning of being British ?  Serving in the forces 
under "National" service, or called on to die in Iraq & excluded 
from land to live on in Britain? A world market for British land 
destroys its role as the nation's and community's  identifying 

Land exclusion and housing exclusion

The scarcity, unavailability  and high price of housing fosters 
anti social and divisive tension.  Whilst the hidden cause of 
low standard, unavailable and expensive housing - the deliberate 
restriction of the supply  of new houses and the illegal 
monopoly price structure of  housing contractors - diverts 
attention and remedial action from the greedy privileged 
monopolists.  Myths about spoiling the green belt and  Britain 
being a small island and the hysteria  generated against 
someimmigrants  are  a deliberate smokescreen put about by the 
monopolists. Poor people looking for work are stigmatised but an  
American filmstar, a Russian oil baron  an absentee Swede and  
fourth generation German junkers buy, misuse or rack-rent back 
to us our land.

Britain is a small island

We Scots know this is a laughable myth. We  complain of the cost 
our remoteness incurs!  Only people never travelling north of 
Watford could believe it. (This includes the authoress of the 
Barker Report who lives in Essex)  In fact there is room for a 
metropolis the size of Greater London  in the area of moorland 
south of the river Forth. This central Scotland location is 
served with motorways, railways ,rivers, canals and an amenity 
hinterland of beautiful landscaped hills. And Edinburgh and 
Glasgow are adjacent.  Nor is this first grade agricultural land 
nor would it displace more than 10,000 present inhabitants.  
This  Scot doesn't  want another London thankyou, but it is not 
impracticable "because we live on a small island"  There are 
currently 1 million surplus agricultural acres deliberately 
taken out of production. There are 8 million less people living 
in the countryside to-day compared with 1801. Our countryside is 
deserted.  Who would criticise another Swaffham, Chipping Norton  
or Killin reproduced in Wiltshire?

UK Land law was established before the people won democracy. The 
nation's land was expropriated from small farmers by violence 
and conquest and legally by parliamentary  Enclosure Acts when 
membership of Parliament, the right to vote for MP's and to 
initiate a private members bill was restricted to landowners! 

Either we are content with access to land decided five hundred 
years ago or one re-designed to meet  modern population needs of 
democratic Britain. We should choose between Britain as Heritage 
Park for yesterday's hangers on, or a nation where the land 
whether in town or countryside is naturally available for the 
homes, businesses and recreation of the people who live there.   

In a democracy land is neither a family heirloom, a store of 
value like a bank, a battue to  coral and butcher  wild animals, 
nor a commodity to speculate on like the price of copper.  It is 
Nature's artwork gifted to us all, the centre of community life, 
the essential requirement for every economic activity and its 
use for building  a home the means of satisfying man's 
existential need for shelter his and her right.

Our history is the record of how people were excluded from using 
the land. Duke William's novel land theory of ownership 
(feudalism), the Tudor grab of one third of England  
(Dissolution) Charles I's dis-afforestation (selling off to 
private buyers), the Enclosures (excluding villagers from the 
commons and destroying their cottages and shacks there), Royal  
warrants to private companies -the monopoly to exploit the land 
and people of others' overseas territories (The Empire) The E.C. 
(a misnomer- can you think why it changes its name as regularly 
as Sellafield?)- spends most of our budget (it was up to 66%) 
giving land-owners grants for their land holding,  passed off as  
'subsidies to farmers' or "preserving the environment" when 
small  farmers are going out of business and land prices and 
landowner's incomes  are rocketing.  

Councils expansion of residents parking schemes (charging for 
roads which the public owns) selling off 'Council' land to 
private developers is the biggest and most consistent theme of 
peaceful Britain. Do historians highlight wars and politicians 
start them to divert attention from the never ending war waged 
by the state against the individual on behalf of landowners?

UK Planning laws are the palisade built on top of the rock 
defending the landowners goldmine.   Effectively restricting 
planning permission to large Corporations and denying the 
individual the right to solve his/ her own housing needs is both 
the latest scandal and the stuff of history. Only some 
restriction on a universally necessary resource can account for 
the British having the second lowest Gross Domestic Product per 
capita, in western Europe! 

Gordon Brown didn't tell you that. Although the British  work 
long hours, no matter how hard you work if start-up enterprise 
is restricted,  because of lack of access to land then 
stagnation is the result. Don't despair, with application we 
might claw our way ahead of Portugal.

How to  re-define land as a natural resource, not a commodity in 
the market place Directing planning permission for a house to 
the would be occupier would take the windfall planning gain out 
of  the balance sheets of contractors and land-owners and   put 
it in the pocket of the house buyer - i.e.  substantially  
reduce the cost of a new house. The availability of  
new houses will halt the rise in price of the existing housing 
stock.   A method  of redefining our land as a national not a 
personal resource would be via a land tax on farm, shop,  
factory, house etc which was not in the sole use of the owner.   
Owning and not personally using these resources would no longer 
yield net rents nor would windfall gains accrue.

This is not pie in the sky dreaming. That arch socialist and 
dreamy aesthete Winston Churchill advocated reforming the 
monopoly of land which he called the most malignant  monopoly of 
them all.- (he later got sidetracked by Hitler when he was in 
office.) The economist  Henry George is the father of this 
system. The economist of the Bank of England- Kate Barker 
advocates change.

2 million vegetable growers should have free access to the 1 
million set aside acres they have already paid for year after 
year. Those seeking to buy houses from the existing stock would 
benefit as the monopoly element of new house supply and the 
artificial restriction on numbers built would disappear and all 
prices stabilise. We all need to stand up and demand as of right 
- access to  land.  To build  individuals' requirement of new 
houses would only need 15,000 acres annualy. A political party 
offering young people and those in housing need the right to buy 
out of income (say at £3,000) a plot of land with planning 
permission to build  their own home would be very popular.  Land  
already assigned to an individual for his/her  home would not 
attract speculative prices.


James Armstrong  20th July 2004     james36armstrong at hotmail.com

"The Land is Ours" campaigns to end speculation in land. Tell us
your  solution to the housing crisis.

www.tlio.org.uk    We plan to  make home-making easy!
We respect   land as a natural resource & work to  democratise 
planning laws 

James Armstrong
22, Harveys Terrace, Dorchester DT1 ILE
1st December 2004

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