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A People’s Food Policy, Land

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Reforming land governance[edit]

‘Access to land is impossible. Land is too expensive and very little comes up for sale, particularly quality farmland. There is also never affordable housing associated with the land.’

JONATHAN AGNEW Blackhaugh Farm (A People’s Food Policy consultation)

‘The high price of agricultural land is prohibitive to many of us and land tends to be bought by existing large scale farmers, developers and as an investment. We need land near the houses so people can walk to community gardens and financial help for entrants to a new small scale farming landscape.’

NIKKI GILES FlintShare CSA (A People’s Food Policy consultation)

‘One of the primary challenges for urban community gardens is accessing land, with many local authorities unable or unwilling to deal with organised citizen groups, preferring instead large registered charities or profit-making enterprises.’

CHRIS YAP Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (A People’s Food Policy consultation)

‘New entrants to farming have almost no possibility of buying a farm in England: the cost of land and rural housing is just too high. Yet new farmers have the passion, vision and skills needed to reduce the negative environmental impacts of conventional farming and globalised food distribution. Small farms are also vital to rural communities, helping to support other small rural businesses and services.’

ZOE WANGLER Ecological Land Co-operative

Our vision[edit]

Our vision is of a future in which land is recognised and valued as an essential resource for food and shelter and as the basis for numerous social, cultural and spiritual practices. Land is no longer treated and traded as a commodity; instead it is understood as a common good of the people.

In this future, a Land Commission has been established and is carrying out a full and transparent investigation into the effects that concentrated land ownership is having on our food and farming system, housing, local economies, our cultures and our livelihoods.

As part of reforming land tenure, communities now have strong rights over the control and management of public land and resources. A variety of land trusts and land agencies have been established to monitor land and hold it for the common good. Access to land for new entrants into farming has been improved, along with clear strategies to enable succession and reduce the average age of UK farmers.

People who make their livelihood from the land have secure and equitable access to, and control over, the resources they need. Tenant farmers enjoy secure long-term tenancies and the county farm stock has been increased. Planning policy has been reformed to guarantee a secure supply of accommodation for land workers and supports agroecological development of land.

Everyone enjoys a just and sustainable food system capable of ensuring long-term food security. Fair and secure access to land is understood as fundamental to this.

The case for change[edit]

‘The greatest and most enduring source of wealth in any community is land, and it is the most valuable commodity in any economy. For that reason, the monopoly of land ownership is the greatest source of injustice in our community, and yet it is very rarely talked about. A lot of the assumptions about land ownership and the need for many, many people to pay rent to have their share of a piece of land whilst others have acquired that same land, for whatever reason, historically, and can now live off the proceeds, is very rarely challenged. We should be taxing people for the privilege of owning land, rather than rewarding them. And this is a crucial political change we need to make.’ MOLLY SCOTT CATO (MEP)

The UK has one of the highest levels of concentrated landownership in the world, with less than 1% of the population owning over half of all agricultural land. /96 Land in England is subject to a huge number of pressures, from the historically unequal distribution of ownership to the need to accommodate food production, housing, energy, wildlife and recreation. This is compounded by the recent increased use of land as a vehicle for investment and financial speculation.

In recent years, rapid increases in land prices have caused huge challenges for regeneration in agriculture as new entrant farmers find themselves locked out of the industry. The price of land for sale in England has more than trebled between 2004 and 2014, /97 and over the past 50 years increased by 4,763%. /98 The price of land on average is now around £19,207/hectare (£7,773/acre) /99 putting land beyond the reach of those who want to make a livelihood from agriculture but do not have significant financial backing.

Small farms make up over 70% of all farms in the UK, and yet only 25% of all agricultural land is being farmed by small scale farmers. /100 The amount of agricultural land farmed by small scale farmers has decreased by 25% in the past twenty years, with nearly 40% of small farms closing down in the same amount of time. /101 Farms being sold are now routinely broken up; the land typically goes to investors or existing big farms while the farmhouses are sold at prohibitively high prices for the majority of people living in rural areas. This process contributes to the increasing consolidation of holdings and the pervasive lack of affordable rural housing.

Land access issues are compounded by the increasing privatisation of much of our remaining publicly owned farmland. These farms traditionally provided the first step on the farming ladder for new entrants not from a farming background. Since 2001, more than 1000 council-owned farms have been sold by local councils under pressure from the Government to raise capital and meet fiscal deficits. In Somerset, 1149 hectares (2839 acres) of council-owned farmland have been sold off since 2009, generating over £35m for the local authority. /102 The sell-off of the public farmland estate is part of the £37bn of privatisation sales made by George Osborne since 2010. What used to be a public asset is being sacrificed for political purposes. /103

The current agricultural subsidy system encourages concentrated land ownership. Under the current Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) payment rules, subsidy is distributed according to the number of hectares owned and maintained in a state fit for cultivation. These subsidies are not simply tied to production, and are not available to small farms with less than five hectares (12 acres) of land. The subsidy is a payment that directly stimulates the creation of larger and larger farms, as it rewards farms by size. /104 In many instances these subsidies amount to financial support for some of the UK’s richest people.

In 2015, 100 landowners received between £395,000 to £1.4m each in agricultural subsidies. In total this came to £87.9m in agricultural subsidies, of which £61.2m came from the single payment scheme. This is more than the combined total paid to the bottom 55,119 recipients in the single payment scheme over the same period. /105

The subsidy system, combined with rapidly increasing land values, global financial insecurity and a total lack of regulation, has encouraged speculators to look on farmland as an increasingly attractive investment. /106 Because agricultural land is free of inheritance tax if actively farmed for just two years, people have been using land as a way of passing on assets. Farmland investment is becoming a tax haven for people trying to secure inheritance and capital gains tax exemptions. /107 According to a Savills market survey of UK agricultural land in 2015, arable land prices have increased by 277% in the past decade, whilst the portion of farmland buyers that were actually farmers represented only 45% of all arable land purchases. /108

In urban contexts, land speculation and property development have increased pressure on community gardens and peri-urban market gardens. On the ground, this has led to evictions of long established community growing spaces and reluctance from urban landowners to give secure tenancies to community groups seeking access to urban land. Access to urban land for food growing is further limited by the refusal of most local authorities to make more land available as allotments, despite a statutory obligation to provide allotments and the huge numbers of people on waiting lists. /109

Land and housing inequality are intimately connected. Increases in the price of land and housing, along with speculative property purchasing have contributed towards growing inequalities. There is an increasing divide between two classes separated not by their contribution to production or society, but by property ownership and the control of a scarce natural resource: land. /110 As house prices – and land values – rise, this divide will continue to widen, as the wealth of those at the bottom remains zero or negative while that of the top 10% grows quickly. Since 1970, housing and land ownership has accounted for 87% of the increase in the wealth to income ratio. /111 Because land is fixed in supply and does not usually depreciate, its relative price tends to increase as the economy and demand grows.

If land ownership was evenly distributed across the population then at least rising land values might benefit everyone. Sadly, this is not the case; as set out above, the distribution of land in the UK is highly unequal. While home ownership did spread in the 20th century, /112 the last 15 years have seen a decline from 70% to 50% of the population owning their own home. /113

The need for more affordable tenure options (i.e. social housing, shared ownership and other subsided tenures) and truly affordable housing is critical. Currently only 8% of rural housing stock and 20% of urban housing falls under these categories. /114 This disparity makes it harder for local people to remain living within their local communities, and can contribute to villages becoming commuter dormitories and the preserve of older generations.

The planning system makes it extremely difficult for agricultural workers to build homes and live on their farms. Farming in general and agroecological farming in particular can be labour intensive. Farmers needs to be on site frequently in order to manage a farm effectively. Living on site also makes farming more economically viable as a business. Yet the planning system is a huge hurdle, particularly for new entrants. Prospective farmers must face the risk of being denied permission to build essential infrastructure or to live on their holding. With the loss of agricultural ties and increasing rents, living and working in agriculture in rural areas becomes almost impossible.

Over 60 UK registered companies and transnational corporations are engaging in numerous land grabbing deals around the world, and between them control almost two million hectares (almost five million acres) of land outside the UK, almost four times higher than any other European country. /115 In the past five years an estimated 80 million hectares (almost two million acres) of land around the world, in particular in Asia and Africa, have been acquired by international investors through lease or purchase. /116 This acquisition of land has hundreds of years of colonial history behind it. This continuation and renewal of exploitative practices that undermines the right to food and food sovereignty in other countries is often defended as outsourcing food production to ensure food security for investing countries. /117

At an international level, the sugar and biofuel industry have been some of the worst offenders driving this land grabbing crisis. /118 The UK based sugar company Tate and Lyle has been accused of being complicit in land grabbing in Cambodia. /119 In 2013, a complaint was filed in the UK High Court against Tate and Lyle (Song Mao v. Tate & Lyle Industries Ltd, case ongoing) on behalf of over two hundred displaced villagers and farmers from Cambodia’s Koh Kong province. /120 The most frequent and immediate impact of land deals is the loss of access to and control over land and land-related resources by local communities and has resulted in forced displacements and human rights abuses. /121

Allotments near Totteridge - geograph.org.uk.jpg

Policy proposals[edit]

4.1 Establish a Land Commission for England[edit]

4.1.1 Establish a Land Commission for England in order to reform land governance.

4.1.1 (a) The Land Commission should be premised on the acknowledgement that land should be used as a ‘common good of the people’, as is already the case in Scotland. A Land Commission for England could be similar to that recommended for Scotland in the 2016 Scottish Land Reform Act. /122

4.1.1 (b) The Land Commission’s remit would be to carry out a full and transparent investigation into the impact of concentrated land ownership on our food and farming system, housing, local economies, our cultures and our livelihoods. This would partially form the evidence base for any future land reform measures introduced by the UK government. The Commission’s remit should extend to both urban and rural land in England and cover all matters relating to land, including ownership, land rights, land management and the use of land. /123

4.1.2 Make the Land Registry transparent and complete. The Land Registry should include a full cadastral map of land ownership in England and be freely available, except in circumstances where personal privacy would dictate otherwise. These changes must be enacted as soon as possible, as this is a crucial democratic step in allowing people access to information about their locality. [1]

4.1.3 The UN Voluntary Guidelines on The Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests and its recommendations should be used as the basis for a clear and comprehensive policy for land use, covering governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests. [2] [3] [4]

4.2 Strengthen community access to land[edit]

4.2.1 Strengthen community rights over the ownership and management of public land and resources.

4.2.1 (a) Introduce a ‘Community Right to Manage’. This could be built on the Localism Act (2011), /127 which would enable communities to propose new management arrangements for assets of community value (including agricultural land and buildings) currently held or delivered by government, or indeed by private or charitable institutions. /128

4.2.1 (b) Extend the ‘Community Right to Bid’ in the Localism Act (2011) to include: (a) agricultural land and buildings in both urban and rural areas; (b) land which is ‘wholly or mainly abandoned or neglected’ or the condition of which causes harm to the wellbeing of the community; /129 (c) the right of first refusal; and (d) access to public funding to assist community purchase. This could be similar to the recommendations in the Scottish Community Empowerment Act (2015). /130

4.2.1 (c) Make Council Asset Registers transparent and publicly available. Ensure asset registers detailing what buildings and lands are owned by each local council are easily accessible. These should also be extended to include use of farmland and agricultural buildings.

4.2.1 (d) Significant land holdings owned by local authorities must be registered as ‘assets of community value’, ensuring that local communities are consulted on any change of use.

4.2.2 Protect and increase the number of county farms in England.

4.2.2 (a) Stop the sell-off of county farms and resultant loss of livelihood for tenant farmers. In general, the stock of county farms (and municipal land that is agricultural) should be maintained and increased wherever possible.

4.2.2 (b) Review the management of all county farms to orient towards horticulture and agroecology. [5] Consider the subdivision of some county farms, especially those near towns, into smaller units, to make them available to market gardeners and other horticulturalists. Additional agriculturally tied housing may need to be provided in conjunction with new holdings, to enable tenants to live on site.

4.3 Improve tenant farmers’ rights /131[edit]

4.3.1 Restrict the 100% relief from inheritance tax, currently available to all landlords regardless of the length of time for which they are prepared to let land, to apply only to those prepared to let for ten years or more.

4.3.2 Reform stamp duty land tax to end the discrimination against longer tenancies.

4.3.3 Require landlords to default to a minimum ten year farm tenancy except in special circumstances.

4.3.4 Create and develop a ‘Tenant Farmer Right to Buy’ policy. Such a policy should support tenant farmers to buy the parcel of land they farm from the land owner (there would need to be restrictions on future sales to prevent unreasonable/unwarranted private gain). [6]

4.4 Create a Land Sales Agency[edit]

4.4.1 A Land Sales Agency must be informed of all pending agricultural land sales, and should review land use in any given locality to ensure a certain amount of land is kept for food production. This agency should have the power to prevent sales when land is being taken out of agricultural use or where there is serious risk of negative environmental consequences.

4.4.2 In certain circumstances the agency should have the power to buy land and give or sell it to community organisations, local active farmers or the county farm estate. There are already non-profit land trusts such as the Soil Association Land Trust, the Biodynamic Land Trust and The Ecological Land Co-operative, all of which are public orientated, have objectives to support agroecological farmers, and which could take on land such as this. These trusts in England are currently small, however with more support and funding they could have much greater capacity. These trusts could also manage the stewardship of farms where there is no succession.

4.5 Reform planning policy[edit]

4.5.1 Agricultural ties on dwellings should be protected to guarantee a secure supply of accommodation for land workers and prevent land being taken out of agricultural use.

4.5.2 Planning policy should be reformed to support agroecological development of land based on social and ecological value. /133 In particular, there should be a clear policy route for low impact farming operations to provide residential accommodation. This could be a One Planet Development Policy, as is currently in force in Wales. /134

4.5.3 Planning officers and local council authorities should be trained in low impact development planning and local authorities should establish clear plans to support the development of new agricultural holdings.

4.5.4 Planning legislation should support self-build accommodation for agricultural workers. We welcome recent steps to facilitate self-build accommodation, but this needs to be encouraged by further government legislation. In particular, measures should be taken to ensure support for self-build housing is focused on affordable housing, not luxury housing. Single plot exception sites for self-build affordable housing (already a policy in some local authorities) should become a national policy. /135

4.5.5 Peri-urban areas should be prioritised for food production. Land around cities should be re-zoned accordingly, and unused, equestrian and brownfield land should be progressively taxed at an increasing rate the nearer the land is to cities and the longer it sits empty. [7]

4.5.6 All significant development on land should require improved multiple impact assessments to include not only ecological impact assessments as part of the planning process, but stronger and more comprehensive community and economic impact assessments.

4.6 Reform the fiscal framework of land use[edit]

4.6.1 Make transparent which offshore tax havens and overseas investors own land in England. /136

4.6.2 Overhaul the relationship between land and inheritance tax.

4.6.2 (a) Create an upper limit for the value of farmland that is exempt from inheritance tax. Farms should be inheritable, but beyond a certain size and value land should be taxed at a higher rate with less exemptions. This should be dependent on the region, quality and per-acre value of the land.

4.6.2 (b) Inheritance tax exemption should be restricted to specific cases such as for family members who are actively farming inherited land and for landowners who transfer ownership to a land trust where land is used for high social and/or ecological values, e.g. social housing schemes, supporting new entrant farmers, carbon sequestration etc.

4.6.3 Create fiscal incentives to lower the concentration of land ownership. This would encourage the release of parts of large landholdings (perhaps at least 1% of holdings of 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) or more) and provide new affordable holdings near existing settlements. A community land trust or other similar structure could offer protection from sale for non-agricultural use, or a long lease could enable reversion to the existing owner if the land ceases to be farmed. /137 These should be granted where:

4.6.3 (a) Land owners release landholdings to support succession and bring in newentrant farmers to work alongside and build up businesses with retiring farmers.

4.6.3 (b) Land is sold for fully or predominantly affordable housing (affordable in relation to wages, not market value) in rural areas. /138 Two tax incentives that could be applied are: capital gains rollover relief and relief from inheritance tax. The former would mean that Capital Gains Rollover provisions apply to land sold for development as a rural exception site, a site for 100% affordable housing, or for mixed market and affordable housing sites. /139 The latter would require that affordable rented housing is added to the asset classes eligible for ‘Conditional Exemption from Inheritance Tax on Death’. /140

4.6.4 Establish a Review Group to develop proposals for a ‘Location Charge’ (some forms of this are known as ‘Land Value Tax’). [8] This could be a review group incorporated into the Land Commission (see policy recommendations 3.1.1 and 9.6.1) or be a separate review process.

4.6.5 As part of the government’s extraterritorial human rights obligations and in order to address land grabbing and human rights violations overseas, it must put into practice adequate and effective regulation of UK based corporate and financial actors. /143

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


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Notes and references

  1. We acknowledge the UK government’s recent proposals to: remove fees for finding out who owns land held by UK firms and offshore companies (datasets scheduled for release Autumn 2017); ensure a complete register of ownership by 2030; and to better record all those who have a stake in parcels of land. /124
  2. When consulting and drafting the Scottish Land Reform Bill, these guidelines were used as a basis.
  3. The European Co-ordination of La Via Campesina is campaigning for the EU to implement The Voluntary Guidelines on The Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests through a directive on land tenure in Europe. /125
  4. The Voluntary Guidelines on The Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests were used as a key framework for developing recommendations in the Scottish Land Reform Act. /126
  5. There are many good recommendations in the Guidance for Local Authority Rural Estate Asset Management Plan produced in 2015. /132
  6. Examples include the Crofters’ Right to Buy in Scotland: https://scotland.shelter.org.uk/get_advice/advice_topics/renting_rights/crofters_rights/crofters_right_to_buy
  7. This should be brought into legislation to curtail the current speculation on the prospective increase in financial value of land once land-use designation is changed, a practice which has led to an increase in the cost of agricultural land and restricted the amount of land available to agriculture and horticulture.
  8. A Land Value Tax is an alternative property tax. Like business rates and council tax, it would be levied annually. /141 The benefit of progressive tax reforms such as a Land Value Tax or a Location Charge essentially encourage productive land use, starting with the most valuable land in both urban and rural areas. This would combine the benefits of avoiding speculative land hoarding at the same time as promoting greater care of natural resources. /142