Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Who owns Britain?

It is a fact that although there are land registries covering Scotland, both parts of Ireland, England and Wales, costing the taxpayer annually over £200 million to operate, they cannot tell you how much land is held by the largest landowners. This is because only land that has been bought and sold since 1925 has had to be registered.

When author Kevin Cahill had his first book ‘WHO OWNS BRITAIN – the hidden facts behind landownership in the UK and Ireland’ published in 2001 he estimated that between 30% and 50% of the acreage of England and Wales was unregistered.

Since then the Land Registry has introduced a voluntary registration scheme and this “has increased the number of landowners who have registered their land. For example Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the sixth Duke of Westminster has been talked into co-operating and his whole estate of close to 130,000 acres has now been registered. However in the south west very few major landowners have bothered to register – there’s no reason for landowners to register, there’s no incentive” says Cahill. 

Grosvenor like most of the large landowners in Britain can trace their family history back many generations. In the Burke’s Peerage of 1896 it states ‘the founder of the English Grosvenors Gilbert Le Grosvenour came over in the train of William the Conqueror in 1066” and following the victory at the Battle of Hastings was rewarded with estates in Cheshire and the Earldom of Chester.

Five hundred years later Henry the VIII persuaded the country to give up Catholicism by dissolving the monasteries and distributing the 10 million acres of land to just 1,500 families.  The final ‘capture’ of land rights from ordinary people came during the Industrial Revolution and the various ‘Acts of Enclosure” in which common lands that could be grazed were enclosed. Poverty and starvation removed people from the land and forced them into the factories of the Industrial revolution.

Millions also emigrated to places such as Canada and Australia, where if they could find the money they could buy some land and erect a house to live in. It may thus come as a shock to any of their relatives still living on this land that they don’t own it!

Kevin Cahill says “that’s not my claim, I merely repeat what the government states in the notes on the Parliamentary website relating to the Registration of Land Act 2002: ‘The Crown is the only absolute owner of land in England and Wales, all others held in land in one of two forms of [medieval] tenure, leasehold and freehold [is fee simple’] This is also the case in Australia, Canada and many other places. Freeholders do not own ‘their land’ – fee simple is a medieval term for the sum paid to represent the fact that freehold was actually a tenancy. I would like people to own their own property with no secondary owner hidden in the woodwork”.

Nine years ago Cahill’s book, compiled after almost a lifetime of research, lifted the lid on who owned Britain. It revealed that approximately 189,000 people own 88% of the land, with over 25 million acres of land in England and Wales occupied by just over 150,000 individuals or families. This translates into roughly 0.28% of the population owning 2/3rds of the land.

These are staggering statistics. Yet they have hardly merited a mention in the newspapers, or on radio and TV. And when the BBC did see fit to run a programme based on Cahill’s work it hardly acknowledged him. Consequently the nation’s favourite channel has now been banned from serialising Cahill’s follow-up ‘Who Owns the World’, despite approaches to him by BBC Executives.

No major political party has also seen fit to use them – Cahill has always believed that it won’t be until Labour is in opposition that they will realise “they’ve missed an opportunity”. It was Labour, of course under the then leadership of Tony Blair that took the ‘revolutionary step’ of excluding hereditary peers from the House of Lords, many of whom were from established large land owning families.

Meanwhile large landowners are also the beneficiaries of massive subsidies through the European Union’s €55 billion CAP programme.  Until the last few years exactly how much each gets was unknown as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs didn’t release such figures in a way that was easily understandable.

Thanks however to the efforts of all this has changed in recent years, and in 2008 it’s known that €3755 million was distributed to landowners and farmers in Britain. Of which exactly half went direct to the top 10% of recipients with the average direct aid per hectare [2.4 acres] of land being €224.

“The subsidy is enabling land owners to keep land off the market for doing nothing. We have 5 million acres for example that is set aside” says Cahill who sees the European Union as little more than an ‘outdoor relief organisation for Europe’s redundant aristocracy’.

Cahill believes “with less land builders have to pay more for that which is available. A few years back around 70% of the cost of a house was for the land, when in reality it should have been about 20%. In Devon where I live a lot of village houses were sold to second home owners and nobody was building new homes so the supply dried up and with nobody releasing land then people, including agricultural workers, are being squeezed from two sides.”

 ‘WHO OWNS BRITAIN – the hidden facts behind landownership in the UK and Ireland’

Mainstream Publishing published ‘WHO OWNS THE WORLD – the hidden facts behind land ownership’ in 2007. 

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