Peter and Dan Snow’s Whose Land is it Anyway? was a treat: a whirlwind tour around the issues surrounding land ownership in the UK today. And Kevin Cahill, mentioned yesterday, did get a “special consultant” credit in the titles (as well as a brief appearance).
Several key points were of interest: the landed gentry from feudal times continues to own a huge chunk of Britain, subsidised through the taxpayer’s nose; that there has been a notable drift with many of the oldest landowners, including the church, selling off rural land to purchase more profitable urban land; that the leasehold reforms in the 90s has produced a churn effect, enabling individuals to buy their lease, but this is doing nothing to increase supply and is simply carving up large estates into smaller holdings; that one of the best ways to see your property values shoot up is to have a film star move in around the corner.
Much food for thought, not least of all whether it really makes sense for Britain to be so rural given the population pressures. Having taken a greater interest in rural issues over the past half decade, what has struck me is how village life is being threatened by restrictive planning regulations primarily, which restrict the supply of housing and force locals to be replaced by commuters and retired people.
But to a degree, there is a danger that it could have slightly misled viewers into thinking that the issue is how much land by geographical area is in private hands, rather than value. When I talk about neo-feudalism, my problem isn’t Madonna buying a country pile, it is speculators holding urban dwellers to ransom. The buy to let phenomenon is a boom industry at the moment, but what will happen to the next generation 20 years down the line when even that market has closed to them. I really don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that without reform we could be looking at a whole underclass of essentially serfs; people with no assets and no prospect of gaining them. Their landlords may be Mr and Mrs Bloggs rather than the Duke and Duchess of Bloggshire, but the fundamental economics and social injustice of 500 years ago will be very real.
I’m not convinced we’ll ever get that far as the resultant problems of social dismobility and unrest will emerge long before it gets too ingrained, but that in itself points to a tricky economic future.