Landed with new register

Now we know more about who owns the land, reports Mark Metcalf

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A voluntary land ownership registration scheme that started a decade ago has proved a major success, with most of land across the north now on the books of the Land Registry.

The Land Registration Act 2002 was introduced when most land was not registered, with coverage levels below 40 per cent in North Yorkshire, Cumbria, North Lincolnshire, Merseyside and Derbyshire. Lancashire, Lincolnshire, York and East Yorkshire were all below 50 per cent.

That has now changed dramatically. By last month, registration in Lancashire was up to 83 per cent, and in North Yorkshire the figure was 81 per cent.

These latest figures are helping answer the question of who owns Britain. Back in 1874 the compilation by local government boards of The Return of the Owners of Land proved an embarrassment to the handful of landowners who owned most of the country.

Land value tax

No similar study was undertaken until Kevin Cahill’s 2001 book Who Owns Britain completed a lifetime’s work and revealed that 189,000 people owned 88 per cent of the land. The Duke of Westminster at Eaton Hall near Chester is a large landowner with over 130,000 acres. As some of his holdings are in central London then according to The Sunday Times Rich List 2011 he is worth £7.35 billion and is the richest UK-born person in Britain.

Over the last decade the issue of land reform has been high on the political agenda in Scotland but that has not been the case in England and Wales. Now, Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, has tabled a private member’s bill seeking parliamentary support for research into “the merits of replacing the council tax and non-domestic rates in England with an annual levy on the unimproved value of all land”.

A land value tax (LVT) was first promoted by American economist Henry George in the late 19th century. It has been introduced in a number of countries, including Russia and Estonia. Ireland appears to be wavering on its commitment to introduce an LVT next year. In the UK some Liberal Democrats have been longstanding advocates.

Run down

Supporters believe LVT can prevent investment in unproductive property. In her speech to MPs Lucas said: “LVT encourages efficient and sustainable use of land, as owners of derelict land or properties that they have deliberately allowed to become run down pay the same as those who take care of their properties.”

The Brighton MP said the Valuation Office Agency should be able to assess the value of all land. With most land now registered such a task would now be considerably easier than a decade ago. Lucas’s bill is due a second reading in November.

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