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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Our land – our precious resource

by John Maryon

AS A VITAL part of the earth’s biosphere, the land we live on, along with the air we breathe and the water we drink, are basic for the survival of life, including our own. One of Lenin’s first decrees was to abolish the private ownership of land in the countryside and to redistribute it from the church and aristocracy to the peasants. Land is too precious to be regarded as a tradeable asset for speculation or to form a basis for the accumulation of wealth. All land should belong to the people under common ownership as their birth-right.

The private ownership of land allows for exploitation in the form of rent and access costs for living or any economic activity. Landowners can levy a charge whilst making no contribution in return. They did not create the land. Their regular income represents a never-ending drain on wealth created by others. Two-thirds of all registered land in Britain is owned by just 189,009 families whilst fewer than 5,000 landowners own 27 per cent. Land ownership is increasingly seen as a tax efficient speculative strategy by wealthy foreigners and off-shore fund managers.

Britain’s large land owners include the Church of England, pension funds and aristocrats. Many are pillars of the establishment with strong links to the Conservative Party. This class has ensured that the pledge in the Labour Party’s 1945 Manifesto for a radical solution to the crippling problems of land acquisition was never implemented. The Royal Family are also large landowners, along with the Dukes of Westminster and Northumberland.

Whereas Britain’s 189,000 large land-owners are liable for council tax if they own property, they pay no tax on owning their land. In England it is estimated that less than one per cent of the population own half the land. If the land were distributed, each one of us would have about half an acre. The form in which agricultural subsidies are paid each year is being transformed post-Brexit and is currently estimated at £3 billion per year.

The New Communist Party calls for public ownership of all land with provision for leasehold without charge for owner-occupiers. It is NCP policy to cap rents and impose proper taxation for land ownership that would close off-shore tax havens. The funds generated could off-set council tax, which is, in reality, a regressive tax measure.

In urban areas, land ownership is the biggest factor in the cost of housing or productive enterprises. In 2020 the costs for building land, generally speaking, ranged from £300,000 per acre in Northern Britain to £1-million in the South. The most expensive land is to be found in central London, where the recent opening of Pandora’s Box revealed a billionaires’ playground. The NCP regards the system of land ownership in Britain as obscenely undemocratic.

Thousands of acres of public-owned land are being transferred into private ownership at an alarming rate. Private Finance Initiative (PFI) projects, the conversion of streets into shopping arcades and the privatisation of utilities, along with the sale and lease-back of public buildings, including health centres, all contribute to this process.

In the countryside the problems are no less acute. The number of small farms is in decline as they struggle to cope with the volatility of milk, beef and lamb prices. With the ending of the Milk Marketing Boards, many have been forced into contracts that expose them to full market forces. Tenant farmers have been affected by an increasing rent burden. Big business is taking over, and the large estates are increasing in size.Farmers have traditionally been stewards of the countryside. By being in close daily contact with the land they loved, they could take a pride in protecting wildlife and ensuring a good level of biodiversity on their farms. Prince Charles has himself been outspoken in his calls to protect the environment.

With average house prices over 10 times the annual income of most rural workers, housing has become a growing problem. A dwindling stock of affordable housing for key workers such as teachers, nurses, police officers, and land workers has forced many young people to move out, leaving an ageing and increasingly isolated population. Villages are being turned into dormitories for wealthy incomers. Pubs, shops, schools and even churches are being converted into upmarket housing. Cuts and privatisations have devastated public transport and have led to a growing dependence on cars and a divide between those with and those without.

The NCP calls for the urgent building of council houses, funded by local council bonds, to supply a basic and affordable social need. The NCP also calls for the restoration of rural bus services and post offices.

Serious concerns exist about the potential damage from fracking to extract shale gas – often in areas of outstanding natural beauty. Contamination of the water-table with methane is a risk, and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) that had been locked away in the rocks is released when the gas is burned. The NCP is totally opposed to fracking in the UK.

According to {Big Issue}, over 20 per cent of the UK population live in poverty, a high proportion of whom live in rural areas. With benefit cuts and fuel poverty caused by rip-off energy costs, the dependence on foodbanks continues to grow.

Wages and conditions for agricultural workers in England and Wales are no longer protected by the Agricultural Wages Boards and many permanent jobs are increasingly being replaced with casual labour. The NCP calls for the full and immediate restoration of those Boards that were abolished.

Land is a precious resource upon which we all depend. Those who work on the land should be respected and paid well. Our land and all the creatures that live on it must be protected and managed for the benefit of all the people. It is not a commodity to be used to line the pockets of the exploiting class.