Brexiting the current land system

Kate SwadeThe UK has voted to leave the EU. The Shared Assets office, along with the rest of the country, is trying to digest the implications.

Whichever way you voted, one thing is clear: many people in this country feel the current system isn’t working for them. And in many ways, they’re right. The hollowing out of ex-industrial towns, the collapse of rural and coastal economies and relentlessly rising rents and property prices are all real issues that result in poverty, inequality, dislocation and increasing divisions between rural and urban, north and south, settled and recently arrived.

At Shared Assets we believe that the ways we currently use, govern and manage land and natural resources are key elements in that broken system, creating benefits for the few while ignoring the needs of the many. We have been dismayed that the campaign focused on exploiting and widening those divisions rather than debating the fundamentals of the systems we use to allocate resources and work together to take decisions about how they are used.

We wouldn’t have chosen this outcome but we are determined that if we are now to build a future outside the EU it should be one that nurtures people and the environment and creates shared benefits for all our communities, wherever they live.

In order to do that we need to manage our resources for the common good.

So what would that look like?

We believe that a system that supports management of our woodlands, waterways, parks, green spaces, farmland and coastal areas for the common good would:

Create livelihoods for individuals

A new rural economy is needed. The subsidised industrial farming system relies on automation and cheap migrant labour, breaking the economic link between rural areas and the food they produce.  We want to see a system that makes a career in sustainable food and fuel production a sensible life choice for anyone, and that rewards the creation of social and environmental benefits.

Enrich the environment

The legacy of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy is varied, but it has had a huge impact on our natural environment. Any new subsidy system should fund ecological farming and land management methods, and penalise those which damage the environment. It should also encourage a systemic approach that links, for example, the deforestation of uplands with flooding downstream.

Produce the things people need

Too much land in the UK is unproductive.  By improving the productivity of land, whether that is to produce food and fuel, or to deliver wider social and environmental benefits we have an opportunity to reconnect people to the land and to forge new connections between urban, peri-urban and rural communities.

Create shared social and economic benefits

The current regime of subsidies and tax relief aimed at landowners helps to drive inequality of ownership and too often uses public resources to create private benefits. We have an opportunity to rethink the kinds of social, environmental and economic outcomes we want to achieve through financial incentivisation. Creating shared benefits is also crucial here: aiming for a world where all our diverse communities have a stake in our land and environment.

Have a high degree of community control and engagement

If Westminster responds to Brexit by increasing centralisation, there will be a huge missed opportunity. The much heralded ‘devolution revolution’ is piecemeal and problematic, but we must find opportunities to give people real power over the decisions that affect them including how land and resources locally are owned and used.

Place land at the centre of a wider process of system change

There has been a lot of talk from the Leave campaign about ‘taking the country back’. What we need now is to talk about how we take the country forward. Changing the way in which we see land needs to be central to any new way of seeing ourselves.

This is only the start of the debate, not the end of it. At Shared Assets we have a vision of a 21st century Britain that is open, progressive, inclusive and more equal, and we believe that common good land use lies at the heart of achieving it.

We wouldn’t have chosen to be starting from here, but let’s use the future of our land, our food system, our woodlands, and our parks and public squares as a catalyst, a starting point for a conversation about who we want to be.


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Michael Edwards
Michael Edwards
7 years ago

Good stuff but why only RURAL?
You might enjoy my recent article in SOUNDINGS on housing and land, a free download via this website, which starts like this:
‘The crisis affecting housing in Britain both reflects and contributes to most of the pathological features of the present conjuncture which the Kilburn Manifesto has analysed. The onslaught on living standards and wellbeing of most citizens during decades of triumphant neoliberalism has seen an economy increasingly dominated by financialisation, a debt-fuelled regime of wealth accumulation and a society dominated by rentiers — those whose incomes flow from profits and rents rather than productive work. In the housing field many UK residents are spending half their salaries on housing rents or mortgages but are inadequately and insecurely housed. These expenditures could be securing decent housing for all but instead are mainly pumping up the asset values and incomes of land and property owners, incumbent owner-occupiers and the professionals linked to the process. This is a field crying out for analysis which would lay bare what is really happening — the heroic Soundings project — and point towards policies and programmes taking us to a better future. Building such a programme, however, requires close attention to the fragmentation of class identity which the housing system has generated. There may, though, be grounds for optimism as the contradictions for capital worsen and more and more people are hit by the vindictive austerity flowing from public policy and an unforgiving market.’

Kate Swade
Kate Swade
7 years ago

Hi Michael, thanks for the comment. Your article looks great I look forward to reading it.

We are certainly interested in and involved in many of the issues and problems created in urban areas by the way in which the system permits investment in land and other assets – and believe that the issue of land and its ownership and economic treatment needs to be higher up the agenda. We’re part of a coalition organising which will bring together people involved in all parts of the debate about land and its use – both urban and rural – together. We deliberately don’t focus on housing because there are so many good people and organisations talking about it.

And – I want to live in a world where food growing and sustainable livelihoods relating to land and its management are thriving in urban areas… these can’t just be rural issues!


7 years ago
Reply to  Kate Swade

Access to land, bridging the urban rural divide are critical issues as we move forwards post Brexit. They have been for ages but we have to start looking at this huge disruption as an opportunity and push to move things forwards. Land and property are regarded as investments making it practically impossible for new starters, ordinary people to have access to land for innovative, more sustainable farming which we really need and for housing solutions which are more imaginative and accessible than the overpriced depressing for profit developments developers despoil our landscape with. Community self build, co-housing is very small in the UK again due to the land issue but there is so much derelict unused land available in our towns and cities and empty homes which are crying out for a creative approach to re-use. We need to join up the grassroots and find a way forwards that isn’t just a talking shop. Incredible North (Pam Warhurst RSA) is developing a new kind of prosperity that takes forwards the achievements of Todmorden and there are many other innovators out there. What is the next step?

Kate Swade
Kate Swade
7 years ago
Reply to  Rhiannon

Hi Rhiannon – yes! you’ve hit the nail on the head.

We have to be able to take Brexit as an opportunity to try and tackle some of these issues – and like you say there are many many people coming up with great projects, ideas and solutions. Joining them up is something we are trying to do with, and in our wider work at Shared Assets – working alongside some of the brilliant people developing new ways of doing things.

The thing I keep holding on to is that so much of this seems so sensible and straightforward that it should appeal to lots of people – and makes huge sense in policy terms. But maybe that’s just naive given the current system… 🙂

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