CommentSteven Saxby

Land for the many!

CommentSteven Saxby
Land for the many!
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GUY SHRUBSOLE'S RECENT BOOK and its accompanying website Who owns England? make for alarming reading, not least for the residents of the Cities of London and Westminster. Half of England is owned by less than 1% of the population; 30% has been owned by the aristocracy for centuries.

Andrew Duncan's Secret London sets out brilliantly who owns much of our central London constituency. The Earl of Radnor of the Pleydell-Bouvaries, has an estate off Fleet Street. Just across the road is an estate owned by Sir Robert Colraine Barclay, 15th in a lineage - stretching back to 1668 - of the Baronetcy of Pierston.

Around Covent Garden is the estate owned by Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, the 7th Marquess of Salisbury. It's not difficult to stay in a serviced apartment on his estate, if you can afford £124 per night!

But these are just some of the smaller estates, tiny compared to two 45 hectare estates in Marylebone: the Howard de Walden estate, owned by the descendants of the last Duke of Portland's sister; and the Portman estate, given to the Lord Chief Justice Portman by Henry VIII in 1533, and now owned by the 10th Viscount Portman, a British peer and property developer.

And then there is land owned by the Duke of Westminster, 40 hectares in Mayfair and 80 in Belgravia. If you are not a land owner you might not be very familiar with the size of a hectare. It's about the size of a football pitch. Hugh Grosvenor, the 7th duke, the richest under-30-year-old in the world, owns land the equivalent of 120 football pitches in Westminster alone.

His property empire is valued at £10.1 billion. It increased in value by £138 million last year - and yet he is not satisfied with his wealth. Seemingly the government took a £25 million sweetener from Grosvenor so he could buy out the remaining lease on a Territorial Army HQ in Mayfair and turn it into a luxury hotel. He also has plans to demolish flats on Cundy Street and Walden House. I am standing shoulder to shoulder with residents in opposing these plans.

Hugh Grosvenor's aspirations to develop his land in Westminster should worry us. It exposes the insecurity for many in the constituency living in leasehold or rental properties on land owned by the super rich, but is only one aspect of a wider problem concerning land injustice in our constituency.

Consider the foreign oligarchs leaving properties empty as investment opportunities while London faces a housing crisis - for example, the Mayfair mansion, owned by the son-in-law of the president of Kazakhstan, left empty for over 14 years. Consider the new-build luxury flats left empty while social tenants get forced out of the area.

Consider the scandal of empty homes of which there were 385 in Westminster in 2017 while councils and housing associations are selling off social housing properties at an alarming rate.

All the above are reasons why I am delighted that the Labour Party has launched Land For The Many. This report edited by George Monbiot aims to put land where it belongs: at the heart of political debate and discussion. It proposes radical but practical changes in the way land in the UK is used and governed. Many of them are similar to the recommendations made by Guy Shrubsole in his book and advocated by the Land Justice Network. I highly recommend reading the report online, or downloading the PDF.

As George Monbiot writes, the proposals would make the UK "a more equal, inclusive and generous-spirited nation, characterised not by private enclosure and public squalor, but by private sufficiency and public luxury."

Labour parliamentary candidate, Cities of London and Westminster.