4 out of 5 stars
The question, who owns England? is such a simple question. And yet the answer to this is one of our country’s oldest and best-kept secrets. And the keepers of those secrets? Our ancient aristocracy and elite, who between them own vast swathes of our land. So much so, that only 1% (yes one per cent) of the population of the country owns 50% of the land. The Land Registry only knows for definite around 83% of the actual owners of the land of England.
To understand how we are in this situation you have to head back in our history nearly 1000 years, to the time when William the Bastard became William the Conqueror. His victory over Harold allowed him to have the largest land grab and to reward favourite people in his court with lands and property. He commissioned the Doomsday report, to ensure that he hadn’t missed any land that could be of some benefit to the crown.
Some of the descendants of those people granted land by William still own it.
The Crown owns large tracts, as you’d expect and pays tax on the income from those lands. However, it uses its two Duchy’s (Cornwall and Lancaster) to ensure that it isn’t paying tax on other vast swathes of land it has spread all around the country. A lot of land is owned by organisations like the National Trust, the Forestry Commission, the Church owns a lot too, but not as much as they used to, plus other big businesses now own substantial amounts. However, most of the elite and aristocracy don’t want people knowing how much land they have nor do they want you to know how much they are able to claim in benefits from it. They have built walls, moved villages and used the enclosure acts to steal the common land for their own use. All to stop us discovering exactly how much they own.
They now use modern tools to hide their assets away from us and the taxman, so he discovers that lots of land is now owned by shell companies based in tax havens. But the same tools that enable them to do this, can be used to answer the question posed; who owns England? Guy Shrubsole has spent lots of time exploring some of the vast estates and tramping over moors and entering empty Mayfair mansions as well as using the modern tools of digital mapping to answer this question.
This book is his expose of the truths of land ownership and what we can do to wrestle back control of this very limited asset. He has a lot of sensible suggestions on how we can ensure that this tiny elite are no longer the sole beneficiaries of the wealth and power that is derived from land. This struggle will be a long and tedious one as these people will not want to give up land that they have held for time immemorial. He is impassioned about this subject and writes in a very clear way with very well thought out solutions to solve the problem. As you read it you can sense his fury that in the modern age this is still an issue.
It is a must-read for anyone remotely interested in our countryside and landscapes and a call to virtual arms to apply the pressure needed to change the system for the better.