Who Owns Britain?
Posted on August 11, 2011
Ever since I played cricket at Farleigh House near Basingstoke earlier this summer, I have been intrigued by who owns these great swathes of this green and pleasant land. I have also been quite staggered by some of the research I have carried out on the Internet which indicates the potential invasion of Russian Oligarchs/Gangsters on to land such as the 10,000 acre Crichel Estate in Dorset that has recently entered the market at a cool £100m. I was always under the impression that these estates that have passed through generations since the days Feudalism were “safe” in the hands of ‘Tim nice but dim’ eccentrics. Perhaps not.
I am plagiarising a bit here, but these figures make interesting reading, because it is almost certain that if you live outside London you are surrounded by, or even living on land that could well end up in the hands of people who you may not want on your doorstep. Ready……in Britain there is 60 million acres of land, two thirds of it is owned by 0.36% of the population or 158,000 families whilst 24 million people live on 3 million acres of urban plot. In 1980, 75% of British land was owned by inheritance or sold to British landowners with inheritance money. Since the global boom that ended in 2008 that has dropped to 11% with the rest being snapped up by foreign billionaires fascinated by British costume dramas and the aristocracy.
In recent years the following estates have been sold off: Aberuchill, Perthshire (Steel magnate Vladimir Lison – £6.8m and 3,300 acres), Hascombe Court, Surrey (Boris Berezovsky – £12m), Fyning Hill, Midhurst (Roman Abramovich – £12m) and Easton Neston, Northamptonshire (Leon Max – £15m). Closer to my home we have Stefan Perrson who owns an 8,500 shooting estate in Wiltshire and the Linkenholt estate near Andover. In most cases these are not eccentric Lords Of The Manor types who retain their dubious moral conscience by operating a sort of modern feudal system of employing and housing local people on their estates. It is somewhat disturbing that the people of the villages like the one on the Crichel estate are keeping their heads down through fear of upsetting new owners who may well come with their own entourage. They could be jobless and homeless.
Tied jobs and tied houses are at stake and the Serfs are frightened stiff, this is because many landowners don’t give a toss about them when the billionaires come knocking. Being a Serf to Lord Ponsonby-Smythe is one thing, being a Serf to a Russian with an AK45 and a blacked out Range Rover is quite another. Our local land owner who resides at Farleigh House is Lord Portsmouth, he does his bit for the peasants by allowing us to play cricket in his garden and he even built the Farleigh Club, a little bar for the local Serfs to drink in. I have never met him, but he seems pretty decent from what I have heard, however I would be rather concerned if Roman Gangstervich rolled up and bought up great swathes of Farleigh Wallop, Cliddesden and Dummer and not just because it would create a blank in my Sunday cricket diary. Surely it shouldn’t be that easy to buy up huge chunks of England?
Carol Wilcox (secretary of the labour land campaign) has an antidote that may just work if only it were allowed. Rather than taxing income so heavily or seeing the aspiration to ownership taxed by stamp duty, why not impose an annual tax on the productive value of land by acre. This could allow tenants of all kinds to own a patch of their own at a fair price rather than millions of acres of unused land being owned by a few elitists who don’t use it. Suddenly all this land would become less attractive to the often absent foreign investors with no real allegiance to England as they also own properties in several other countries .There are vast amounts of derelict sites and empty properties owned by an elite few, surely the only reason to own land is to actually use it for something?
Meanwhile the hereditary repressed in the surrounding villages of the Crichel Estate are praying that Prince Charles is going to buy the estate for William and Kate (she is just like us you know, I read it in the paper) to maintain the Status Quo. Modern day Feudalism is alive and kicking on many of these estates but what could be about to happen is far more chilling than having to be eternally grateful to the Lord of the Manor for a tied house and 24/7 job for a pittance. It reminds me of the relationship between Ted the repressed land worker and Ralph the Landowner that was created by Paul Whitehouse for The Fast Show.
“Aaah Ted….. the chickens have escaped from their pen again”
“Sorry about that Sir, it won’t happen again Sir.”
“Never mind Ted……. would you like a drink Ted.”
Now it would be:
“Ted, Sergei tells me ze chickens have escaped from zee compound…. ees zis correct Ted”
“Sorry Lord Vladimir, it won’t………..
“Take him away Sergei”