A report commissioned for the Labour Party entitled “Land for the Many” has been published, proposing radical changes to the way that land is used and controlled in the United Kingdom. It makes many recommendations which are described as “proposals to the Labour Party” to consider as part of its policy development process in advance of the next general election. The Labour Party’s response to the report is awaited. Given the current state of the political landscape in the UK, and with a general election potentially in the offing, it will be interesting to all those with an interest in UK property, be it as an investor, developer or property owner, to see how many of these ideas gain momentum over the coming months.
Included in the proposals are:
Transparency: free and open access to information on who owns land will be required, including the identity of beneficial owners. Specific measures include a public register of charges and options over land titles, public databases of the prices paid for all property and of public subsidies paid on land and a full register of planning permissions, including developers’ commitments. The report calls for the Land Registry and the Ordnance Survey to become executive agencies of government.
Stabilisation of house and land prices to discourage land and housing being treated as financial assets: measures proposed to achieve this include an ambitious social house building programme, major reforms of the private rented sector (eg a cap on annual permissible rent increases, limited grounds for eviction within the first three years of a tenancy, increased eviction notice periods and a national register of landlords) and encouragement of a shift in bank lending away from real estate towards more strategically useful sectors of the economy.
The creation of a Common Ground Trust is proposed as a publicly-backed but independent non-profit institution which would buy the land beneath houses and lease it to members. It would act as a vehicle for bringing land into common ownership by creating a mechanism for the gradual, voluntary, but potentially large scale, transfer of land.
Tax reform: a shake-up of many of the taxes considered by the report to be inadequate, regressive and economically inefficient such as council tax (the suggested replacement is a progressive property tax payable by owners and including vacant and derelict residential land), SDLT (phased out for those buying homes to live in themselves), CGT (increased for second homes and investment properties), business rates (replaced with a Land Value Tax) and inheritance tax (abolished and replaced with a lifetime gifts tax). The taxation of offshore owners would be extended.
Increased involvement of local authorities and the community in development plans and proposals: Public Development Corporations should be the prime movers in the land market. Community-led development and ownership of land should be promoted, including Community-Led Housing (“CLH”) as a means of taking land into permanent community ownership, the introduction of a new “Community Right to Buy”, and the creation of powers to assign sites of potential community value to a new “Community Ownership” use class, which would have development rights. The sale of public land should end, and local authorities should have an increased role in site assembly and preparation.
Other potential reforms to the planning system are proposed including reforms to compulsory purchase legislation to allow public authorities to acquire land at near use value and use new Compulsory Sale Orders (“CSOs”) to direct that land be sold by public auction to the highest bidder. Office to residential permitted development rights should be removed and a new D3 (public realm) Use Class, granting rights of access for civic and cultural purposes, should be a requirement for all new developments incorporating open space (this would be alongside a new urban right to roam).