Tag Archives: affordable housing

Three stories about English land secrecy

By Prof Antonia Layard, Professor of Law (University of Bristol Law School).*

Information about land is valuable, politically, fiscally and – increasingly – as geospatial data products ripe for commercial development. Since William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book was completed in 1086, politicians, campaigners and citizens have wanted to know who owns what. Taxation continues to matter but so does freedom of information. Microeconomics, for example, teaches us that a “free market” relies on symmetry of information: if one party knows more than another, the level playing field is distorted. Money laundering and terrorist financing justify the EU’s pursuit of registers of beneficial ownership. Transparency campaigners argue that open and free data on land ownership is both a citizen’s right and that open registers improve efforts to crack down on tax avoidance. Although rights to privacy continue to resonate in English politics, particularly to beneficial ownership in trusts, the calls for transparency grow louder.

And yet, as these three stories about land secrecy show, we still struggle for information about land ownership and deals. While land registry data is publicly available it is held by estate, rather than being mapped cadastrally, giving a birdseye view of land ownership by presenting the boundaries of land ownership spatially. The paradoxical result, as MSP Andy Wightman has pointed out, is that it is easier to assemble cadastral information for previous generations, based on historical surveys (Domesday, the 1830-1840s Tithe Maps, The Return of Owners of Land from 1873-5 or the 1940s Farm Land Use mapping in England) than map land ownership today. Of course, transparency could be achieved at the stroke of a political pen to find out who owns England (story 1), to understand the extent and range of beneficial ownership of land (story 2) or to avoid the use of “redacting” in “viability assessments” to reduce the amount of newly built affordable housing (story 3). Yet – so far – there is a lack of political will to end ongoing secrecy about land ownership and land deals. Continue reading

Planning Law and the Housing Crisis in Bristol

By Mr Ed Burtonshaw-Gunn, PhD Researcher and Land Law Tutor (University of Bristol Law School).

The housing crisis ignites local and national media coverage. It is near impossible to pick up a newspaper or turn on the evening news without reading or hearing a story about the nation’s obsession with (or need for) housing. Soaring house prices, new housebuilding targets championed by politicians or think tanks, or calls to abolish on the much-loved green belt land protection are all on the news agenda. Yet, while covering these stories the media often focus on the effects of the housing crisis, and not the root cause(s). My research is examining how planning law, policy, and practice, shape the production of housing in Bristol, and argues that the housing crisis can be fundamentally reduced to one major factor. For 40 years, the supply of new housing has failed to meet nation’s demand.

On the 6th December, I was invited to present my research to the Property Network of the Bristol Junior Chamber. The audience was made up of a range of Bristol housing stakeholders; property and planning lawyers, planning engagement and public-relations consultants, and housing association managers. The presentation covered three areas; the national housing crisis, house building in Bristol, and a prominent finding from my research, the importance and methods of delivering affordable housing in Bristol. Continue reading