“Firms on Caribbean island chain own 23,000 UK properties”

[The article says £1.5 billion of property is owned by these companies in the south-west of England]

“A quarter of property in England and Wales owned by overseas firms is held by entities registered in the British Virgin Islands, BBC analysis has found.

The Caribbean archipelago is the official home of companies that own 23,000 properties – more than any other country.

They are owned by 11,700 firms registered in the overseas territory.
The finding emerged from BBC analysis conducted of Land Registry data on overseas property ownership.

The research found there are around 97,000 properties in England and Wales held by overseas firms, as of January 2018. It adds to concerns that companies registered in British-controlled tax havens have been used to avoid tax.

Close behind the British Virgin Islands (BVI), which has a population of just 30,600, are Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

Of the properties owned by overseas companies in England and Wales, two thirds are registered to firms in the British Virgin Islands, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

Many foreign UK property owners are also officially headquartered in Hong Kong, Panama and Ireland.

The analysis provides a new picture of ownership of property by overseas companies in England and Wales following a decision last November to make the database public and free to access.

It found:
Close to half (44%) of all properties owned by overseas companies in England and Wales are located in London

More than one in ten (11,500) properties owned by overseas companies in England and Wales are located in the City of Westminster

More than 6,000 properties owned by foreign companies are in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

The government of the British Virgin Islands said it was incorrect to label the country as a tax haven.

It said that there were many practical reasons why UK properties might be owned by companies incorporated in the BVI. It argued that BVI companies can bring together multiple investors and owners, which is useful for big commercial property deals that have investors in more than one country.
The BVI also said that it shared “necessary information” including ownership details with relevant authorities. …”


“Since Margaret Thatcher came to power, 10% of the area of Britain has left public ownership. No wonder there’s a housing crisis”

“… in all the proliferating discussion about the rights and wrongs of the history of privatisation in Britain – both from those determined to row back against the neoliberal tide and those convinced that renationalisation is the wrong answer – Britain’s biggest privatisation of all never merits a mention. This is partly because so few people are aware that it has even taken place, and partly because it has never been properly studied. What is this mega-privatisation? The privatisation of land.

Some activists have hinted at it. Last October, for instance, the New Economics Foundation (NEF), a progressive thinktank, called in this newspaper for the government to stop selling public land. But the NEF’s is solely a present-day story, picturing land privatisation as a new phenomenon. It gives no sense of the fact that this has been occurring on a massive scale for fully 39 years, since the day that Margaret Thatcher entered Downing Street. During that period, all types of public land have been targeted, held by local and central government alike. And while disposals have generally been heaviest under Tory and Tory-led administrations, they definitely did not abate under New Labour; indeed the NHS estate, in particular, was ravaged during the Blair years.

All told, around 2 million hectares of public land have been privatised during the past four decades. This amounts to an eye-watering 10% of the entire British land mass, and about half of all the land that was owned by public bodies when Thatcher assumed power. How much is the land that has been privatised in Britain worth? It is impossible to say for sure. But my conservative estimate, explained in my forthcoming book on this historic privatisation, called The New Enclosure, is somewhere in the region of £400bn in today’s prices. This dwarfs the value of all of Britain’s other, better known, and often bitterly contested, privatisations. …”



“A Tory minister has been taken to task for juvenile political point scoring by an unlikely source – a senior Tory MP.

The incredible spat between two of the Tories’ most prolific tweeters broke out when Treasury Secretary Liz Truss took a cheap shot at a housing policy being considered by Labour.

Under the plan, which is revealed on the front page of today’s Guardian, landowners would no longer be allowed to inflate the price of land sold for property development:

[There then follows a nasty Twitter spat between Tories Liz Truss and Nick Boles where Bowles sticks up for Corbyn!!!]

Truss responded by trying to tar the attempt to get more council homes built as some kind of Stalinist land grab.

But Nick Boles, himself a former planning minister, was having none of it.

The pair continued to spar until Truss brought the embarrassing blue-on-blue battle to a curt conclusion.

The clash comes after Boles made clear his dissatisfaction with abject lack of policy ideas coming from the Government and his party. …

The Conservative family is not a happy one.

As for Truss’ objections to Labour’s policy, we were reminded of a policy included in the last budget by her boss, Chancellor Philip Hammond.

Hammond announced an anti-land banking policy which the Tories had described as “Mugabe-style expropriation” when Labour floated the idea.

Liz Truss will be defending this “sinister confiscation” before you know it…


Tories disagree about compulsory land purchase for housing

Wonder where Swire stands on this?

“Labour’s plan to force the cheap sale of land to the state to boost housebuilding has been branded “deeply sinister” by Liz Truss, chief secretary to the Treasury, but the proposal has exposed a split in the Conservatives with influential Tory backbenchers backing the plan.

The shadow housing secretary, John Healey, told the Guardian on Thursday that a Jeremy Corbyn-led government could use compulsory purchase powers to buy land at closer to agricultural value rather than paying up to 100 times more, the kind of mark-up that land zoned for housing can currently fetch.

The proposal is intended to reduce the cost of building new council housing but Truss responded on Twitter saying: “First the utility companies, then the landowners. Who next? #freedomerosion #confiscation”.

She said she could not support the state imposing prices on landowners or private companies, adding: “We need more market not less.”

Nick Boles, the former Tory planning minister, who supports a similar policy to Labour, denied it was sinister and replied to Truss: “Why should a few landowners receive all of the windfall profit from planning permission when the taxpayer bears the cost of infrastructure?”

He argued that existing prices of development land aren’t the product of market forces.

“They’re the product of artificial scarcity created by the nationalisation of development rights and the introduction of the planning system,” he said.

Former education minister Robert Halfon also said he was sympathetic to the idea and said it was “an option we should look at”.

“We have to rapidly solve our housing crisis and we need to build social housing quickly,” he said. “We need to seriously look at this kind of thing and see the evidence on whether it would make a difference or not.”

Sajid Javid, the housing secretary, is examining proposals to remove planning permission from those who build too slowly. Oliver Letwin, the former Downing Street policy chief, is due to publish a review of land-banking later this year.

Landowners warned that small farms could suffer from the Labour proposal, which they described as “seeking to forcibly remove their assets at artificially low prices”.

“Compulsory purchase of land should only ever be a last resort and in practice it is far more likely to be small family farms that suffer, not the big players who have far more means to defend themselves,” said Christopher Price, policy director at the Country Land and Business Association which represents over 30,000 landowners across rural England and Wales.

Paul Smith, managing director of Strategic Land Group which makes money by securing planning permission for greenfield sites and sharing in the uplift in value, also attacked the plan.

“Land values are a consequence, not a cause, of house prices,” he said. “The industry and government should pool its collective wisdom and have a proper conversation around finding a workable solution to freeing up land – there are surely more straightforward ways to release land for development which should be fully explored.”


“Labour plans to make landowners sell to state for fraction of [development] value

Won’t that put the cat amongst the East Devon land-holding fat pigeons! And to add insult to land-owning injury – some top Tories agree!!!

“… Landowners currently sell at a price that factors in the dramatic increase in value planning consent is granted. It means a hectare of agricultural land worth around £20,000 can sell for closer to £2m if it is zoned for housing.

Labour believes this is slowing down housebuilding by dramatically increasing costs. It is planning a new English Sovereign Land Trust with powers to buy sites at closer to the lower price.

This would be enabled by a change in the 1961 Land Compensation Act so the state could compulsorily purchase land at a price that excluded the potential for future planning consent.

Healey’s analysis suggests that it would cut the cost of building 100,000 council houses a year by almost £10bn to around £16bn.

… With the “hope value” removed from the price of land, the cost of building a two-bed flat in Wandsworth, south-west London, would be cut from £380,000 to £250,000, in Chelmsford it would fall from £210,000 to £130,000 and in Tamworth in the West Midlands, where land values are lower, it would drop from £150,000 to £130,000.

“Rather than letting private landowners benefit from this windfall gain – and making everyone else pay for it – enabling public acquisition of land at nearer pre-planning-permission value would mean cheaper land which could help fund cheaper housing,” said Healey.

The proposal is expected to face strong opposition from landowners, including many pension fund investors, who would risk losing considerable sums on what they expected to receive. Savills, the property consultancy, warned that owners might launch legal challenges claiming the move infringed their property rights.

Companies known as strategic landowners make money for investors by buying agricultural land that may be needed for future housing at low prices, securing planning consent and selling it on for significant profits. They include Legal & General, which boasts “a strategic land portfolio of 3,550 acres stretching from Luton to Cardiff”.

… A similar policy has been advocated by some leading Conservatives, including the former planning minister Nick Boles. In a sign of growing political consensus, he said the huge windfalls gained by some landowners were inequitable and that the current system of capturing the uplift in land value through section 106 agreements was “incredibly inefficient”, because private developers could afford to outwit planners with expensive lawyers and consultants.

“There will be mass opposition, but there aren’t that many landowners and they are not a huge voting block,” Boles said. “Not all Conservatives would naturally feel comfortable with this but I have been struck by the positive reaction.”

Speaking earlier this week Javid indicated he would like to change the system. He said: “I think it’s right that the state takes a portion of that uplift to support local infrastructure and development.” …


Oliver Letwin in charge of investigating land banking! First target Tories identify – NHS land!

Owl says: A High Tory who adores privatisation in charge of investigating developers! Pull the other one! AND this is the man who:

“… Speaking to consultancy firm KPMG on 27 July 2011, Letwin caused controversy after stating that you cannot have “innovation and excellence” without “real discipline and some fear on the part of the providers” in the public sector. This was widely reported, with The Guardian headline stating Letwin says ‘public sector workers need “discipline and fear.”

This is the Tory Conservative Home press release says about this – and identifies NHS land as ripe for fast development:

“Sir Oliver Letwin is undertaking a review for the Government on “land banking” by property developers. It will seek to “explain the significant gap between housing completions and the amount of land allocated or permissioned and make recommendations for closing the gap”.

The delays are certainly a source of frustration. “Use it, or lose it,” is that great rallying cry – forgetting that planning permission routinely expires after three years under the current rules. In any case if property developers expect prices to be going up why would that be a reason not to build the homes – which they could then delay selling? I suspect delays are more usually caused by the planning system and difficulties raising the required capital.

We will see what Sir Oliver makes of it. But as he knows better than anyone, the worst culprit when it comes to land banking is the state itself – at least based on the broad definition of sitting on surplus land that could be developed. I have quoted from his memoirs, the examples of the Ministry of Defence and Network Rail. Even in London where we are all so squashed, Transport for London owns land equivalent to the size of Camden.

Another prime culprit is the National Health Service Chris Philp, the Conservative MP for Croydon South, wrote on this site last month that:

“The NHS alone sits on enough surplus land for more than 500,000 homes.”

In his paper for the Centre for Policy Studies, Homes for Everyone, Philp elaborates:

“In its 2017 report on surplus land, NHS Digital identified 1,332 hectares of surplus land across a total of 563 sites. Just 91 hectares of surplus land had been sold previously, with 11 hectares of those sold during 2016/17 – less than 1% of the potential total. At that rate, it would take 112 years to dispose of all the surplus NHS land. (A further 135 hectares is set to be sold by 2020, which is still only ten per cent of the available spare land.) If the NHS was to release its entire 1,332 hectares of surplus land for housing, as many as 533,000 new homes could be created.”

Actually if you look at the data it is likely that the potential is much greater. The NHS Trusts were marking their own homework. They can always say that some bit of unused land isn’t surplus as they might think of something to do with it some time. Then we had 75 of the 236 Trusts that responded denying having any surplus land.

But anyway, the acknowledged 1,332 hectares (that’s 3,291 acres since you ask) is a useful starting point. Surely this is something that councillors should help to pursue? After all, the housing shortage and the financial pressure on the NHS are two of the biggest political concerns of our time – releasing this land for development could help with both.

Perhaps the scrutiny remit of Health and Wellbeing Boards could be extended to cover it. But council leaders should also be chasing the NHS about all these derelict sites. They should be actively encouraged to seek outline planning permission so that the proceeds from sales could be increased. Of course Philip is right that central Government should doing far more. But let’s also get some pressure going locally.”


How to stop developers using the “viability assessment” loophole to avoid building affordable housing

Excellent report on the current disgraceful situation and what needs to be done about it. Part of the conclusion of the 38 page report of November 2017 which should be required reading for all council planning officers:

“… On its own, Section 106 will never meet the country’s need for new affordable housing supply. But the current use and abuse of viability assessments means that we are getting less affordable housing out of private developments than we were before and during the crash, and certainly less than we could.

Flexibility in the viability system has driven down affordable housing provision at the expense of land price inflation, essentially making development more expensive.

By amending the National Planning Policy Framework and National Planning Practice Guidance to close the viability loophole, we can maximise developer contributions to affordable housing, with knock-on positive effects for overall housing supply, build out rates and community support for new housing.

The government is already consulting on the changes needed to turn affordable housing policies into cast iron pledges. It is now vital that they follow through on these plans.”