Our Land, Our Cities

by William Ronan

If we’re going to grow food for ourselves then one thing is for sure- we’re going to need land to sow, plant, and harvest.

Ownership of land and the resulting power it brings has a dark and bloody history from the colonisation of Africa, to the ‘Enclosures Acts’ (1604-1914) in the UK where common land was suddenly owned by individuals, and normal people were either forced off the land or made to pay higher rents.

Here are some key facts about land ownership in the UK now:

  • 0.6% of the UK population own 47% of the land in the UK
  • 77.1% of people living in the UK lived in an urban area in 2010
  • The Queen owns 120,000 hectares of agricultural land including the sea bed around the UK- this includes ownership of any whales washed ashore.

(1 hectare is roughly the size of 2 football pitches)

In recent weeks there’s been two major news stories related to land ownership in the UK; the MIPIM real estate conference in Cannes, France, and the Co-operative Group sell-off of 20,000 hectares of land due to financial difficulties (the biggest land-sell off in the UK for decades).

MIPIM is the world’s largest real estate fair where 20,000 developers, local authorities, and banks, get together to have decadent parties and carve up cities across the world for more hotels, luxury flats, offices and shopping centres.  It goes a long way to explain why London’s sky-line is currently littered with cranes, and unaffordable ‘affordable’ housing is replacing council housing across the city.

One example of this is the Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle (formerly a CFGN member) where long-term residents have been forced out and can no longer afford to live in the area due to rising rents.  This with the harris fencing now surrounding the estate has a smell of a modern ‘Enclosures’.

For so many of the UK population the city is our home and very quickly it is being sold off around us to the highest bidder- turning our land into space that we have no access to and corporations use to extract profit from.

On the 17th of April CFGN will be supporting the Landworker’s Alliance demonstration outside DEFRA government offices to show that there is demand for people to have livelihoods through small-scale agriculture, and also for communities to eat healthy, local food.  In the next weeks we could see the Co-operative Group sell off 20,000 hectares of land to private investors- what will they produce on this land? Will it be to our benefit? And most importantly it will be even more land that is out of our control- we will have no access to it except if we have high-salaries, or to be exploited as workers for large companies.

The Co-op land sell off is a prime example of how land ownership is becoming more and more unjust and unfair in the UK- reflecting the great divide between rich and poor.  It’s a key time for conversations and action so that we keep our land community-owned and for ordinary people to have access to housing, water, recreation and food.

CFGN joined housing groups from around London this month to protest city councils and Boris going to MIPIM to sell off our city.  How else can we respond to communities being forced out of our neighbourhoods by council-developer contracts? And what does community-controlled, co-operative land ownership look like on 20,000 hectares instead of the Co-operative Group flogging it for corporate profit-making?

If we believe that all communities should have access to fresh, healthy foods- then surely we must fight for access to the land we want to grow on before we find fences and enclosures on all sides.