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Brexiting the current land system

Kate Swade

Along with the rest of the world, we’re digesting the implications of Brexit. Among all the confusion, uncertainty and analysis, is there room for a new vision of land use to emerge?

So. The UK has voted to leave the EU. The Shared Assets office, along with the rest of the country, is trying to digest the implications. Whichever way you voted, one thing is clear: many people in this country feel the current system isn’t working for them. And in many ways, they’re right. The hollowing out of ex-industrial towns, the collapse of rural and coastal economies and relentlessly rising rents and property prices are all real issues that result in poverty, inequality, dislocation and increasing divisions between rural and urban, north and south, settled and recently arrived.

At Shared Assets we believe that the ways we currently use, govern and manage land and natural resources are key elements in that broken system, creating benefits for the few whilst ignoring the needs of the many. We have been dismayed that the campaign focused on exploiting and widening those divisions, rather than debating the fundamentals of the systems we use to allocate resources and how we work together to take decisions about their use. We wouldn’t have chosen this outcome but we are determined that, if we are now to build a future outside the EU, it should be one that nurtures people and the environment, and creates shared benefits for all our communities, wherever they live.

A #Brexit future should be one that nurtures people and the environment & creates shared benefits for all communities

In order to do that we need to manage our resources for the common good.

So what would that look like?

We believe that a system that supports management of our woodlands, waterways, parks, green spaces, farmland and coastal areas for the common good would:

1. Create livelihoods for individuals

A new rural economy is needed. The subsidised industrial farming system relies on automation and cheap migrant labour, breaking the economic link between rural areas and the food they produce.  We want to see a system that makes a career in sustainable food and fuel production a sensible life choice for anyone, and that rewards the creation of social and environmental benefits.

2. Enrich the environment

The legacy of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy is varied, but it has had a huge impact on our natural environment. Any new subsidy system should fund ecological farming and land management methods, and penalise those which damage the environment. It should also encourage a systemic approach that links, for example, the deforestation of uplands with flooding downstream.

3. Produce the things people need

Too much land in the UK is unproductive. By improving the productivity of land, whether that is to produce food and fuel, or to deliver wider social and environmental benefits we have an opportunity to reconnect people to the land and to forge new connections between urban, peri-urban and rural communities.

4. Create shared social and economic benefits

The current regime of subsidies and tax relief aimed at landowners helps to drive inequality of ownership and too often uses public resources to create private benefits. We have an opportunity to rethink the kinds of social, environmental and economic outcomes we want to achieve through financial incentivisation. Creating shared benefits is also crucial here: aiming for a world where all our diverse communities have a stake in our land and environment.

5. Have a high degree of community control and engagement

If Westminster responds to Brexit by increasing centralisation, there will be a huge missed opportunity. The much heralded “devolution revolution” is piecemeal and problematic, but we must find opportunities to give people real power over the decisions that affect them including how land and resources locally are owned and used.  

6. Place land at the centre of a wider process of system change

There has been a lot of talk from the Leave campaign about “taking the country back”. What we need now is to talk about how we take the country forward. Changing the way in which we see land needs to be central to any new way of seeing ourselves.

This is only the start of the debate, not the end of it. At Shared Assets we have a vision of a 21st century Britain that is open, progressive, inclusive and more equal, and we believe that common good land use lies at the heart of achieving it.

We wouldn’t have chosen to be starting from here, but let’s use the future of our land, our food system, our woodlands, and our parks and public squares as a catalyst, a starting point for a conversation about who we want to be.

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