land commission

England's first Land Commission, facilitated by the Manchester-based Centre for Local Economic Strategies, said Liverpool’s leaders should recognise “the true social purpose of land” rather than seeing it just as a “commodity”.

 

Liverpool’s leaders should see land as having social and environmental value and use it to build community wealth, a landmark report has concluded, while providing 13 key recommendations on how to achieve this.

The Liverpool Land Commission, established by Liverpool metro mayor Steve Rotheram last September, said Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (LCR-CA) should officially recognise that land “be understood as much more than a commodity,” and seen instead as “a gift of nature, that in the end ‘belongs’ to none of us.”

Its inaugural report, published today, said the combined authority had a “duty” to approach questions around land use through the prism of realising its “true social, economic and environmental potential.”

The commission, facilitated by the Manchester-based Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), also recommended the combined authority prohibit land becoming derelict or left vacant for an indefinite period of time “to the detriment of the local community.”

Liverpool’s devolution deal in 2015 gave it the power to hold a land commission. It saw thirteen experts on democratic land reform, ranging from activists involved in community land trusts, makerspaces and social enterprise incubation, academics, national planning policy reformers and campaigners for commons, come together to deliberate on “advancing socially, environmentally and economically beneficial” uses of land.

Mayor Steve Rotherham invited those composing the commission to “think imaginatively and come back… with radical recommendations for how we can make the best use of publicly-owned land to make this the fairest and most socially inclusive city region in the country.”

A crucial first step for the commission was to “explore the fundamental basis of ‘the problem’ around land justice in the UK today, and in LCR in particular,” the commissioners explain in their report. “To do this, the Commission returned to the history of ideas around land and ownership.” It describes how the “commodification of land” after enclosure between the 1600s and 1900s led to the “dispossession of the peasantry” and the subjection of land ownership and use to the needs of an industrial society.

“Movements, institutions and measures started to appear which pushed back against the social dislocation caused by the commodification of land,” particularly in Liverpool, the commissioners point out. But the rise of Thatcherism in the 1980s meant “land has today become primarily a financial asset and the object of speculative lending and investment.”

The findings of this commission have been eagerly awaited by land campaigners in Greater Manchester, who have called for a land commission to be implemented in the region over concernsit is not being well used to tackle the housing or environmental crises we face. An open letter from the land campaigners to Andy Burnham called for him to honour his election promise of implementing a land commission forGreater Manchester.

The commissioners report concerning Liverpool remains positive about addressing the challenge of developing a viable alternative to the current approach to land use. “We believe that the story does not end here,” they state. “The next act is ours to write. But what would an alternative look like?”

The commissioners approach this question by promoting alternative models of ownership that go beyond a narrow understanding of land as a commodity. “Unbundling” the idea of “unified property rights,” they argue “the different rights we associate with ownership start to be more broadly distributed and control over land starts to be shared more fairly across society.” The commission surveys a range of alternative models of ownership, emphasising that “outright ownership” as commonly understood is but one possibility within a broad “spectrum of tenure.”

Our Land: Final report of the Liverpool City Region Land Commission – 13 key recommendations
  1. Recognise and convey the true social purpose of land.
  2. A local duty to consider all land in LCR in terms of social justice.
  3. A permanent land commission for LCR.
  4. A citizen observatory and a participatory research process.
  5. A “new commons” for LCR.
  6. Progressive use of the planning system, through three lines of action.
  7. A framework for the responsible stewardship of land.
  8. Investing in green infrastructure.
  9. Social value and measurement.
  10. Set up an open access online map of publicly-owned land in LCR.
  11. Publish an annual report on land ownership and use in LCR.
  12. Lobby central government to open up the Land Registry.
  13. Lobby central government to task the Land Registry with establishing a register of options over land.

For further information on these recommendations – click here

Having considered alternative models of ownership, the commission presents some key instruments and levers available to the combined authority to promote more socially, environmentally and economically beneficial use of land. Neil McInroy, former chief executive of CLES and chair of the commission, said:

“Land must work to serve the needs of communities, not simply the need for financial return. Liverpool City Region is already home to a rich array of community-led models of land ownership and use.

“These represent a powerful alternative to a narrow understanding of land as a financial asset, which has been dominant in the UK for too long.

“At the heart of the Commission’s recommendations are the drive to realise the full social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits of land – which in the end belongs to all of us.”

Dr Jonathan Silver of the University of Sheffield and Dr Tom Gillespie of the University of Manchester are the co-authors of a report called ‘Who Owns the City,’ which called into question land use in Manchester and called for a land commission to be set up for the region to allow greater transparency and accountability over public land use and ownership. They said the Liverpool Land Commission’s report strengthened the case for Greater Manchester to have a land commission of its own:

“The Liverpool Land Commission demonstrates the great potential of participatory approaches to managing publicly-owned urban land. For too long, public land in cities like Manchester has been sold off to developers in order to enable speculative real estate development. The land commission model provides a basis for challenging this broken urban development approach and using public land to address local social and environmental needs instead.

“The success of the Liverpool Land Commission should encourage Andy Burnham to deliver on his election pledge to establish a Greater Manchester Land Commission as soon as possible. It is nearly two months since over 60 groups from across the city-region asked the Mayor to commit to following Liverpool with this bold experiment and to include civil society participation. We hope to hear some encouraging news soon.”



To read the report Our Land: Final report of the Liverpool City Region Land Commission – click here 

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Featured image: Copyright David Dixon (Geograph.org)

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  • Alex is a journalist and is our Communications and Marketing lead. He has particular interests in the climate crisis, industrial relations, local government and political economy.

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