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- Linkback: Transparency, Money Laundering, Tax Evasion
- Brilliant site, Who Owns England?
Selling Off Britain
- To look up: "Last week, Blackstone paid £1.5bn for thousands of commercial spaces underneath Victorian railway arches in the UK.. link
- Dec.13.2018: Wimbledon to expand after golf club members vote to sell for £65m. Piers Morgan, Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly, former cabinet secretary Lord Gus O’Donnell, and the 754 other members of Wimbledon Park golf club have voted to sell their 120-year-old club to All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) for £65m. The golf club members voted 82% in favour of selling the 30-hectare (73-acre) golf club to the world famous Wimbledon tennis championship, which has fought a decade-long battle to expand the Grand Slam tournament on to the neighbouring golf club’s land. Martin Sumpton, a chartered building engineer who has played golf at Wimbledon Park for more than 30 years, said “120 years of playing golf at Wimbledon Park has ended because of greed. People wanted to take the money, and that’s hardly surprising. It is a lot of money". Rupert Neate, The Guardian.
- Dec.13.2018: Neighbours rail against sheikh as fence ‘flouts planning rules’. The row centres on a security fence that has gone up around his £75 million Longcross estate, allegedly without planning permission. The Longcross estate is one part of a vast property portfolio controlled by Sheikh Mohammed, who is believed to have a fortune in excess of £9 bn. Runnymede Borough Council declined to comment. Will Humphries, The Times.
- Aug.13.2018: Strivers and risk-takers are being betrayed. Thousands of small businesses are under threat as a result of a govt decision to encourage Network Rail to sell off its commercial property portfolio. Network Rail is the country’s biggest landlord for small businesses. All 5,500 of the railway arches in England and Wales, home to 4,400 traders, are being sold to the highest bidder in one enormous block, valued at £1.4 bn. With the shortlist of potential investors made up of global private equity companies and real estate firms, many tenants fear that the asset sale will end the arches’ role as affordable incubators of innovation. Having paid so much for the properties, the new owners, acting in the interests of their shareholders rather than society, will understandably seek to maximise profits. Already, some traders have received demands for rent rises of more than 350% since the sale was announced. Network Rail’s debt increased by £5.5 billion to £50.3 billion last year, so it needs to raise money. It should also be focusing on making sure the trains run on time rather than managing a sprawling property empire. But the arches sale is being forced through with too little concern for the wider social and economic consequences. In Hackney, the local council has offered to buy the arches in order to retain their community spirit, but this is impossible under the plan to sell the entire portfolio as a single vast lot. At a time of economic uncertainty, it seems shortsighted to risk cutting off a pipeline of creativity. According to an analysis by the New Economics Foundation think tank, businesses operating under the railways contribute around £725m to the economy every year, as well as paying £80m in rent to Network Rail, which can be used to fund the transport system. As Will Brett, of the Foundation, puts it: “For the government, this is a simple equation. On one side you have big business and the extraction of maximum profit at whatever cost to communities and local economies. On the other side you have thousands of traders, grafters and entrepreneurs — the very people politicians from all sides claim to champion. This fire sale of a public asset puts those businesses, and the people who rely on them, in real danger. It’s time to pick a side.” Jo Johnson, who was appointed transport minister in Jan., is trying to intervene to ensure that profit is not the only factor as the sale goes ahead. The Treasury must understand that there is more to life than money. One of the Conservatives’ biggest political problems is the perception that they know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Rachel Sylvester, The Times.
- Nov.22.2017: What Land Is Owned by Housing Developers? One issue that keeps cropping up in debates about the housing crisis is whether developers and landowners are ‘land banking’ – that is to say, sitting on undeveloped plots of land waiting for them to increase in value before building on them. So we set out to use the newly-released Corporate & Commercial dataset to investigate land banking. We have published the map, with giant caveats plastered all over it: http://housebuilders.whoownsengland.org. What we do know: Barratt Developments, Bellway, Berkeley Group, Bovis Homes, Countryside, Crest Nicholson Holdings, Galliford Try, McCarthy & Stone, Persimmon, Redrow, Taylor Wimpey. Guy Shrubsole, Anna Powell-Smith, Who Owns England?.
- Feb.22.2018: New owner for ‘rip-off’ blocks of leasehold flats. The freeholds to Blythe Court, blocks of flats near Birmingham considered the worst example of leasehold abuse in Britain, was bought yesterday from Mercia Investment Properties by an anonymous buyer for £180,000. The freeholds currently pay an annual income of £17,000 a year, a yield of almost 10%. The identity of the buyer will have to be lodged at at the Land Registry but could yet remain secret because many freeholds are purchased through companies in the British Virgin Islands and other offshore jurisdictions. The rising ground rents mean the leasehold owners are likely to default eventually and be forced to sell at a deeply discounted price, giving the opportunity for the freeholder to buy out the contact, start again with a new leasehold contract and make tens of thousands of pounds more. Andrew Ellson, The Times.
- Jan.09.2018: Persimmon sold leasehold houses for £50,000 more than same-size freehold houses at Harrow View West. Leasehold houses on Persimmon's 300-home site at Harrow View West in north London sold for £50,000 more than same-size freehold ones. At Harrow View West ground rents are £150 a year, rising with RPI every 10 years. BBC North TV covered the £110 million bonus scheme for Persimmon boss Jeffrey Fairburn, which critics describe as “corporate looting”. Persimmon’s four-fold increase in share price which drives Mr Fairburn’s bonus was subsidised by taxpayers through the Help to Buy scheme. This practice is to be outlawed by the govt, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid announced on Dec.21 – along with a ban on future ground rents. Leasehold Knowledge Partnership.
- Leasehold estate
- Leasehold Knowledge Partnership (LEASE), https://www.leaseholdknowledge.com/, charity, govt funded, Roger Southam (Roger Southam) questionable appointment, Roger Southam § Lobbying for leaseholder reform. Secretariat of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Leasehold Reform.
- The Campaign Against Retired Leaseholder Exploitation (CARLEX)
- The Property Standards Board (PBS), set up to promote and help establish the mandatory licensing of all estate and letting agents, has folded. Five months after the general election, it has thrown in the towel after acknowledging that licensing is no longer on the political agenda – as was repeatedly made plain by Grant Shapps, now housing minister, when in opposition. The Board proposals revolved around a requirement that it wanted the govt to enforce, namely that all sales and letting agents should have to be licensed. ref, Oct.2010
- The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
- Dec.18.2018: Malaysian funds take £1.6bn stake in Battersea power station. Permodalan Nasional Berhad, one of Malaysia’s largest asset managers, and the Employees Provident Fund, a state pension fund, have created a joint venture to buy the commercial part of the power station building on the south bank of the Thames. Alex Ralph, The Times.
- Oct.07.2018: Viking raid on Scotland makes Dane Britain’s biggest landowner. Anders Holch Povlsen, billionaire fashion mogul from Denmark, has quietly become Britain’s largest private landowner. Family owns the Bestseller clothing brand. 221,000-acre property portfolio ... Sources close to the tycoon said Wildland, an umbrella company created by Povlsen to manage his Scottish interests, will invest £tens of millions in the coming years to restore habitats and conserve wildlife. Mark macaskill, The Times.
- Oct.01.2018: Microsoft’s giant office sale. The British headquarters of Microsoft has been sold for £100 million. The 250,000 sq ft campus in Reading has been bought by AIP Asset Management, a Seoul-headquartered asset manager, and Valesco Group, a London-based property investment manager, on behalf of a consortium of South Korean institutional investors. Louisa Clarence Smith, The Times.
- Protests in France as Chinese buy countryside. French farmers are protesting against Chinese firms buying up swathes of the countryside. A demonstration by the Small Farmers’ Confederation was aimed at the Hongyang consortium, which has bought more than 2,000 acres of farmland. In 2016, it bought 4,200 acres in the region for growing wheat. The Chinese have bought French land worth an estimated €76 billion since 2010. They have also been snaring Bordeaux vineyards, owning more than 160 châteaux, up from 30 in 2012. The French farmers’ unions are upset, claiming that the Chinese are raising prices and forcing out local farmers. The issue is global: “The problem is not that the owners are Chinese,” he said. “It’s also scandalous when the French monopolise land in Ukraine or Poland.” Jean-Paul Dufrègne, a left-wing MP, is campaigning for government action to regulate Chinese land purchases. He said “Land prices are being pushed up to three times the market value,” he said. “The consequence is simple. It makes land unaffordable to young farmers.” Charles Bremner, The Times. Comment: The Chinese have been investing increasingly heavily in France over the last 7/8 years & it is to ensure that they can control products that they need & do not have in China - an extension to stealing patents, property rights or those critical resources that they do not possess. The French should realise why the Chinese are investing so heavily in the centre of France - much more is undoubtedly ongoing which does not appear to be clear to many French authorities. + Globally countries are allowing the Chinese to invest and buy their way into their country/businesses. Make no mistake - Chinese are long term players and this is for the sole benefit of their people/China as well as invasion by stealth. In Australia it's the food sources and property. South Africa - mining. And so on. UK - power supply. simply watching their activity over past 30 years paints a certain picture. Their country is getting richer (after decades of hard work and perseverance mind you) and taking advantage of western civilisation getting poorer. Very clever. he Chinese are legally buying up land, mining rights, water rights and building infastructure wherever they can, including India and Africa. They are also making huge loans to countries that cannot afford to repay them, so instead of cash to repay, they take land and natural resources. This is modern colonialism; not via gunboats but through monetary power. More...
- Sept.01.2018: Home sold for £22m in return of Russians. The sales suggest that Russians are back in London, after their number dwindled from 2014 when the EU levied sanctions against Moscow over the invasion of Crimea. Trevor Abrahmsohn, of Glentree, an exclusive estate agency, said that wealthy Russians had been returning since last summer. “Lured by the depreciation in sterling after the Brexit referendum, we have seen a great increase of buyers from these regions,” he said. David Byers, The Times.
- Aug.16.2018: There’s no need for New Zealand-style xenophobia to curb UK house prices. To get to the root of our housing crisis let’s look closer to home rather than scapegoating foreign owners. It’s true that waves of speculative capital from around the world have helped inflate Britain’s housing market, particularly in London. Indeed, 280,000 acres of England and Wales – and an estimated 750,000 acres of Scotland – are owned by offshore and overseas companies. But much UK land and property registered offshore in fact belongs to British aristocrats with pedigrees stretching back to the Norman conquest, whose plentiful use of offshore companies as vehicles in which to vest their estates – often for reasons of “tax efficiency” – has been well-documented by Private Eye ref. British overseas territories operating as tax havens, like the Cayman Islands, play a major role in the global offshore system. Higher UK house prices are also being fuelled by second home ownership by Brits, which has jumped 30% since the year 2000. And land prices are inflated further by the actions of shadowy “land promotion” companies, who lobby councils over planning proposals in order to get their land-owning clients the biggest possible profits. If we want to rein in house prices and property speculation in the UK, there are better, more subtle ways of doing so than simply scapegoating foreign owners. We need full transparency of land and property ownership, to deter the use of the UK property market as a means for laundering dirty money. The recent vote by MPs to force British overseas territories into adopting public registers of company ownership is a good first step; we also need to open up the Land Registry, and end the archaic secrecy that surrounds land ownership in this country. The government should also mull a ban on offshore ownership of land and property, rather than the blunter definition of “foreign” ownership. Finally, the treatment of homes as financial assets should be deterred through the use of taxes on empty homes and on land values. Some form of land value tax would also help dampen speculative investment in Britain’s property market – without needlessly discriminating between where such investment comes from. It’s not freedom of movement we should be worried about – it’s the freedom of capital to do whatsoever it pleases globally. Getting a grip on the way capitalism has distorted the land market is a way of really taking back control. Guy Shrubsole, The Guardian.
- May.01.2018: 'Dirty money': U-turn as Tories back plans to make tax havens transparent. Govt says it will support amendment to introduce public ownership registers in Britain’s overseas territories. Britain’s overseas territories will be forced to adopt public registers of company ownership at the end of the decade after the government conceded it would have to support a backbench amendment designed to stem the global flow of “dirty money”. Sir Alan Duncan, a Foreign Office minister, told the Commons that ministers recognised “the majority view in this house” and would not oppose an amendment to the sanctions and anti-money laundering bill from Labour’s Margaret Hodge and the Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell. The retreat was forced on Theresa May’s government after the Speaker rejected a string of government compromise amendments, which would have watered down the disclosure commitment. The Hodge/Mitchell amendment requires the 14 overseas territories, including the financial centres of the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, to introduce public ownership registers by the end of 2020 or face having them imposed by the UK govt. Twenty Tory rebels had been lined up to support the amendment, including former ministers Ken Clarke and Nicky Morgan, which also had the support of Labour, the Scottish National party and the Liberal Democrats. That was enough to defeat the govt had the matter been put to a vote. A few MPs questioned how effective public disclosure would be. Geoffrey Cox, a Conservative backbencher, said the benefit from transparency would be “a one-hit wonder” and argued that “money will go to where it is darkest” to other global territories where there are no public disclosure requirements. Some overseas territories said they were unhappy with the outcome and tried to question the UK’s ability to impose its will. But aid charities welcomed the result. The disclosure measure had originally been proposed by David Cameron and George Osborne in 2013, but the commitment was dropped when May became prime minister, prompting Hodge and Mitchell to act in concert to get the measure on the statute book. The amendment does not apply to the crown dependencies, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, because parliament does not have the legal right to impose its will on them. Dan Sabbagh, The Guardian. Linkback: Tax Evasion, Tax Avoidance
- Jan.08.2018: How Destructive is the Middle Class? I’d like you to consider that the current middle class is a defended enclosure by those whose income is largely composed of rent. Perhaps as powerful as land enclosure, I ask you to contemplate a modern enclosure – status property. The negative effects of land enclosure are copiously documented by well-known economic philosophers, dating back at least as far as the Reformation (Thomas More). The negative effects of what I’ve chosen to call status enclosure, as far as I can tell, are not documented at all. I speculate that status enclosure may be an even greater drain on a community than land enclosure. At any rate they’ve a similar weight in the scales (and scales of injustice). I propose that the gathering of rent for status is the central process by which we become middle class. Status enclosure is the means to a monopoly of services. The first step towards a more egalitarian society, in which all can happily participate, is also to shrink our needs. Patrick Noble, Resilience.
- Nov.14.2017: The Companies & Corporate Bodies Who Own a Third of England & Wales. On Nov.07.2017, the Land Registry for England & Wales for the first time released details of 3.5m land titles owned by UK corporate bodies – councils, UK companies, housing associations and more. Going by separate figures we’ve seen for the acreages these bodies own, we can safely say that companies and the public sector own around a third of England and Wales. And now, for the first time, I’ve mapped them. ... ... Wallace Estates Ltd >> Luca Rinaldo Contardo Padulli. Tapestart Ltd >> Compton Group Ltd. Anna Powell-Smith, Who Owns England?.
- Mar.20.2017: Utopian thinking: to ‘take back control’ of England, we must find out who owns it. Secrecy surrounds much of the country’s land ownership. It’s time for the Land Registry database to be completed and opened up to all. Who owns land matters. Landowners get to choose how their land is used, and that has big implications for almost everything: where we build our homes, how we grow our food, how much space we set aside for nature. Owning land confers wealth, status and often political power. Who actually owns this place? That’s what I’ve set out to investigate with my blog, Who Owns England?. I started it last summer, post-referendum, determined that if Brexit really meant “taking back control of our country”, then I’d like at least to know who owns it. But the answer has turned out to be fiendishly difficult to find. It’s taken dozens of freedom of information requests and hours of poring over maps to even begin piecing together the jigsaw. But the answer has turned out to be fiendishly difficult to find. No one seems to have the full picture. Understanding who owns this country has been a utopian project for at least a century and a half. In 1872, Lord Derby asked the govt to undertake a proper survey. The Return showed that just 710 aristocratic individuals owned 25% of the entire country. Spool forward to the present, and there are plenty of fresh reasons for wanting to know who owns our land. We face a housing crisis of epic proportions, caused at least partly by housing developers’ “stranglehold” on land supply. As Brexit looms, we need to completely overhaul our broken system of farm subsidies, which for too long has rewarded landowners simply for owning vast estates, rather than providing public goods. We face the existential threats of climate change and a potential mass extinction event, both demanding that we rethink our relationship with the land in order to restore nature and make ourselves more resilient against worsening flooding. And if we’re to reduce spiralling inequalities in wealth, we might well start by addressing landed wealth. Fixing all of these requires first knowing who owns our land. So if the answer to who owns England isn’t available from existing public data, how to find out? The Land Registry, whose job it is to gradually register who owns all land in England and Wales. Yet 150 years after it was founded, it’s still not completed its task – around 25% of all land remains unregistered. And though the Land Registry has thankfully just survived a govt attempt to privatise it, it remains a very closed public service: you have to pay £3 just to find out who owns a single field. Paying to find out who owns the whole country would cost a fortune. It’s high time, therefore, to open up the Land Registry and mandate its completion. The govt’s recent housing white paper heralded some welcome steps in this direction – announcing that the Land Registry would soon make freely available its datasets on land owned by UK companies and offshore firms. But that’s only a fraction of the total. Aristocratic families, who almost certainly still own the great majority of England, will be exempt – since their huge estates are invariably registered in an individual’s name, if they’re registered at all. Guy Shrubsole, The Guardian.
- Feb.08.2017: Thanks to the Housing White Paper, an open Land Registry is now much closer. Only last summer, it looked like the Land Registry could be privatised. Getting the Ordnance Survey to also buy in to efforts to open up land ownership data is crucial. One digital mapping guru has called Ordnance Survey “the great vampire squid wrapped around the face of UK public-interest technology”. OS licensing restricts the publication of maps showing land parcels. Getting OS to accept Open Data principles on land ownership mapping is going to be tough, but for Ministers to be calling for it is a welcome push in that direction. This is wonderful news. It means the Land Registry will be releasing, for free, data on who owns tens of millions of acres of England and Wales. Every company, every corporate body, every offshore firm that owns a patch of land here will suddenly be open to the light of public scrutiny. It’s not everything, of course. As they make clear, private individuals will be exempt – and remember, that includes the Duke of Westminster (owner of 140,000 acres) and Prince Charles (owner of 130,000 acres via the Duchy of Cornwall), because their vast estates are registered in their personal names. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Housing White Paper under the Conservatives (May) govt. Guy Shrubsole, Who Owns England?.
- Sept.07.2016: Land Registry sell-off plan put on hold. Controversial plans to sell off the Land Registry have been put on hold, while ministers review responses to the govt’s Conservatives (May) consultation. The Queen’s speech in May included an outline of a neighbourhood planning bill, which the govt said would enable the privatisation of the Land Registry, which keeps records on property ownership in England and Wales. A govt source said: “No decision has been taken on the future of the Land Registry. A consultation on the Land Registry’s future closed in May and we are carefully considering our response." The proposed £1bn sale of the Land Registry, which was announced on the eve of the Easter break, has attracted criticism from a range of groups, including solicitors, media firms and the UK’s competition watchdog ref. A petition against the plans has been signed by 317,930 people ref. The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents Land Registry employees, said it did not believe this was the end of the issue, and it would be continuing to monitor the situation. It said "We showed two years ago, and again this time round, that selling off the Land Registry would be stupid and wrong, serving only private companies looking to profit from homeowners’ data." Previous plans by Cons/LibDem (Cameron/Clegg) to privatise it in 2014 were dropped after the intervention of Vince Cable, then business secretary ref. Hilary Osborne, The Guardian.
- Mar.2016: Selling England (and Wales) by the pound. In Sept.2015 Private Eye created an easily searchable online map (see below) of properties in England and Wales owned by offshore companies. It reveals the extent of the British property interests of companies based in tax havens. Using this data the Eye published a series of exposes of the companies, arms dealers, oligarchs, money launderers and others who use offshore companies. Now Private Eye, using the same data, is also publishing a database of all properties acquired by offshore companies from 1999 to 2014. Six months after the Eye launched its interactive online map the govt has finally ambled slowly into action. In a consultation document published last week, business minister Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe belatedly promised to publish a list of properties owned by offshore companies. The govt proposes to make transparency a condition of property ownership in the UK, as suggested by the Eye and others. The Eye's Report highlighted their use by property developers such as the Candy brothers to avoid tax, the landed gentry like Lord Rothermere to escape inheritance tax and any number of arms dealers and oligarchs covering up properties they'd rather nobody knew too much about. The most popular location for registering a property company offshore was that convenient financial centre of... the British Virgin Islands. The BVI, where the identities of companies' owners are not filed with the authorities, is a tough nut to crack. Even if the govt does push ahead with its new proposals, they are unlikely to solve the problem entirely. Given the UK's near total absence of enforcement against corporate law-breaking, proposed criminal sanctions for false information will probably not trouble the world's major money launderers unduly; hidden behind further offshore layers, proving falsity is hard to do without extensive investigation and international cooperation. Download the report "Selling England by the Offshore Pound" here. Private Eye.