Monday, January 09, 2006

Whose Britain Is It Anyway?

The forthcoming BBC2 programme of this name (Tuesday 9th Jan) promises to make fascinating viewing, judging by the Sunday Times piece by its co-producer and presenter Peter 'Swingometer' Snow.

It reveals that there have been only two occasions in the past one thousand years when land has been fully registered. Once when the Domesday Book was compiled 20 years after William the Conqueror invaded in 1066. The second, 800 years later, in 1872. The so-called Return of the Owners of Land managed to register every acre in England and Wales. Today’s Land Registry is able to tell you who owns only 50% of the land. The other half is unregistered. (Scotland is different, there land registry is much more comprehensive.)

'In just over 130 years more than 30m acres have mysteriously gone missing,' says Snow. The Land Registry is hoping to persuade those who own the unregistered half of Britain to own up by 2012 — its target date for full registration.

'There are 60m acres in England, Wales and Scotland, roughly one to each member of the population but I was startled to find,' writes Snow, 'first, that 90% of us live on less than 10% of the land and even the plots we inhabit are shrinking. Second, just under one-third of Britain’s land is still owned by aristocrats and traditional landed gentry. Ordinary British homeowners (freeholders) who have greatly increased in number over the past two decades are competing for land that gets tighter and dearer by the day. '

We in Britain live in smaller spaces than anywhere else in the 15 countries of the old Europe. Housing statistics show that in 2002 Britain’s newly built dwellings had, on average, the smallest floor areas. Britain is actually less urbanised than Germany, Holland, Denmark and Belgium.

Traditionally, says Snow, the crown, church and aristocracy each owned around a third of all British land. Now the church and crown both own just 1% each while the aristocracy still own 30% of the land

The main gainers in ownership of land have been the Forestry Commission and heritage organisations such as the National Trust.

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