How land and property assets are owned and managed are key features of any local economy. Land ownership matters because it is an expression of economic and political power, and in the UK the ownership of land is concentrated in the hands of the very few while the least wealthy 30% have no net property wealth at all. The current state of landownership is a major driver of inequality, as a few private owners benefit from speculation on property markets whilst the majority suffer the consequences of unaffordable house prices.
A huge amount of wealth is held through the land and property assets of anchor institutions, and in the past anchors would act to ensure that publicly owned land secured benefits for the local community, for example municipal town halls and local parks. However in recent decades over 2 million hectares of public land has been sold off to private interests, often with little scrutiny or accountability. This has meant that the wealth previously generated in the interest of local communities has increasingly been enclosed and captured by elites.
These trends have been exacerbated by conditions of austerity, with local authorities especially under pressure to sell off land and property assets rather than investing in their social, economic, and environmental value for the local community.
Local land and property assets represent a base from which local wealth can be accrued through equitable forms of ownership, management, and development. Through a community wealth building approach , these assets are owned and managed in ways which ensure that they generate wealth for local citizens, rather than enclosed by private interests.
The goal here is not simply for a local authority or anchor institution to ‘own more land’, but instead to ensure that they land they do own is run by and for the people. This can be understood through the concept of ‘the commons’- the idea that the land held by public institutions is owned by all of us, together. To achieve this, public land owners should develop governance and management structures where communities can take direct control of common assets, for example through transferring under-utilised assets to Community Land Trusts, or working through Public-Commons Partnerships. The local state should engage citizen groups to get involved in the governance and management of municipal assets at every level.
By advancing a ‘commons’ approach to public land and assets, anchors can ensure that our shared buildings, parks, and other land holdings helps to create good local economies, ensure sensible environmental stewardship, and advance social justice.