When I started this blog back in August, I didn’t expect it to generate the interest that it has. But I’ve been constantly blown away by the number of readers, retweets, media interest and, most of all, kind offers of help. My thanks to everyone who’s read and contributed to this blog over these past months – and particularly to two contributors who wanted to remain anonymous, but who have done a huge amount to help me obtain and crunch through data on who owns England.
A new year’s a good time to take stock, so I thought I’d do a summary of what I’ve found out so far, and follow that up with a taster of investigations yet to come.
What do we now know about Who owns England?
We now know that:
- 50 companies own 1.3 million acres of England & Wales – including housebuilders Taylor Wimpey, supermarket giant Tesco and building materials company Lafarge.
- Nine water companies own 345,977 acres of England – rising to 423,952 acres of England & Wales when Welsh Water is added in. Eight of the water utilities make it into the top 50 land-owning companies in England & Wales. Some are much more transparent than others, with some of the largest landowning water utilities – like United Utilities and Yorkshire Water – still refusing to release maps of their landholdings.
- Grouse moors cover at least 550,000 acres of England, with at least 300,000 of these acres owned by just 30 huge estates – a number of which are owned offshore, and most of whom rake in large public farm subsidies. This survey’s far from complete, however, with many more grouse moor estates yet to be listed and mapped.
- The Ministry of Defence owns 750,000 acres. Despite their historic secrecy, the MOD have disclosed to me a map of their land holdings for the first time.
- The rest of Whitehall’s government departments own 192,588 acres. You can see maps of land owned by DEFRA, Natural England, the Environment Agency and the former Department of Energy & Climate Change here; and here’s details on land owned by the Homes & Communities Agency.
- Oxford Colleges own at least 29,000 acres and probably more like 128,000 acres, but the richest colleges are reluctant to disclose details, whilst the poorest are happy to declare they own little land. Quelle surprise…
- The Grosvenor Estate owns 140,000 acres – including a grouse moor, farmland and 300 acres of central London’s prime real estate – all recently inherited by the 25-year-old Seventh Duke of Westminster.
- The Forestry Commission owns 2.2 million acres, making it the single largest landowner in Britain, while the RSPB owns 320,000 acres – check out maps of the land owned by these two organisations here.
- The Crown still claims ownership of the Houses of Parliament, despite the monarch having been forbidden to enter the Commons since the Civil War.
- Only 80% of the land in England and Wales has been registered, with a fifth yet to be recorded by the Land Registry. But the good news is that the Land Registry has been saved from privatisation, and more organisations are now calling for it to be opened up – something the government has hinted very tentative support for.
So what’s next?
Rest assured there is much, much more to come. So here’s a sneak peek at some of the investigations and blog posts I’ve got underway:
- I’m hoping to share with you a map of all the land ownership data I’ve gathered so far – the most comprehensive map of land ownership in England yet built.
- Who owns England’s uplands? I’ve been given funding by Chapter 7 / The Land Is Ours to construct a complete map of land ownership of the English uplands. This will build on previous investigations into grouse moors and water utilities. The uplands are a fascinating and heavily contested part of the English landscape: who owns and manages them is of great importance to reducing flooding, protecting species, and combatting climate change. Yet they are owned by a vanishingly small number of people and organisations.
- Who owns the land most sought-after for housebuilding? And is landbanking by certain firms and individuals driving up house prices?
- Who owns our best-quality agricultural land? And is it being used wisely, or wasted?
- What land is owned by councils? This one’s gonna take a lot of work to pull together, but a group of kind volunteers have offered to help out.
- What do the Royals own? I’ll be picking apart the ancient landholdings of the Crown Estate, the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster, and the Queen’s private estates.
Onwards into 2017 – and to answering the question of who owns England!