This post is by Anna Powell-Smith.
On 7 November 2017, the Land Registry for England & Wales for the first time released details of 3.5 million land titles owned by UK corporate bodies – councils, UK companies, housing associations and more. Going by separate Land Registry 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:
To be precise, I’ve mapped 1.8 million of the 3.5 million land titles released by the Land Registry – all the ones that include postcode locations. The remaining 1.7 million are rather trickier to map – their land titles are somewhat vaguer in their descriptions, like “Land north of Stansfield Road, Wigan”. But I’m having a crack at mapping approximate locations for these, using an OpenStreetMap-based geocoder (it takes time). Watch this space!
We’ll also be analysing the complete dataset in the weeks and months to come, so check back for more blogs assessing things like land owned by housing developers, councils and airports.
But for now, what can we say about this great new dataset? Well, it shows that:
- 3.5 million titles are owned by 570,000 corporate and commercial bodies – limited companies, local authorities, housing associations and so on. The only organisations that are excluded are charities and trusts. (We’re disappointed by the latter, since much farmland is now owned via onshore and offshore trusts, which we think should be treated as corporate organisations.)
- Limited companies own the majority of titles – 2.1 million.
- The second biggest category of owner is local authorities and county councils, who own 600,000 titles.
- “Corporate bodies” own 240,000 titles – this is a catch-all category including things like the Church Commissioners, the Crown Estate, government departments, electricity boards, and so on.
- Limited liability partnerships own 85,000 titles, which is a lot given that this corporate structure has only been around since 2000 in the UK. We’ll be digging more into LLP ownership in the coming weeks.
- The remaining titles are owned by industrial and provident societies, housing associations, and various forms of community association.
- The data doesn’t include any geographical boundaries, so we’ve only been able to map by postcode locations, which are approximate, and show as points rather than full geographical boundaries.
The corporate bodies that own most titles
Here are the top 10 corporate bodies by number of titles owned:
- CHURCH COMMISSIONERS FOR ENGLAND: 9,354 titles
- TRANSPORT FOR LONDON: 7,722 titles
- CANAL & RIVER TRUST: 7,218 titles
- ENVIRONMENT AGENCY: 6,497 titles
- TRUSTEES FOR METHODIST CHURCH PURPOSES: 5,699 titles
- THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEFENCE: 4,745 titles
- SECRETARY OF STATE FOR TRANSPORT: 4,660 titles
- THE QUEEN’S MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY IN RIGHT OF HER CROWN: 4,545 titles
- HOMES AND COMMUNITIES AGENCY: 4,125 titles
- THE QUEEN’S MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY IN RIGHT OF HER DUCHY OF LANCASTER: 3,245 titles
We’ve known for a long time that the Church owned a great deal of land, but now we know: that they’re the largest owner of titles in the “corporate bodies” category, with 9,354 titles. There are also 11,000 titles in the dataset belonging to proprietors with names beginning ‘THE INCUMBENT OF THE BENEFICE…’, which suggests they too are Church-owned.
You’ll see that if the Crown Estate and Duchy of Lancaster were combined, they’d be third on the list. (The Duchy of Cornwall does not seem to be included in this dataset.) We’ve already mapped the land owned by the Ministry of Defence and the Crown Estate, based on data obtained via FOI requests.
The companies that own the most titles
A simple query for the companies that own the most titles produces the following list:
- HIGHWAYS ENGLAND COMPANY LTD: 64,015 titles
- EASTERN POWER NETWORKS PLC: 25,095 titles
- WALLACE ESTATES LTD: 23,181 titles
- TAPESTART LTD: 22,355 titles
- SOUTH EASTERN POWER NETWORKS PLC: 17,640 titles
- SOUTHERN ELECTRIC POWER DISTRIBUTION PLC: 16515
- FAIRHOLD (HUDDERSFIELD) LTD: 15,600 titles
- WESTERN POWER DISTRIBUTION (EAST MIDLANDS) PLC: 14,863 titles
- BRITISH TELECOMMUNICATIONS PLC: 13,831
- WESTERN POWER DISTRIBUTION (WEST MIDLANDS) PLC: 12,981 titles
In fact, this isn’t very meaningful, since most of these firms are electrical and gas grid companies, who naturally own vast numbers of tiny land parcels – substations, transformers, pipelines and so on. Also, many companies that own lots of land do so through a network of subsidiaries. This list just shows the companies that happen to own their land through a single corporate entity.
However, we are interested in number 3 on the list – Wallace Estates Ltd, which appears to be a property / real estate company. They are owned by Wallace Partnership Group. And that is owned, it appears, by Albanwise Limited – a mysterious company which owns more than 22,000 acres of land in England & Wales. Albanwise are also a major farm subsidy recipient, receiving £865,000 in CAP payments in 2016. Little is known about them, but the Times reports that their ultimate owner is a mysterious Italian Count!
Number 4 on the list (Tapestart Ltd) is better known as Compton Group. They are a long-established freehold management company and – full disclosure – former clients of mine.
We’ll be digging more into the corporate networks that own land in the coming days and weeks.
All this, and we haven’t even mentioned the fact that the Overseas Companies dataset – which lists land in England & Wales owned by overseas and offshore companies – has been updated too! We’ve been working with Transparency International and Global Witness to analyse the latest release of this overseas data (£).
We’re delighted to see the release of the Corporate & Commercial dataset. Well done Land Registry – this is great news for anyone interested in land ownership and land use in the UK. Thanks to everyone inside and outside government (you know who you are) who worked to get it released.
22 thoughts on “The companies & corporate bodies who own a third of England & Wales”
This is really good work and most useful! The Land Registry has published a cadastral map with all the sites identified by a 8 figure code. Is it not possible to cross reference the new data with these codes and thus identify the actual plots from the cadastral rather than just pinpointing the centre of the post code area?
Hi Peter! Thanks! Sadly not yet, as the LR’s ‘cadastral maps’ – the INSPIRE Index Polygons – have different codes in them to the land title reference numbers released in the Corporate & Commercial dataset. Essentially, the two datasets can’t (yet) talk to one another. Plus there are restrictions still on republishing the INSPIRE Index Polygons owing to licensing that stems from Ordnance Survey. However, we’re working on it…
Thanks for this explanation, Guy. By any standards it is impressive to see 1.45 million data points plotted. You are doing excellent and really important work. It is very heartening to see how far things have come recently in the availability of land ownership data but it sounds as if there is a lot further to go. Good luck with it!
Good work; thank you.
You’re asking visitors to identify themselves (name and email address; no verification checks – and apparently no cookies, so the pointless exercise is repeated on subsequent visits) because the Land Registry cluelessly demand in their licence that you “maintain End-user records and to allow us or our personnel or an Auditor appointed by us access to all the End-user records for as long as this Licence is in existence and for a period of twelve months afterwards”.
Wouldn’t server logs meet that requirement?
Thanks Andy. I agree it’s pointless! However, Land Registry’s licence says: “‘End User record’ means a record of End Users including names, contact details and IP addresses” https://data.landregistry.gov.uk/data_pub/terms-of-use/read/ccod so server logs wouldn’t meet that requirement. I think allowing cookies wouldn’t either, because of shared machines, though maybe I could get away with adding them.
Fair enough (I hadn’t found that page). I wonder what the ICO would make of that?
Firstly congratulations, great, painstaking work. I’m surprised Universities don’t come in the top 10. I was told (may be apocryphal) that you can walk from Oxford to Cambridge and never step off university owned land.
Hi Alexis! Aha, you may want to check out my earlier blog on the Oxford colleges, here: https://whoownsengland.org/2016/09/25/what-do-the-oxford-colleges-own/. Cheers, Guy:)
I am most intrigued by your table about the Oxford colleges. I would be happy to pay and then upload information to this site if I knew how to search the land registry for information on Christ Church and Magdalen colleges. without spending huge amounts of time searching blindly. can you advice me? Dcan the Land Registry do the search for me? that is to identify everything that they own?
Hi Lisa, thanks for your interest! In the first instance, I’d recommend checking out my earlier blog on what the Oxford Colleges own, assembled through FOI requests, prior to the Corporate & Commercial dataset becoming available: https://whoownsengland.org/2016/09/25/what-do-the-oxford-colleges-own/. I’m hoping to update it at some point after going through the C&C dataset for the colleges. Anna is also hoping to make our C&C map searchable by entity at some point, so that would show you many of the places they own with mappable addresses. In the meantime the best thing to do is to download a copy of the C&C dataset from the Land Registry’s site and search it using a database programme such as Google BigQuery. You’ll need to identify how each College is styled (ie the name they’ve registered land under) but then searching for these names should bring up the land titles. Good luck! Best wishes, Guy
Hi Guy thanks so much for the help about searching the land registry for college ownership. I’ll let you know how I get on
I hope you’ll read this comment!
You mention “titles” without explaining what this really means. That the Church of England holds so many titles is hardly surprising given the history of this country! Much of the land it owns is probably graveyards and churches. They may well still own plently of glebe as well.
I’m not really sure what you’re trying to prove with this exercise. Every square centimetre of land in this country is owned by someone.
I think it is highly unfortunate that the Land Registry apparently uses the word “corporate body” in the sense that you suggest. It is a phrase usually used to refer to public and private limited companies alone and not public bodies.
And not public service bodies such as councils and local authorities.
Hi John, as we explain, ‘Corporate bodies’ is the term the Land Registry uses, it’s not been invented by us. We are naturally trying to sift through the data and separate it out in ways that will be more useful, such as for land owned by councils, housing developers, mining firms and so on. As for what we’re trying to prove with this exercise: it’s all in the title really – who owns England? All of England is owned by someone; but who owns which bits, and how much? It’s pretty clear from our research to date that land distribution is very unequal, and that owners of land exercise huge control over an inherently scarce resource that’s fundamental to everyone’s need for housing, food, nature and other things.
I was very interested to download and examine the original data, with the intention of assisting in the future. I even started the process of establishing an account. And then..they want my credit card details…for a dataset that’s supposed to be free to download. So at that point I said no… I guess that information doesn’t want to be free after all.
I also agree the lack of correspondence between the INSPIRE cadastral data and this dataset is yet another example of non-interoperability of datasets..a pattern seems to be emerging.