Friday, 4 August 2017

Thomas Spence, Land Nationalisation and the Housing Crisis

On Saturday 29 July Malcolm Chase gave an incisive lecture on the life and ideas of Thomas Spence and land nationalisation for the Socialist History Society. 

He stressed that on land issues  Spence had more influence on Chartism than Thomas Paine, and on Chartist supporters like Thomas E. Bowkett who initiated the Bowkett building society movement, about  which Stan Newens wrote in History Workshop Journal (No 9. Spring 1980), an article well worth reading.

Discussion included the question of whether Spence's ideas remain relevant today. There was a consensus that the issue of land ownership was a major problem at the root of the current housing crisis.  I suggested that his ideas on building a democratic Britain up from the parishes remained an inspiration to thinking about the need for major reform in governance.

You can read what Malcolm has already published about Spence “The Real rights of Man”: Thomas Spence, Paine and Chartism in Miranda revue

which he gave at a 2014 Conférence on Spence in Toulouse.

He also wrote the book about Spence and his followers the Spencean  Philantropists in The People’s Farm. English Radical Agrarianism 1775-1840, originally published in 1988 and republished in 2010 by Breviary Stuff Publications.

Breviary is also publisher of the collection of essays Thomas Spence: The Poor Man’s Revolutionary, edited by Alastair Bonnett & Keith Armstrong.

Keith Armstrong is a leading member of the Thomas Spence Society.

Duncan Bowie on housing and planning

One of the people attending Malcom's lecture was Duncan Bowie, who teaches spatial planning and housing  at the University of Westminster. He  writes about housing and planning matters in The Chartist magazine. The first 50 of his  historical articles in it have been republished in a collection by the Socialist History Society Our History. Roots of the British Socialist Movement

His writings include:

·       Glistening towers can beguile but won't provide the homes London most needs

·       The issues illustrated by the Grenfell fire disaster

·       Revisiting the land issue 

         in Urban Regeneration and Renewal.  Vol  9. 2016. No.2. pp. 1115-121

His book Radical solutions to the housing supply crisis can be ordered at

He is involved in the Highbury Group on Housing Delivery, the extensive literature of which can be accessed at

The Radical and Socialist Tradition in British Planning

This is the title of his book on the history of planning and land nationalisation published by Routledge

 and of his linked website

Land Nationalisation Society

Among the campaign groups at the end of the 19th and into the early 20thC were the Land Nationalisation Society whose President Alfred Russell Wallace, the co-founder of the theory of evolution, was President and writer in defence of the campaign - see his Land Nationalisation. Its Necessity and Its Aims Being a Comparison of the System of Landlord and Tenant with That of Occupying Ownership in Their Influence on the Well-being of the People 

Land Value Tax 

Another organisation was the English League for the Taxation of Land Values 

Duncan has penned the following chronology on land values in legisation

1885 Royal Commission on Housing of the Working Classes supported taxation of development land.1909 Housing and Planning Act. Tax on undeveloped land ; tax on development value – 50% on increase arising from town planning
1910 Budget (Lloyd George) 20% tax on capital gains on disposal of land
1920 Land taxes repealed. Repayment to landowners.1944 Uthwatt report on betterment
1947 Town and Country Planning Act
Nationalisation of development rights.
100% development charge on development land payable to Central Land Board
Compensation payable to landlords who were refused right to develop land
1952 Repealed by Conservative government
1967 Land Commission Act 
Establishment of land commission with power to acquire, manage and sell land
 40% levy on land disposals
Betterment levy -40% on land  sold, leased or realised by development. Collected by commission and paid to central government.
1970 Repealed by Conservative Government
1975 Community Land Act. LA had power to acquire development land at current use value.
1976 Development Land Tax Act. 80% tax on development gains (66.6% tax on first £150,000).
(50% to LA; 30% to central govt; 20% to LA pool)
1980 Repealed by Local Government, Planning and Land Act
1990 Town and Country Planning Act
s106 Provisions for LPAs to seek contributions to community benefit related to a planning consent – planning gain/planning obligations Not a tax
2011 Localism Act. Power for Local Planning Authorities and Mayor to introduce Community Infrastructure Levy – a tax on new development

The Labour manifesto in the recent General Election says it will ‘consider new options such as a land value tax’ (p. 86)

The Housing Crisis

History Workshop Podcast Episode 3 – History Acts: Housing in Crisis

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