Friday, 23 June 2017

Land and "The Archers"

Radio 4's soap opera, "The Archers," to which I am addicted, began in1951 as a vehicle for informing Britain's farmers of all the latest techniques and Ministry of Agriculture rules and regulations.. Whilst it continues to do this (you can easily pick out the boring bits) it has since explored various social issues, most recently the coercive relationship between Helen Archer and her husband Rob, which kept the nation, and me, agog for over two years.

In the last couple of weeks organic farmers Tony and Pat Archer, with their family Helen (above) Tom and recently discovered grandson Johnny, have been offered £1m for a three and a half acre plot of land on which rich property developer Justin Elliot hopes  to build 18 houses.

I've no idea whether this is just an "East Enders" style plot to generate a bit of inter-generational squabbling within the family, or if it will develop into a serious exploration of the iniquities of land holding in Britain. I hope it will.

Tony and Pat were initially tenant farmers but  some time  ago raised the money via a huge mortgage  to buy their land from the estate which owned it.  Presumably they paid agricultural land prices, nowhere near  the £1m (now reduced to £900,000 becasue of son Tom's interference) they expect to receive for this small corner.

So far in the script there has been no mention of paying capital gains tax on the massive increase in value.  Indeed the family have already had detail discussions as to what to do with the whole million (half to Tony and Pat's pension pot, the other half to the development of Tom's business).  Will CGT be introduced into the script at a later date, or don't farmers , largely Tory voters, (though Tony and Pat probably aren't), pay it?

I hope we shall be told.

Nor, as far as I know (I missed a few episodes while in Scotland) has Justin Elliot yet gained planning permission for the houses.  Will he be"assisted" by friends on the council's planning committee?

And, when agricultural land increases enormously in value when a change of use is granted, why  is not the resulting increase in value simply taken by the state?  Maybe it is, in which case the family's plans are delusional.  And if it isn't, why not?

We could even go on to explore why why supermarkets, builders and maybe others are able to sit on "land banks" hoping for better times, without paying any rates. According to the housing charity Shelter, there is at present  enough land which has already been given to planning permission to build around half a million new homes, yet the building industry claim they are held up by obstructive local government bureaucracy and busy-body Nimbyists.

There could also be interesting discussions as to how many of the 18 houses to be built are "affordable."  Will Ed and Emma Grundy be able to afford one?

There is a rich vein of instructive dramatic possibilities, even without going into the fundamental question of why land is privately held when "God gave the land to the people."  I can hardly wait.

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