Archive for the 'Environment and Sustainability' Category

So, whose land is our land?

In today’s guest post Peter Hetherington, author of Whose Land is our Land?, explains why he believes reform of land ownership is necessary to mitigate the approaching challenges posed for food, energy and housing by climate change.

Peter HetheringtonPeople often assume that those like me who advocate land reform, no matter how minimal, must be on one side of the political fence.

Calling for measures to clamp down on speculation driven by tax avoidance seems to only reinforce a belief by some that us moderates are quasi‐revolutionaries conspiring to end ownership as the establishment knows it – be they the old landed class or the newer rich seeking to offload spare millions.

Spiralling farm land prices

So it was, when I appeared on BBC Radio’s Today programme at the end of August, I suggested (sensibly, I thought) that spiralling farm land prices are serving the country badly and was met with a hostile ‘back to the old interventionist days’ response by a spokesman for the Country Land and Business Association (which has morphed from the Country Landowners’ Association but is still known as the ‘CLA’.)

Of course the spokesman was right to suggest that of the – say – 100,000‐plus acres of agricultural land sold annually in England only a small proportion involves the super rich seeking a safe, recession‐proof haven for their spare millions.

“…these new rich are driving up prices…making it even more difficult for young aspirants to get on the farming ladder”

However prices, according to land agents Savills, have risen by a staggering 277% in a decade, making agricultural land a much safer investment bet than prime central London property and gold. One driver is that agricultural land offers generous breaks on inheritance and capital gains tax: it is exempt from the former after two years, for instance, if it is actively farmed.

But the point is this: these new rich are driving up prices in the whole market, distorting prices and making it even more difficult for young aspirants – there are plenty of them ‐ to
get on the farming ladder.


I’ve been investigating issues around this land of ours for my book, ‘Whose Land is Our Land’. I’ve explored ownership and the old, landed rich through to the challenges of farming – with self‐sufficiency in the foods we are capable of growing falling when it could (and should) be rising.

I’ve looked at issues such as housing the nation, in the face of a ‘shadow’ unregistered market in which potential building land is being effectively rationed.

I’ve asked searching questions about our ill‐preparedness for addressing rising sea levels, induced by climate change, in our most productive farming area, the east of England. Various agencies, including the National Audit Office, warn that we face tough choices: either raising our flood defence investment, or abandoning big tracts of land.

“…public or charitable ownership equals ‘good’…is a gross over‐simplification”

One advantage of coming to this issue as a journalist – let’s be blunt, a ‘hack’ – and not as an academic is that, after interviewing scores of people (individual and institutional landowners, farmers, tenants, politicians) pre‐conceived ideas sometimes go to the wall.

Thus, public or charitable ownership equals ‘good’ and private ownership equals ‘bad’ is a gross over‐simplification. It so happens that the second largest landowner (and largest tenant farming landlord) , the National Trust, has been embroiled in a dispute with its tenants (and the Tenant the Farmers’ Association) more associated with private landlordism. There are, in short, good, bad, indifferent owners in all camps.

Ownership, in short, is no determinant of either progressive land use or tenure. So the good private landlord, progressively farming, has to be balanced against another owner who assumes that what is beneficial for the family firm is automatically good for the surrounding community. Generalisation can be dangerous.

Modest reform

Inevitably as a messenger, rather than a polemicist – and not a farming journalist – I have naturally relied on the help and guidance of others. Philip Lowe, professor of rural economy at Newcastle University, proved invaluable. His argument for modest reform, involving farmers and landowners abiding by a charter setting out rights and responsibilities to ensure the better use of all land proved compelling – particular after one expert in Norfolk (farmer of the year in 2014) spoke of his concern about slack practices on land farmed by contractors on behalf of the new rich.

Lowe’s other point is that farmers in receipt of generous rural payments, courtesy of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy – overall delivering £2‐3 billions in subsidies annually in Britain – should be obliged to sign up to basic principles of responsible land management “specifying responsibilities to maintain the land in their care.”

And, so, back to tax.

“..we should be adapting to…the impact of climate change on that most basic resource: our land…”

On the basis of my investigations I believe that we are approaching a collision of extremes ‐ increasing demand for food, energy, water and housing – when we should be adapting to, and hopefully mitigating, the impact of climate change on that most basic resource: our land.

Sadly, our approach as a nation, through successive governments, is piecemeal and short term. In truth, England needs an active land policy to address feeding, watering and housing the nation.

In November I’m off to the Scottish Parliament, for an informal event based on my book, facilitated by the chair of its rural affairs committee. In Scotland reform is high on the Scottish Government’s agenda. It wants the power to intervene if the scale of ownership, and the conduct of a landowner, is seen as a “barrier to sustainable development.” And in England? I’ve just been to the annual conference of the governing party to try to find out.

Whose land is our land [FC]Whose land is our land? is available to purchase here  from the Policy Press website. Remember that Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – if you’re not a member of our community why not sign up here today?

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Leadership lessons from the Baltimore riots?

In today’s guest post Robin Hambleton, author of Leading the inclusive city,  suggests that government policies rather than racial prejudice by individuals are to blame for urban disturbances, such as those in Ferguson and Baltimore in the USA and in Bristol and other cities in the UK.


Robin Hambleton

Having visited several American cities in recent weeks, and talked to public servants, business leaders, community activists and academics about current urban stresses and strains, it is difficult not to conclude that US cities face deeply troubling challenges. Continue reading ‘Leadership lessons from the Baltimore riots?’

The election debate: What you need to know about transport in the UK today

Authors and academics Jon Shaw and Iain Docherty give their view on the Coalition government’s performance in the area of transport. With some strong investment on the inter-city infrastructure, it’s not all bad news, but they suggest we should be asking our UK General Election candidates some tougher questions about their plans for developing international links and putting local transport control back in the hands of its passengers…

Iain Docherty

Iain Docherty

Jon Shaw

Jon Shaw

Has transport has been slowly but surely creeping up the political agenda at Westminster? When we first sat down to startwriting The Transport Debate in 2010, just after the last election, the prospects weren’t particularly encouraging.

As a policy area, transport had for a long time been largely forgotten. Spending large sums of money even to stop the quality gap between Britain and other European countries getting any more glaring had been anathema to successive ministers.

Over lunch one day, a Treasury official explained to us that if the UK could achieve about the same GDP as France without a TGV system, a comprehensive motorway system and a very rapidly expanding programme of urban tram re-openings, why bother spending the money?

Five years on, it all seems rather different. It’s not particularly fashionable to praise the Chancellor, especially in academic circles, but the view that we might well be better off if we do invest heavily in our transport networks seems to have gained traction in Whitehall since George Osborne took over.

Inter-urban infrastructure

High speed rail development UK Photo credit: Wikipedia

High speed rail development UK Photo credit: Wikipedia

Despite the worst economic downturn for generations, we are witnessing the most investment in our railways for, well, generations.

Crossrail and Thameslink are being taken through to completion; HS2 has been supported enthusiastically; hundreds of miles of electrification have been approved; thousands of new train carriages have started to arrive; the ‘Northern Hub’ is being built and a raft of major station improvements (e.g. Reading, Birmingham New Street) are progressing nicely. New tramlines are opening up in Nottingham and Greater Manchester.

Photo credit

Photo credit: Lewis Clarke

On the roads we have witnessed a revitalisation of reasonably large-scale road building and a medium-term funding commitment to the newly created Highways England. ‘Smart motorways’ are cropping up all over the place and a network of ‘Expressways’ – upgraded ‘A’ roads with controlled access and grade-separated junctions – has been announced.

Looking to the future we now have on the table more new roads, Crossrail 2, further railway electrification, a new western rail connection to Heathrow and an ambitious proposal including HS3 to link up the cities of the North of England. We of course will have to wait and see if these and other vaunted schemes ever see the light of day, but we’d be tempted to lay a tenner on at least some of them coming to fruition.


It is not entirely clear why transport investment has all of a sudden become fashionable again (we quite like the story about George Osborne’s dad coming back from Japan waxing lyrical about the quality of their railway system) but, whatever the reason, we should celebrate it while it lasts.

Although our transport system is functional, it is by any number of measures poor in relation to those of, say, Germany, France and the Netherlands. We are probably in a minority among our colleagues in embracing the DfT’s current road building proposals, but surely there is no excuse for perpetuating a poor quality inter-urban road network.

The trick will be to ‘lock in’ the benefits of better roads – less congestion, more reliable journey times, a reduction in pollution and so on – so that traffic is not induced onto improved sections. In any event, we should remember that the amount of rail investment dwarfs that being spent on new roads.

Does all of this mean that we’re going to be popping up in one of those election adverts on YouTube giving an academic thumbs up for Dave, George and the troops? Not exactly.

The truth is that neither Coalition party would like the message we’d have to give them. Even after all the hard work, after all the ‘difficult decisions’ that have enabled transport investment to take place while cuts are made elsewhere, Coalition ministers have only got the their approach at best one third right. That’s 33%. We’d fail a student for scoring less than 40%.

International links

As geographers, we can think of the problem as one of scale. Building lots of new inter-city infrastructure is certainly helping to make good past mistakes at the national level, but there’s been precious little happening to promote our international links.

Take of queue Heathrow Photo credit:

Take off queue Heathrow Photo credit: PhillipC

The only discernable policy making for aviation has been the decision to set up the Davies Commission. This is a shameful fudge.

The government should long ago have decided either to build new runways (Labour supported expansion at Heathrow) or to have a more ‘sustainable’ aviation policy by forcing the airports to work more efficiently (bigger planes, fewer short haul flights and so on). Perhaps better still, it could have decided to do both. In the context of previous governments’ ceaseless dithering, putting everything on hold for five more years is an abrogation of duty.

Local transport

And outside of London, at the local level there’s arguably an even bigger problem. Investment in our provincial urban transport networks has fared worse over the years than our inter-city ones. Assuming people’s final destination lies beyond the main railway stations, local transport in Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol and so on will become swamped with the hugely increasing number of passengers disgorging from new HS2 and other electric trains. And this will be on top of the rise in demand associated with population growth in each of these centres.

We might think Manchester’s and Nottingham’s trams are great – and indeed in the British context they are – but they are pretty small beer in relation to what others take for granted. Consider also that there is not one English city outside of London with an underground network, and most provincial centres except maybe Birmingham and Manchester have rather under-developed urban rail networks by the best European standards.

While our Second City has a patched-together Victorian urban rail system on a single light rail line, Frankfurt, its smaller twin, enjoys nine S-Bahn and several other urban lines (including a cross-city tunnel with trains every two minutes), 11 tramlines and fully nine underground lines.

English urban transport systems are mainly the preserve of deregulated bus services with their ever-changing routes and fares – and, in Liverpool, virtually no priority on the road network.

There are moves afoot to introduce smart ticketing across the large conurbations, and to regulate the bus network in Tyne and Wear and maybe Greater Manchester. Perhaps the large private bus companies are starting to realise that their effective control over local bus policy might be coming to an end. How novel that the passenger rather than the shareholder might be placed at the centre of urban transport operations.

Transformation of transport investment

Cyclists at Hyde Park corner roundabout in London Photo credit: wikipedia

Cyclists at Hyde Park corner roundabout in London Photo credit: Wikipedia

We have seen from across the Channel how it is possible to change the direction of transport policy. Like Britain, France used to be heavily reliant on the car but over the course of the last 40 years – no-one is suggesting change of this magnitude can come quickly – has completely transformed the focus of its transport investment, predominantly (but not exclusively) to benefit the public modes.

Transport for London is now into the second decade of a transformational investment strategy, but some of the seeds for what’s happening at the national level were sown only a couple of years before Gordon Brown was ejected from Number 10.

The Coalition has been delivering on a commitment to significantly improve inter-urban railways and roads, but is it realistic to expect the next government to continue this and get to grips with aviation and local transport? Given the need for heavy investment across the country’s public services in a climate of continued austerity, despite all the recent good progress we are not sure we’d lay a tenner on that just yet.

#GE2015 #whyvote #imvotingbecause

REPLACEMENT_The transport debate [FC]The transport debate by Jon Shaw and Ian Docherty is available for purchase from our website here (RRP £14.99). Don’t forget Policy Press newsletter subscribers get a 35% discount when ordering through our website. If you’re not a subscriber yet why not sign up here today and join our Policy Press community?

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Policy Press March ‘editorial picks’: Environment and Sustainability

Continuing in our new series of monthly ‘editor picks’ Assistant Editor Laura Vickers tells us a bit about her background, what she’s most excited by in upcoming Environment and Sustainability titles and how the true measure of success in any future colonisation of Mars would be having access to ingredients to make the Hairy Bikers’ Great Curries…

Policy Press - 015Name: Laura Vickers

Title: Assistant Editor

What’s your background story?

I started at Policy Press straight out of University after completing my undergraduate degree in Sociology at Birmingham City University and then moving back home to Bristol. After a short period of work experience over the summer at the Press I then took up the position of Publishing Assistant. I’ve had several different roles at Policy Press over the past five years and became Assistant Editor in 2013 and subject editor for Environment and Sustainability in 2014.

What does your role entail and what do you enjoy most about it?

I have overall responsibility for the peer-review system and am subject editor for the Environment and Sustainability list. I also support our Senior Commissioning Editor and Director with their commissioning activities across a range of subject areas and our trade list. I enjoy the contact I have with our authors and editors which is mainly via email but putting faces to names when I attend national conferences is always a pleasure.

What most excites you about Environment and Sustainability?

The issues covered across our Environment and Sustainability titles affect all of us both now and also in the future. The debates around whether climate change is happening are over and we are now faced with the essential ‘what do we do about it?’ questions. Our titles provoke debate around this question and I hope they make a difference to those debates.

What key things are happening in Environment and Sustainability at Policy Press this year?

In 2015 Bristol is the European Green Capital so there are a lot of exciting events taking place at the University and across Bristol to celebrate. The annual Policy and Politics Lecture on Tuesday is being given by Lord Anthony Giddens entitled ‘The Politics of Climate Change’ and there are many more events and talks taking place over the next year related to the theme of the environment linking in with Bristol 2015.

We continue to publish some great titles in the fields of the Environment and Sustainability. Towards the end of last year we published ‘Sustainable London?’ edited by Rob Imrie and Loretta Lees as well as ‘The Challenge of Sustainability’ edited by Hugh Atkinson and Ros Wade and of course shortly before those we also released Joel Magnusson’s great book ‘The approaching great transformation: Toward a liveable post carbon economy’ where Magnusson looks at life after the end of oil and other fossil fuels highlighting many warnings for the planet but also offering us some hope.

What reading book is currently on your bedside table?

Brick Lane by Monica Ali (I have to admit that it has been there for quite a while though).

Victoria Pittman led the editorial picks in February – what would you say is her secret superpower/thing she is most awesome at doing?

Well, in our first (and now annual) Christmas baking challenge in 2013, Victoria wowed us all with her delicious mince pies winning first prize, so I think she’s pretty awesome at making those and it’s a shame we now have to wait another 9 months before we can taste them again.

Victoria’s question for you is: If the earth was about to be destroyed and you could only take one book with you to another planet, which one would you take?

The Hairy Bikers’ Great Curries! I’m hoping that if this was to happen we would have colonised Mars and there would be some kind of supermarket open so that I could make some onion bhajis rather than just fantasise about them.

What question would you want us to ask our next editorial interviewee?

Who will win the Rugby World Cup later this year?


If you enjoyed this blog you might also enjoy….

Policy Press February ‘editorial picks’: Criminology and Criminal Justice

Blog: The Challenge of Sustainability


Publishing today: The Challenge of Sustainability

Hugh Atkinson and Ros Wade’s new book The Challenge of Sustainability: Linking politics, education and learning publishes today. It explores the links between politics, learning and sustainability and how best to embed a commitment to sustainability in all learning.  Last month Hugh and Ros shared some of their thoughts in a guest blog post, reblogged today in celebration of the publication of their book:

The challenge of sustainability [FC]“The world is facing  fundamental social and environmental challenges over the next 50 years. Climate change, global poverty and continuing war and conflict, all of which are set against a backdrop of highly consuming lifestyles, the rapacious tide of neo liberalism and a growing population that is predicted to reach 9 billion by the turn of the century. The resources of the planet are being eaten up at an alarming and unsustainable rate.  Yet governments have been extremely slow in addressing these issues.

One of the obstacles to change has been a reluctance or an inability to integrate social and environmental concerns in to policy making and practice. The concept of sustainable development which came to global prominence after the UN Rio Summit of 1992 was devised as a new way of linking these concerns. Indeed it has provided a new vocabulary of political change. Sustainable development has been at the centre of mainstream policy making over the last 10 years, though its meaning and application have at times been contested.

Yet politicians, concerned about winning elections, appear reluctant to promote awareness raising of the major global and local challenges among the general public in any meaningful way…” …read more of their guest blog post here: Climate change: The rallying call for political bravery, increased democracy and ‘sustain-ablity’-as-standard in education

Copies of the book can be purchased at a 20% discounted price from Policy Press website here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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