5. LAND USE AND OWNERSHIP

5. LAND USE AND OWNERSHIP

With its extended coastline, 263, 000 ha of agricultural land (74% of its land area), a fishing industry worth perhaps £50 million per year, abundant if currently little-exploited mineral wealth, and extensive potential for generation of onshore and offshore wind, solar energy, and wave and water power (the latter a neglected resource), Cornwall is an ideal candidate for a policy which seeks to promote increased local and regional sustainability . Such a policy would clearly need to involve promoting increased local production and consumption of food, which should also ideally be produced in an increasingly sustainable manner. Payments to farmers to farm in sustainable ways (perhaps replacing EU payments) and to encourage produce to be sold locally would also be needed, and maybe some kind of levy on the distance food is transported (a Carbon Footprint Tax?), in order to create locally favourable ‘terms of trade’ for local producers. However, these businesses would also need to be able to continue, at least in the short term, to export from the county to larger national and international markets which they currently sell in, especially highly specialist producers.

Switching to local food production for local need implies that building further houses on agricultural land needs to be discouraged. Fortunately Cornwall has a large amount of brownfield land on which many additional houses could be built. Private developers are often against the use of such land as they see it as more expensive to develop, but clearly some means has to be found which encourages them to switch.

In any case, given the failure of the private sector to provide the kind of houses people need, and/or can afford, the majority of new houses should be built by the community for local need. And all new builds, private or municipal, should be both sustainable and built in a sustainable manner. This policy will involve reintroducing the ‘zero-carbon homes’ building regulations brought in by the last Labour government in 2006, and abolished in 2014 by the Coalition. And it is surely the case that no more large buildings, public or private should be given planning permission without being zero-carbon and without plans which maximise their capacity for renewable electricity generation

As far as land is concerned, Cornwall is still in many ways a feudal society, with large estates, not just the Duchy, dominating ownership. Given these, and the large amount of land owned by the County, it was felt that there is an urgent need for an audit of land ownership in the county, with a view to deciding how the land in the county could be best used to the benefit of all. Clearly, use of land owned by the Council can be diverted into local use for local need, but land in private hands is usually not registered until it changes hands. However, there is the possibility that when it does, a Land Benefit Tax could be introduced so that the Council receives a proportion of the transaction. The 2017 Labour Party Manifesto (p. 86) proposed a Land Tax based on the market value of land to replace the Council Tax.

Another potential source of income may be that, during the late 19th century, much Council land was let to private leaseholders at what are now very low rates, and some of this is now valuable real estate. Many of these leases will shortly be up for renewal! It also appears that the Duchy is sometimes able to borrow from the County in order to fund its own commercial developments, rather than use its own resources, which seems odd.