NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Land-Use Reform in Britain

September 4, 2002

Ownership and use of land in the United Kingdom is subject to a greater array of statutory controls now than at any time since the introduction of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, critics say. Because Britain's system of land-use planning is fundamentally misguided, they argue, it needs radical reform to let market forces play a much larger role.

  • The U.K. has one of the most comprehensive systems of government land-use regulation anywhere in the industrialized world.
  • Moreover, regulation has become tighter, partly because of the environmental agenda.
  • This regulatory system suffers from over-centralization, absence of experimentation, lack of information and inappropriate incentives -- in other words, problems always and everywhere associated with centralized planning.

Giving local authorities more control though decentralization might help, as might the auctioning of development rights, but more fundamental reform is required. Therefore, critics believe the following corrective measures should be taken:

  • Development rights should be denationalized, leading to a private system of land-use control.
  • Private covenants and deed restrictions could be used to preserve open space, to avoid nuisances and to maintain scenic views.
  • The establishment of proprietary communities would allow the state to divest itself of development rights, which would be held instead by "recreation and amenity companies" holding development rights collectively for the local community.
  • Profits from development would be shared by the community, thus decreasing opposition to development proposals.

The costs of enforcing property rights could be reduced by entrepreneurial action in a free market, observers say.

Source: Mark Pennington, "Liberating the Land: The Case for Private Land-use Planning," (London: Institute of Economic Affairs, March 2002).


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