Enclosure Redux: Disappearing Public Land in Neoliberal Britain

Authors: Brett Christophers*, Department of Social and Economic Geography, Uppsala University
Topics: Economic Geography
Keywords: land; Great Britain; privatization; political economy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Napoleon C2, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Of all Britain's privatizations during the neoliberal era, the biggest by far happens, paradoxically, to be the least visible and recognized and the least understood. This is the privatization of land. Since Margaret Thatcher assumed power in 1979, public bodies the length and breadth of Britain have been disposing of land deemed surplus, and they continue to do so. To date, land worth hundreds of billions of pounds has been sold; in value terms, land privatization thus dwarfs all other British privatizations, representing the most significant – and likely irreversible – denudation of the nation’s public wealth. In this paper I summarize the results of the first-ever comprehensive study of this immensely consequential phenomenon. I discuss why land has been privatized, how it has been privatized, and with what consequences. I document the scale of the land privatization program. I demonstrate its temporal and geographical variegation. I discuss which types of public land, and which public landowners, have been most heavily affected, focusing in particular on the differential impacts on local and central government holdings. I discuss who public land has been primarily sold to. And, last but not least, I discuss why both scholars and the general public in Britain remain so unaware of this profound historic transformation in the political economy of the ground beneath their feet.

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