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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Whose green and pleasant land?

Today's article in the Daily Telegraph alleging that the Conservative Party has received millions of pounds in donations from developers who stand to benefit from the Government’s controversial planning reforms is not good news for the coalition government, nor does it bode well for the Tories.

The paper says that dozens of property firms have given a total of £3.3 million to the Tories over the past three years, including large gifts from companies seeking to develop rural land. They add that developers are also paying thousands of pounds for access to senior Tories through the Conservative Property Forum, a club of elite donors which sets up “breakfast meetings” to discuss planning and property issues.

The inference of course is that this will lead to a new “cash-for-access” row and will raise fears that planning policies could have been influenced by powerful figures from the property industry.

The row centres around the proposal to introduce a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, which campaigners have warned would give developers “carte blanche”. The Telegraph says that Conservation groups have complained bitterly of a lack of access to ministers over the proposals and the National Trust has demanded a meeting with David Cameron.

David and Simon Reuben, billionaires who own Millbank Tower in Westminster, have given almost £500,000 over the past decade, while Terence Cole, a London-based developer, donated almost £300,000. IM Properties, which is expanding Birch Coppice Business Park, near Tamworth, Staffs, has given around £1 million since 2009. The suggestion is that these donors have much better access to Ministers and key policy formers.

This row once more underlines the need to reform party funding. All the major parties are too reliant on big donors to fund their activities. Despite the requirement to register donations there is no transparency as to why people give money in the first place and what they think they are getting in return.

There may well be chinese walls between party fundraising and Ministers, but the fact that donors often get to meet those decision-makers inevitably raises suspicion as to what is said and what unspoken understandings are arrived at, if any. That is something Nick Clegg is going to have to look at as he progresses his own reform agenda.
A high rate of " land development appreciation tax " is long overdue.
Why should landowners reap massive rewards when land is redesignated for development ?
The tax could be used to subsidise first mortgages for young people who are squeezed out of the market.
This could be a first stage in land reform which is well overdue.
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