Sunday, 29 April 2012

The onward march of land enclosure in Brighton and Hove

While the Green Party has clear philosophical principles, the wider 'green movement' means many different things to different people - but for me it is primarily about working towards a sustainable environment, a fairer and more equal society, and the promotion of the public at the expense of the private: of society rather than the individual.

By that I mean, of course, resisting privatisation of public services, and celebrating anti-capitalist approaches to the distrubution of goods and services (that's why I love open source software - do check out this great video of Stephen 'Freedom' Fry explaining why he does too) - but also promoting the idea of common ownership of public space and resisting land enclosures wherever possible.

The history of inequality is the world can be told in various ways: one way is through the history of land enclosures, the process by which land that once belonged to everyone is seized, usually legally, by a private owner, who then either charges 'commoners' a rent to do something they had previously done for free, or, even worse, prevents them from doing it at all.

Much of this enclosure of public space in England happened in the Middle Ages - today the process is mainly going on in desert and forest areas in the developing world and the impact is mainly being felt by tribal peoples who are losing their homes and lands to the process.

But it hasn't completely finished here in England. Just last week, for example, I was astonished to see that the area of concrete by the beach near Brighton's West Pier was fenced off - enclosed, effectively. What had previously been a piece of freely accessible public land - used mainly by skateboarders, walkers and (and here I declare an interest) runners enjoying a spell of free, sunshine-drenched exercise - is now a circuit for people to ride rented 'Segways' - for a tenner a pop.

Now I'm all for innovative ways of having fun, and getting about - and for new entrepreneurs to make a few bob long the way - but, personally, I don't think this should ever happen at the expense of free access to public land.

It's not as if no-one ever used it! The piece of land in question was always busy - both times I've walked (or run) past the site since it has been enclosed no-one has been using it at all.

And that, I'm afraid, is the real tragedy: that once a site has become enclosed, usually everyone loses an amenity - and it doesn't always even benefit the person or company that has done the enclosing.

With stresses on household budgets, increasing personal debt levels, rising unemployment and this week's news that the UK economy has gone back into recession, I think the time has come to accept some of capitalism's failings as a means of managing land use, and to work in exactly the opposite direction: to see what abandoned, privately-owned spaces and buildings can be brought back into free, commonly-owned, use for all of us.

That's why we I support the right of squatters to use empty buildings - especially when they are doing things like providing free vegetables for those who just can't afford to buy them - and why I think we need to stop enclosing any more public space.


  1. I agree with this. There has been a tendency to convert public town centre spaces into private malls, policed by private security guards. So what was once a free public space where kids could gather is now a private space where they get harassed if they hang around.

    As with right to roam in the countryside, any time land is enclosed for private, commercial use in that way, it should require a contract so that the public do not lose their original rights.

    Who owns that piece of concrete, just out of interest?

  2. I'm not sure - but will try to find out tomorrow and report back... Ben

  3. Yes, Rob's question is the same as mine.

    My biggest annoyance is the ownership of property that extends to ripping off tennents.

    I am not against ownership, but I strongly believe that the rental of property should not be dictated by the 'markets'.

  4. Surely the land is either the council's (in which case it should have been agreed by councillors!) or the West Pier Trust's. In either case I would have thought planning permission would have been required.

  5. Is there any news on this? This was a very well used public space and simply saying that it should be rented out to mitigate the effects of cuts is not good enough. The In a Spin site is a depressing eyesore.