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With the family silver gone, the land must go too

Friday 08 December 2006

With a heavy heart, our countryside and rural affairs commentator John Sheard feels he has to write about Robber Baron Brown's Great Land Grab when he would much prefer to discuss his wife's forsythia bushes

I WAS sitting down to write this in a filthy mood - I hate saying what I have to say but I would be shirking our duty to our country readers if I didn't say it - when my wife took me outside to point out that her forsythia bushes are coming into flower.

countryside for sale
For details, See Robber Brown

Now the forsythia flowering is normally part of nature's "yellow" period, when it and the daffodils are in full bloom, olive flies are beginning to hatch on the Aire, the trout season is about to open, and nest building is underway in the avian world. In other words, my very favourite time of the year.

But no such luck. It would be a grave dereliction of duty not to point out the sinister reality behind the Government spin on two important announcements this week, the Barker report on our outdated planning system and Gordon Brown's autumn budget statement. For, make no mistake, they auger ill for our countryside and many of our country folk.

For a start, let's consider why an unknown economist, Kate Barker, was asked to recommend changes to the planning laws. Yes, she is a member of the Bank of England's monetary committee which sets interests rates - a Gordon Brown appointment, of course - but what the hell has that got to do with planning and land use?

Here's a clue: a month ago, as we reported in this column, Brown also commissioned another economist to review future problems of global warming. And guess what? He recommended that we should pay more taxes for creating greenhouse gasses, which allowed Brown this Wednesday to add 1.25p a litre to the price of petrol and diesel - 6.5p a gallon.

That is yet another kick in the groin for country folk who have virtually no other means of transport than their cars. And so many rural filling stations have gone out of business here in the Yorkshire Dales in recent years than many of them use a gallon or more just going there and back to fill up!

On Monday, Brown-appointee Barker said we must sell thousands of acres of green belt land to make way for new housing to put a roof over the heads of millions of people who a) live alone or b) are newly arrived immigrants to these shores.

No mention was made of the fact that both these situations have been exacerbated by Labour policies. They have let millions of immigrants, many of them illegal, flood in whilst creating a tax regime that penalises the traditional family of a married man and woman and their children.

Ms Barker also recommended scrapping local councils having a say in planning matters - the fact that they are local and know the land and people involved is of no importance - in favour of a committee of "wise-men and -women" to make such decisions. And who would those people be?

Another clue: the Government appointed 12 new directors to the national lottery "good causes" committee this week. Five of them were active, paid-up members of the Labour Party. There were no Conservatives or Liberal Democrats.

But what has all this got to do with the countryside? After all, there will be thousands of farmers with green belt land who will become very rich overnight. For instance, a choice bit of land between, say, Ilkley and Otley in the Wharfe valley is now worth approximately three to four thousand pounds an acre. With planning permission for up-market houses, that figure would rocket to £1.5 million.

Having already sold the family silver...Robber Baron Brown is desperately casting around for more stealth

And here we are getting to the heart of things. Of that, Brown would take £150,000 per acre in tax on the land sale, plus untold sums in stamp duty on the new houses and 40% of the builder's profits. On top of that, the local council would reap tens of thousands in local taxes.

The fact of the matter is that Brown is broke. He inherited from the Tories a multi-billion-pound monetary surplus but has blown that and billions more to give us the biggest national debt of all time.

That is why our soldiers in Afghanistan are fighting with cheap bullets that jam their guns; why pensioners are to get a 3.6% rise when their real inflation is 9.4%; why hundreds of (mainly rural) A&E hospital departments may close; why he has broken yet another promise to fund school sport. And that's just this week's reported disasters.

Having already sold the family silver - to use the late Harold Macmillan's memorable phrase - Robber Baron Brown is desperately casting around for more stealth taxes. And he has hit on a clever way of finally stripping the family estate of its final asset: the very land it sits on.

This man who claims to be as prudent as a no-armed Scotsman is actually throwing our money around like a drunken sailor. Now, with that lot of my chest, I will take up the matter of the lady wife's flowering forsythia. There's a subject worth discussing...

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