Sian Berry

Green Party of England and Wales co-leader Sian Berry has pledged to set up a ‘People’s Land Commission’ if elected as Mayor of London in May. She believes this would help to restore and revive local communities.

According to Berry, this policy would help people work to transform their own high streets, plan a low carbon future, and create community infrastructure and new homes. It would seek to use the knowledge in local communities to find the right places for new homes, new trees and green spaces, green energy infrastructure, repair and reuse services, new green businesses, new parks, theatres, community and youth centres.

Berry argued such an initiative would “put power back into the hands of Londoners”. She said:

I will put power back into the hands of Londoners by setting up a People’s Land Commission.

Together, we will go out into our city, and find land to use for the things which actually matter, and which build the resilience we need not only to get through this crisis but to be stronger when we face the next challenges in our city.

Under the policy, Borough Councils would be supported to bring together professionals, experts, Londoners and community groups to chart their local areas, and make plans that would create new homes. This is envisaged to be delivered without demolition of existing property, and by better utilising buildings and plots of land that are currently underused.

Berry’s announcement comes as current Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s small sites policy within the London Plan has been criticised for a lack of local, detailed planning to support it. Criticism stems from the ‘Small Sites Small Builders’ programme being slow to release land and sites, with small builders allegedly struggling to get access to land. The release of small sites owned by Transport for London to community-led housing groups has so far only resulted in two sites being allocated.

The proposals from Berry would seek to overcome this through supporting local areas with funding to purchase land – through grants, revolving funds or borrowing that is financed from rents and income resulting from new businesses and homes. Where necessary, compulsory purchase powers will also be more widely used with the support of the GLA. Berry said:

The People’s Land Commission will empower boroughs, councillors, local people and businesses to map their areas and put forward ideas to use land for new homes, green spaces, community infrastructure and businesses from the ground up.

The huge responses from people on the ground, from all walks of life, to the climate and ecological emergency and the coronavirus crisis, has shown the potential for local action and local ideas. These can be helped to fly with the new levers and new agency a Green Mayor will provide.

There are groups meeting every week in all parts of London looking at these issues in detail with ideas that we in City Hall must help to make happen.

In addition to existing powers including compulsory purchase, Berry has stated that she and fellow Greens in City Hall would continue to lobby the UK government for a devolved or national “community right to buy”. This would enshrine a right of first refusal for a local community group to buy any land or property which goes on sale in a given location. A similar policy already exists in Scotland.

The London Mayoral Election is set to take place in May 2021. Berry’s announcement of a ‘People’s Land Commission’ follows a series of policy pledges made over the past few weeks. At the start of February, Berry announced she would not collaborate with immigration enforcement if elected Mayor of London. And on February 10, she committed to making London “the most trans inclusive city in the world”.

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Image credit: Centre for London – Creative Commons