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Land ahoy!

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Press reports that John Prescott is about to introduce a land tax on developments to pay for lossmaking or social activities in the built environment will prompt a hoarse laugh from those unfortunate enough to recall Labour attempts to do this sort of thing before. Always too frightened to introduce land nationalisation (ditto comprehensive education), the Great Reformists fiddle about at the edges, never quite sure whether they want development to take place or whether they don't. In the 1960s, this resulted in the fatuous system of 'office development permits' and 'industrial development certificates', which assumed that development equalled massive profits.What the control system did, of course, was to limit supply, thus creating exactly the circumstances in which the property industry was likely to enjoy a wonderful speculative boom, which it proceeded to do.

Having been stung once, the great mind of Anthony Crosland addressed itself to land and betterment. His solution, the near-deranged Community Land Act (with its little sister, Development Land Tax) again avoided the real issue, producing a bureaucratic nightmare in which the only people who paid significant tax were people like British Rail. Developers avoided it all with ease.

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