New Domesday Book

A call for a New Domesday book. Currently ownership of large tracts of land are shrouded in secrecy. However we do know that the UK has some of the highest concentrations of land ownership and rights in Europe.

The need for a new Domesday book  to reclaim the commons.

So what might a ‘New Domesday “Book” ‘ mean? The point of the original Domesday Book was to catalogue land ownership, land use and its ‘capacity’ in order for William I to tax, appropriate or extract wealth for himself. The idea of a new Domesday ‘Book’ is to catalogue land ownership, stewardship, use and potential for the sustainable benefit of the mass of the people. ‘Book’ is a metaphor for a lot of online data which needs to be collated, probably with crowdsourced input and made freely accessible.

We already have the Land Registry which 155 years after its foundation in 1862, with 4.5K employees,  still has 15% of UK land, around 9 million acres, to go. It is expensive to extract the information of land transfers and ownership and the general quality of the information is poor. Much of the history of land transfers and covenants allowing shared usage of the benefits of any site is missing. For example land owned by the former GLC (Greater London Council) typically remains in the City of London Archives with the covenant details (e.g. ‘education purposes only’, rights of ‘copyholders’) ‘lost’ (to quote a librarian – i.e. thrown away) when the GLC was abolished. Earlier remaining records in say the British Library or county archives are only accessible with great effort although they paint an interesting picture of a time when land was less exclusive personal property, like a toothbrush, but more something that a range of local stakeholders could glean some benefits from.

The site ‘Who Owns England?’ is developing well in painting a richer picture of land ownership and the Private Eye map of UK offshore ownership is also spreading a shocking picture of elite parasitism (more precisely covert rentier capitalism). This work needs to be massively extended and the periodic government rhetoric about revealing the individual human beneficiary owners turned into reality. The current economic impetus is a continuing story of the theft of the commons, which in accord with the Charter of the Forest of 1217 needs to be restored and pre-Norman models of land tenure restored and elaborated. (You might start with Leviticus.)

The fundamental principle is almost total transparency with what is fundamentally a common asset, with the only restriction probably being information on the personal dwelling of individuals.

Practical details need more elaboration and suggestions are welcome.

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