Property, Planning & Protest

The contentious politics of housing supply, by Quintin Bradley

My new book will be published by Routledge in 2023. It is a compelling new investigation into public opposition to housing and real estate development. Situating this movement in a history of land reform and common rights, and the political economy of land value, Property, Planning, Protest sets out a persuasive new vision of democratic planning.

A town planning movement

In this book I argue that the amenity and community groups engaged in the contentious politics of housing supply are the contemporary mobilisation of a town planning movement that has continued to agitate for land reform since the first planning legislation. This amenity movement champions a democratic plan-led system in which land use is allocated to address social need, development rights are effectively regulated, and the benefits of development are distributed to address inequalities. The contentions of amenity groups merit critical attention. The conflict over housing is fought over matters of property rights in which the right to extract value from land is arrayed against the common right to land as the means of production and reproduction. 

Planning against property

I argue that land use planning should be understood as the assignment of property rights. Planning rescinds and assigns development rights; it enables or restricts the land use rights of property owners. It is concerned, then, with deciding competing claims to property rights. As David Harvey (2011: 103) says, these decisions boil down to simple questions: whose side are you on, and whose interests do you seek to protect? The property theorist Laura Underkuffler (1996:  1038) argues that “If we award an individual the right to extract minerals, cut trees, or control land, that same right, [is] necessarily denied to others.” Property rights give to some people what cannot be given to all. They assign control over a finite natural resource, over land, a condition of existence, and in doing so, deny that resource to others. The freedom that property rights supposedly bestow on landowners is wholly contingent on the rule of law and the willingness of the state to protect those rights. Property ownership depends on the state for legal recognition and ultimately relies on the state monopoly on legitimate violence to enforce its exclusions. The allocation of property rights represents choices taken to reward the claim of some individuals and corporations to the ownership and control of scarce resources and to deny the claims of others. “If my right to land is upheld, then your claim to that land is denied. If my right to create pollution, congestion, or erosion is upheld, then your claim to be free of those ills is denied,” Underkuffler (1996: 1042) said. Property cannot be separated from questions of distributional justice. To assign property rights is to distribute resources, and to decide who gets what, where. There is nothing neutral about this. Questions about the kind of society we live in, and the society we want to live in, are intrinsic to these decisions. 

For more details, including multiple extracts from chapters, please go to Property, Planning & Protest

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