Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Trumping Property Rights

Since when does a bewigged* billionaire have the right to take your property to help make himself even richer?

Donald Trump has won another crucial victory in his bid to build the "world's greatest golf course" after planners approved his plans to expand the £1bn project onto land which is owned by his fiercest opponents.

The billionaire property developer has been allowed to exploit a quirk of Scottish planning law after Aberdeenshire council gave him outline permission to develop six plots of land he does not yet own, including the 25-acre property owned by Michael Forbes, his most famous critic.

The decision immediately provoked a furious row, with affected landowners promising to take legal action against the council to prevent it taking the next step – trying to seize their land using compulsory purchase powers.

Compulsory purchase powers should only be available in very rare circumstances where essential public services have an absolute need for a particular piece of land- for example building a reservoir may be a justifiable use of compulsory purchase orders because there would be no way that one particular property could be spared whilst flooding the surrounding area and water supply is a public good. A golf course is no justification for simply taking someone's property without consent.

There is something unseemly about fawning over people and granting them special privileges just because they are rich (see also the treatment of Sir Allen Stanford by the ECB for another recent example).

Most Scottish politicians have a reflexively anti-capitalist instinct but they probably believe that by granting special dispensations to big business they are showing how investor friendly they really are. Supporting economic development isn't about favouring the interests of developers over those of other parties but about providing clear rules that apply to everyone and property rights that can be defended in a court of law, even against the likes of Donald Trump.

* Actually it probably isn't a wig, just a combover. No one would buy a wig that bad.

{via Alex Massie}


JuliaM said...

How can you give 'outline permission' to build on land you don't yet (and might never) own? Is this just a quirk of Scottish law, or does this happen in England too?

sobers said...

@JuliaM: Yes, the law is the same in the UK. As long as you serve notice on the landowner, you can apply for planning on whatever bit of land you like.

Obviously this is mostly done by developers with the prior agreement of the landowner, with the object of buying the land if planning is granted for development.

But you could do it to someone who had no plans to develop or sell their land whatsoever.

As for Donald Trump - I hope the chap who owns the farm in the middle of the development stands his ground. If he doesn't want to sell, he shouldn't be forced to.

JuliaM said...

Good grief, what a waste of time for the planners!

TDK said...

I think you have to distinguish between being pro-Socialist and anti-Capitalist and between (anti-Capitalist) politician and voters.

Despite the rhetoric, Socialists in practice tend to make rather a lot of exceptions - Armand Hammer being the most famous example. In the UK we can see that you can be a rich entrepreneur provided you make the right noises. Thus Body shop never made a dent on any Socialist's radar until they sold out to an established rival. Multi-millionaire Jeremy Grantham indulges in behaviour which would, were he of different political views, attract censure.

I think you need to recognise a distinction between statism (which is usually synonymous with socialism) and socialism. If you believe that the state has the right to remove property from certain individuals to benefit other individuals for the good of the collective then it's but a short step to justify eminent domain, which is the justification here.

You demand consistency. In a way there is consistency - the ruling elite determines the public good. Your property is your own until the bureaucrats deem otherwise.