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So as we slide into another general election wondering what it holds for us and our loved ones it appears there’'s something on the table that may affect my garden and possibly yours.

We have no affiliations to any political party and I don'’t want to predict the outcome on Thursday but however imperfect any of the parties may be and given that the British Taxpayer is a net contributor to the EU coffers I can'’t really see the majority of the electorate of the United Kingdom believing that at the present time anybody other than one party is capable of negotiating something during the imminent Brexit negotiations that is not going to be punitive for the British taxpayer. Even so, anything can happen at an election and in the later stages of campaigning we are being treated to a variety of policies from the various parties that presumably they feel will be vote-grabbing or at least will try and justify the other things they say they'’re going to do for ‘us’.

I confess that I hadn’'t noticed Labour'’s new ‘garden tax’ as the conservatives styled it recently, or more accurately their ‘Land Value Tax’ until somebody brought it to my attention last weekend… whilst standing in the garden chatting about my wife Caroline'’s call-ducks and our new project, ‘tortoise central’. Although on its own websitethe labour party claims that they would only tax the richest 5% of the population more the truth is that no government ever manages to get significantly more tax-take out of the population as a whole with a ‘Tax-the-Rich’ agenda because the genuinely rich have better lawyers and accountants than Mr. and Mrs. Two-kids-and-a-Mortgage and more ways to slip out of the tax-man'’s clutches. Conversely when you have the kids, the mortgage and a job or self-employment your family commitments push you into paying more tax if governments overspend because the cost of your mortgage and living expenses etc. aren’'t tax deductible and your increased living expenses through having kids push you closer to or further into the higher tax brackets.

Increasing corporation tax does tend to raise money in the short term, although in the long term it’'s likely to depress tax receipts and economic growth as companies adjust and shift their operations meaning that if spending isn'’t controlled more of the burden of excess spending always falls on middle-income earners. Council tax isn’'t levied according to income however and it is true that as well as facing that increased risk of progressively higher income taxes that comes with increased spending, as proposed the proposal to tax land would result in councils being able to levy more tax on people with above average sized gardens. That group of people includes me.

The reason that potential tax increase includes me is that I live in an ex-council house that was built at a time when Councils built houses with large gardens so that people could make them productive by growing vegetables in them, maybe keeping a pig or the odd chicken. In fact, if this proposal came in, it wouldn’'t just affect me locally (or it shouldn'’t just affect me), it should also affect the man next door to me who lives in a house that is still owned by the Council and which also has an above-average sized garden. It should affect him …..if I had to pay more in Council Tax for my land I can’'t see why he shouldn'’t also be paying more Council Rent for his big garden and so should all the other Council House residents with big gardens, the majority of which in economic terms are unproductive.

If you'’re a farmer or know anything about agriculture you'’ll know that if you’'re producing livestock it’s actually quite a tough job to produce something and make a profit margin over and above the cost of the feed you have to purchase to do it even before you consider the return on the capital employed in your business. Caroline'’s bantams and call-ducks in theory are a ‘productive’ bit of our garden but if you looked at the cost of the feed we purchased, the fencing and housing etc. then the value of the eggs they produce is always far exceeded by the costs of production. As Caroline has now trained the dogs not to attack the ducks they wander free and lay their eggs in the garden rather than in their bespoke duck accommodation. So we’'re now lucky to get just the odd egg before the dogs find them and the most obvious evidence of ‘production’ is that rather than having delicious rich eggs with our bacon we are instead treated in the evening to the most appalling dog-farts.

Tortoise-central is a new project. The youngest daughter has just decided that she must have a tortoise as a new pet and only a tortoise will do. As Caroline has decreed (rightly) that it must be a rescue they went to the Tortoise Protection Group in search of our new pet. And the tortoise protection group said that it couldn’'t live in the house and we could only have one if we built a large secure enclosure with an insulated house, power, and a heat lamp, as shown in the picture above complete with visiting wandering call duck. Luckily we'’ve been able to do it because we have a big garden although if you look at the cost of the materials and the time it takes to do it, not only is it not productive time or investment, it'’s a not insignificant cost.

In good years our raised beds aren'’t too unproductive but again, apart from the years when we have time to grow potatoes, which we do well with, mostly the cost of growing anything exceeds the cost of what we would have to pay for were we just to buy the veg in the supermarket having been produced by farmers in Turkey, Africa, South America etc. (not so much the European Union these days I notice).

Other parts of our garden are slightly less organised than tortoise central and the raised beds. We have a rowan, a may tree and an elder and other plants that effectively cost us time and therefore money but which favour the birds and the bees. Fans of Springwatch and other nature programmes will be aware that the collective reserve provided by people’'s back gardens are a significant nature resource in ecological terms, particularly in England, and play a part in slowing the decline of some of our fauna. It all costs money, it’'s not productive as such but there are environmental benefits.

I did recently investigate another way of making my garden more ‘productive’ as I have the space to do so. I have an area where I could install a rainwater collection tank. UK housing stock generates 27% of carbon emissions but particularly in the south east of England another issue is that we have water shortages, most of our water use is in domestic housing and about 30% just goes down the toilet. Much of our water is not gravity fed but pumped up out of the ground or recycled from ground water and purified which itself has an energy cost and being aware of this I thought I’'d ‘do my bit’ and look at the cost of putting in a rainwater harvesting system given that my garden is big enough to accommodate it and allow access to put it in. There’'s a lot of whining about water bills from utility companies like Thames Water but if I look at the cost of buying the tank, having it dug in and making good, having the pipework etc. put in, versus the cost of my water bill, it would probably take about twenty years before we recovered the cost. I’m guessing that most people wouldn’'t expect to recover the cost of that before their next house move. And there’'s no tax incentive for me to do it that I can see in any of the parties'’ proposals, or for any other house-owner, or for buy-to-let landlords.

If that garden-land-tax, whatever you decide to call it, goes through as proposed I think a lot of houses will have to be sold, a lot more gardens will be built on and that opportunity to recycle water or harvest energy through ground-source heat pumps will progressively disappear. It’'ll only be that top 5% that are going to be able to afford to do it...and they don't need to.

The real value to us of our garden over the time that we'’ve had it is that at times when you’'re busy because you'’ve got kids …or you’'re strapped for cash because you'’ve got kids, or both, …you can always go in the garden with the family can'’t you? It’s cheaper than a weekend break or a few days at Centerparcs....…just do the garden, play with the kids in the garden, play with the dogs in the garden, save a bit of cash and get some daylight. It has become trendy to talk about ‘Wellness’ and ‘Mental Health’ in recent years and it’'s going to be a central theme for us at Wetfest this weekend: For many people with or without kids their garden is a big issue in ‘Wellness’ terms and without them many could not consider having the dogs, cats or other pets they have.

Whatever you decide to label it, land tax or garden tax, even though it stems from a desire by Labour to make Council tax 'fair' as they see it and think through the numbers you work out that even large numbers of people in ex Council Houses would be caught by that and if they are, for the proposal to be ‘fair’ then people in Council Houses ought to face it too in higher rents. If they can’'t pay then it’'s only ‘fair’ that they should be be evicted if they don'’t pay and their houses let to tenants that can pay, or those houses should be sold, just as my ex-Council house was when the Council needed a few extra bob. Tenants in private rented accommodation would also have to pay it. The cost and the consequences of all of that aren't as immediately apparent as the cost of e.g. a few extra policemen, but when you think about it the indirect costs would have many consequences. We couldn'’t afford to keep the pets we keep and give them the quality of life we give them and many people would experience a big impact in ‘Wellness’ terms.

I'm not a member of any political party and I'm a bit disappointed that no political party can find me a way to make my garden productive by making it worthwhile for me or anybody else to use it to harvest water or energy. But I think this land-tax proposal is one of those policies that just wasn'’t very well thought through.

Tax-the-rich? The elusive 5%? I don'’t think so….I think this would be Tax For The Many …Not The Few.