Passing the Duchy on a Cornish Holiday

I’ve just returned from a week’s holiday in Cornwall. It was my first time along the Atlantic Cornish coast and I absolutely loved it. I did some epic walks along the cliffs of Crackington Haven then headed down past Tintagel, Rock, Padstow and on to St Ives with a few trips out to Penzance and the wonderful Minack Theatre in Porthcurno.

Cornwall is a truly magical place but it got me thinking about who owns this lovely landscape so favoured by artists. Land ownership is the primary means by which scarce resources are divided in society and as such in a democracy it is imperative that the people know who owns land. In the UK we don’t have a clear idea of who owns the land which is why I am keen to liberate the entire data set of the Land Registry. At the moment you can look up an address and find the owner for the cost of £4 per search but it is not possible to search by land owner.

We do know, however, who is the biggest land owner in Cornwall: the Duchy of Cornwall. But what do we know about this estate and the tax relief or benefits Prince Charles receives as a result of inheriting this vast land holding?

I asked one of my avid correspondents Philip Hosking who is a specialist in all matters Cornish. He’d been in touch several months ago seeking advice about using the Freedom of Information Act to get answers to questions about any public subsidies or benefits received by the Duchy.

He has found the Duchy to be less than transparent. Instead this feudal constitutional body of governance claims that it is nothing more than a private landed estate and therefore exempt from the FOI act. He did point me to John Cross who is using the FOI act to obtain as much info as possible on the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall. You can find out about his work by visiting his blog Confirm or Deny.

For those interested in this subject, John Kirkhope, a Notary Public and Solicitor, has extensively researched the Duchy of Cornwall and is organising a series of public talks on the Laws of Cornwall.

I have one word of advice to all those seeking info on land ownership. Instead of using the Freedom of Information Act you might also try citing the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. This law is based on an EU directive and covers a wide range of information about the environment including land use and pollution. It also applies to any organisation conducting activities affecting the environment, not just public bodies (thus the Duchy of Cornwall IS covered under the EIR). For more info about using the EIR see the websites for the Information Commissioner, or the Scottish Information Commissioner. You should also look at the site of Rob Edwards who is an excellent journalist covering the environment and using both FOI and the EIR laws.

4 Responses to “Passing the Duchy on a Cornish Holiday”

  1. It’s very kind of you to describe me as an expert on all things Cornish but the real research has been done by the following groups and individuals:

    The Cornish Stannary Parliament: http://www.cornishstannaryparliament.co.uk/

    The Duchy of Cornwall Human Rights Association: http://duchyofcornwall.eu/

  2. M says:

    As John Cross’s blog to which you link says, he’s appealing to the ICO as to whether the Duchy of Cornwall is covered by the EIR or not, as they said it was not.

    Whilst there is indeed lots to be determined about the Duchy of Cornwall and it’s all very interesting (John Kirkhope’s paper listing various powers of the Duchy can be read at http://www.cornishworldmagazine.co.uk/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=138 ), please do not let anyone be sidetracked by the above sites with their hashes of half-truths and misunderstandings built into conspiracy theories around Cornish independence.

  3. Roel says:

    Dear Heather,

    In the Netherlands I have used FOIA to disclose costs of our Royals. Lots of it used to be declared ‘private’ but by focussing on the government-funded costs, we got a lot. Our queen has a private yacht(de Groene Draeck, meaning: the Green Dragon), Dutch Navy takes care of maintenance. We got the receipts after FOIA request. Same goes for airtravel, although also private flights, Dutch government pays also for those, so we got receipts (without destinations etc.).

    These are just two examples. Maybe they are usefull to you or other FOIA-‘users’.

    Also, EU farmsubisidies have been disclosed a few years back. Subsidies conderning ‘royal-property’ should or could be made public as well.

    regards,

    Roel

  4. I hope you agree with me that this should be well circulated and that a thorough investigation of the Duchy of Cornwall is long overdue.

    Please could you confirm receipt of this email as I’ve had some problems with my account recently.

    Many thanks

    Plymouth Law Review (2010) 1 128
    “A Mysterious, Arcane and Unique Corner of our Constitution”:
    The Laws Relating to the Duchy of Cornwall

    Historically, legally and constitutionally the Duchy of Cornwall has been consistently referred to as „simply‟ a „private estate‟ allowing it to enjoy a privileged status with significant benefits and concessions. This article argues that this is a somewhat anachronistic position and one that demands further investigation not least because of the opaque nature of the institution and its accountability within a twenty-first century
    constitutional framework.

    Opens PDF file: http://www.research.plymouth.ac.uk/plr/vol3/Kirkhope.pdf

    Oll an gwella

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