As Wales continues to forge its identity, it’s time for the dragon to fully spread its wings, to take control of its slice of The Crown Estate pie. And we’re talking about a really sizable slice, too.
A recent Freedom of Information request revealed that The Crown Estate holds an eye-watering £853mn of assets in Wales. All of the revenues from that flow to Westminster. This has to change and has to change now, so Wales does not continue to be the poor relation within Great Britain.
What is The Crown Estate?
Contrary to common belief, it is not the private property of the King, nor does it belong to the UK government. It was established by an Act of Parliament in 1961 and is managed by a board known as The Crown Estate Commissioners, functioning as a private enterprise. While its assets are nominally hereditary possessions of the Crown, this is only for as long as a reign lasts: the Sovereign cannot sell any of them, or directly claim revenues.
The land assets of The Crown Estate in England go back to the Norman Conquest of 1066. William I owned England by conquest and could use or redistribute it as he saw fit, including using its revenues to run the country, or gifting chunks of it as patronage. In occupying and subsuming Wales, Edward I expanded those holdings considerably.
In 1760, George III transferred some assets to the government in return for a fixed salary. This was then called the Civil List, now the Sovereign Grant. Net profits from what was turned over were given to HM Treasury for the use of the entire nation, as The Crown Estate revenues are today.
The Crown Estate administers property to a value of £15.6bn, including agricultural land, foreshores, forests, gold and silver deposits (termed ‘Mines Royal’ and leased to mining operators), seabeds, and urban properties. It is one of the largest property managers in the UK.
The Sovereign Grant gives the King a stable source of annual revenue, indexed to a percentage of the annual net income of The Crown Estate. This is how he can receive a considerable ‘raise’ during a time of high inflation and cost of living crisis.
The case for devolving control is not just about handing over the keys. It’s about unlocking Wales’ potential for prosperity, sustainability, and local decision-making.
Former Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hunt claimed last year that there was “no public interest or appetite” for devolving The Crown Estate. The current Leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies, has said that the people of Wales don’t want “constitutional tinkering”.
They are both wrong. The people of Wales want to see The Crown Estate devolved to and controlled by the people of Wales, for the people of Wales. This shouldn’t even be a subject for discussion in the 21st century. Is Wales a colony of England? Well, from afar, it looks rather like it. The assets of Wales should be used for people living in Wales. Give to Wales what belongs to Wales.
A YesCymru poll in May this year revealed 58% support for this, with only 19% opposed. How much more evidence do you need?
It is time the Welsh people were listened to so they can benefit, just like those in Scotland. The Crown Estate’s Scottish assets were devolved in 2016, and its revenue now goes to the Scottish Government. How can Wales similarly benefit?
- Local decisions and local impact
- An economic windfall
- Sustainability stewardship
Give to Wales what belongs to Wales
Local decisions, local impact: This is about Wales making decisions about its natural resources, not Westminster. It’s about putting the power back in Welsh hands, not having others decide the fate of our land, environment, and assets. Local leaders who know the issues in Wales, who understand the needs and aspirations of their communities, are the best people to steer the ship.
Economic windfall: Wales contains a goldmine of resources waiting to be harnessed responsibly. The Crown Estate controls the seabed to 12 nautical miles, holds 65% of foreshores and riverbeds, and has 50,000 acres on common land. These are extremely profitable. With these resources Wales could drive its own economic destiny instead of being a puppet. There is much talk about wind farms and marine energy projects; we have the people to deliver these. It’s not just about revenue, but also ensuring that the benefits of these resources flow directly into the lives of people in Wales.
Sustainable stewardship: Wales can be a green champion. It has set ambitious targets for renewable energy and environmental sustainability. Control of The Crown Estate is the key to unlocking our full potential. Wales can lead the way in responsible resource management and set an example for the world to follow.
Accountability and harmony
Everyday The Crown Estate affects the lives of ordinary Welsh citizens. The money feeds into the Treasury and supports the monarchy. But no-one is truly accountable. Those who are making decisions on The Crown Estate in Wales must be accountable to the people who are subsequently affected by the spending of its revenues. Devolution is not just a transfer of power: it’s a commitment to transparency and accountability. Decisions made about Welsh resources should be made by those answering directly to the Welsh electorate.
Nor is devolving control of The Crown Estate to Wales just an economic or environmental matter. It’s about striking a constitutional balance, achieving constitutional harmony. It’s about Westminster recognising that the diverse nations within the UK should have the autonomy to shape their own destinies.
The time is ripe for Wales to take control of its portion of The Crown Estate. Wales wants this. It’s a call for reaffirmation of the right of Wales to determine its own course.
There are many issues in Wales that are not being solved. Securing The Crown Estate, the revenues from its land and assets, is a key to resolving these issues. It’s a key to unlocking the full potential of a nation and enabling Wales to stand firmly on its own two feet.