A useful definition of “property” is whatever it is that you’ve the right to decide about. If you can decide upon the disposition of whatever it is then it’s your property, if you can’t then it isn’t.
Of course, this all comes in something of a spectrum. It may well be my hand warmer and no one is going to dispute that it’s my property at all but there would be a certain societal resistance to my converting it to a hand held nuclear furnace. And, to be fair, rightly so.
And yet, that chunk of rolling greensward that has been the first purchase of every Englishman who has made it – to become country gentry in three generations time being the grand ambition – isn’t quite the property that many think it is or should be:
Sir James Dyson has lost a battle with conservationists after he was forced to abandon plans to build a man-made waterfall at his £20 million country estate.
The billionaire inventor lodged proposals to fit the water feature at his Dodington Estate in Gloucestershire as well as increase the size of one of three lakes that form part of the River Frome which flows through the grounds.
But conservationists from Historic England raised concerns the waterfall wouldn’t fit into the natural landscape at the 300-acre Georgian estate, while adding enlarging the lake would result in the loss of important green space.
The man-made waterfall, also known as a cascade, was earmarked to be built between two lakes, replacing a natural one already in place considered to be unsightly.
Have Historic England coughed up the money to purchase this estate? Has it been gifted to them? Nope, it hasn’t. It was bought, fair and square, by Dyson from the Codrington family. It’s his.
Except, it isn’t, is it? He’s not even allowed to change the damn waterfall in the middle of his park.
The next little estate down the road, Dyrham Park, is actually owned by the National Trust and thus they get to do as they wish with it. Dodington is private property except, as above, it isn’t really, is it?
So, the question becomes, how much privacy of that property do we have left? And how much of the ownership has actually been transferred to any little squirt willing to spend 20 years climbing the greasy pole of the civil services?