The Crown Estate is a collection of lands and holdings in the United Kingdom belonging to the British monarch as a corporation sole, making it the "Sovereign's public estate", which is neither government property nor part of the monarch's private estate. As a result of this arrangement, the sovereign is not involved with the management or administration of the estate, exercising only very limited control of its affairs. Instead, the estate's extensive portfolio is overseen by a semi-independent, incorporated public body headed by the Crown Estate Commissioners, who exercise "the powers of ownership" of the estate, although they are not "owners in their own right". The revenues from these hereditary possessions have been placed by the monarch at the disposition of Her Majesty's Government and thus proceed directly to Her Majesty's Treasury for the benefit of the British nation. The Crown Estate is formally accountable to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, where it is legally mandated to make an annual report to the sovereign, a copy of which is forwarded to the House of Commons.
The Crown Estate is one of the largest property managers in the United Kingdom, overseeing property worth £12 billion, with urban properties valued at £9.1 billion representing the majority of the estate by value. These include a large number of properties in central London, but the estate also controls 792,000 ha (1,960,000 acres) of agricultural land and forest, more than half of the UK's foreshore, and retains various other traditional holdings and rights, including Ascot Racecourse and Windsor Great Park. Naturally occurring gold and silver in the UK, collectively known as "Mines Royal", are managed by the Crown Estate and leased to mining operators.
Historically, Crown Estate properties were administered by the reigning monarch to help fund the business of governing the country. However, in 1760, George III surrendered control over the Estate's revenues to the treasury, thus relieving him of the responsibility of personally paying for the costs of the civil service, defence costs, the national debt, and his own personal debts. In return, he received an annual grant known as the Civil list. By tradition, each subsequent monarch agreed to this arrangement upon his or her accession. However, from 1 April 2012, under the terms of the Sovereign Grant Act 2011 (SSG), the Civil List was abolished and the monarch was thenceforth provided with a stable source of revenue indexed to a percentage of the Crown Estate's annual net revenue (currently set at 15%). This was intended to provide a long-term solution and remove the politically sensitive issue of Parliament having to debate the Civil List allowance every ten years. Subsequently, the Sovereign Grant Act allows for all future monarchs to simply extend these provisions for their reigns by Order in Council. The act does not imply any legal change on the nature of the estate's ownership but is simply a benchmark by which the sovereign grant is set as a grant by Parliament.
The history of the Crown lands in England and Wales begins with the Norman conquest. When William I died, the land he had acquired by right of conquest was still largely intact. His successors, however, granted large estates to the nobles and barons who supplied them with men and arms. The monarch's remaining land was divided into royal manors, each managed separately by a seneschal. The period between the reigns of William I and Queen Anne was one of continuous alienation of lands. The Crown lands were augmented as well as depleted over the centuries: Edward I extended his possessions into Wales, and James VI & I had his own Crown lands in Scotland which were ultimately combined with the Crown lands of England and Wales. However, the disposals outweighed the acquisitions: at the time of the Restoration in 1660, the total revenue arising from Crown lands was estimated to be £263,598 (equal to £36,318,804 today). By the end of the reign of William III (1689–1702), however, it was reduced to some £6,000 (equal to £901,648 today).
Before the reign of William III all the revenues of the kingdom were bestowed on the monarch for the general expenses of government. These revenues were of two kinds:
After the Glorious Revolution, Parliament retained under its own control the greater part of the temporary revenues, and relieved the sovereign of the cost of the naval and military services and the burden of the national debt. During the reigns of William III, Anne, George I and George II the sovereign remained responsible for the maintenance of the civil government and for the support of the royal household and dignity, being allowed for these purposes the hereditary revenues and certain taxes.
As the state machinery expanded, the cost of the civil government exceeded the income from the Crown lands and feudal rights; this created a personal debt for the monarch.
On George III's accession he surrendered the income from the Crown lands to Parliament, together with abrogating responsibility for the cost of the civil government and the clearance of associated debts. As a result, and to avoid pecuniary embarrassment, he was granted a fixed civil list payment and the income retained from the Duchy of Lancaster. The King surrendered to parliamentary control the hereditary excise duties, post office revenues, and "the small branches" of hereditary revenue including rents of the Crown lands in England (which amounted to about £11,000, or £1,526,315 today), and was granted a civil list annuity of £800,000 (equal to £111,004,717 today) for the support of his household, subject to the payment of certain annuities to members of the royal family.
Although the King had retained large hereditary revenues, his income proved insufficient for his charged expenses because he used the privilege to reward supporters with bribes and gifts. Debts amounting to over £3 million (equal to £220,071,696 today) over the course of George's reign were paid by Parliament, and the civil list annuity was then increased from time to time.
Every succeeding sovereign down to and including Elizabeth II renewed the arrangement made between George III and Parliament and the practice was, by the nineteenth century, recognised as "an integral part of the Constitution [which] would be difficult to abandon". Nevertheless, a review of funding arrangements for the monarchy led to the passage of the Sovereign Grant Act 2011, which according to HM Treasury, is:
A new consolidated grant rounding together the Civil List, Royal Palaces and Royal Travel grants-in-aid. It is intended that future funding will be set as a fraction of The Crown Estate revenue and paid through the annual Treasury Estimates process, and subject to full National Audit Office audit. . . .
The Grant is to enable The Queen to discharge her duties as Head of State. i.e it meets the central staff costs and running expenses of Her Majesty's official Household – such things as official receptions, investitures, garden parties and so on. It will also cover the maintenance of the Royal Palaces in England and the cost of travel to carry out royal engagements such as opening buildings and other royal visits. . . .
While the amount of the Grant will be linked to the profits of the Crown Estate, those profits will continue to be paid in to the Exchequer; they are not to be hypothecated. Setting the Grant at a percentage of profits of the Crown Estate will help to put in place a durable and transparent framework.
In 1793 George III surrendered the hereditary revenues of Ireland, and was granted a civil list annuity for certain expenses of Irish civil government. Most of the crown land by then was from forfeitures after the 1641 rebellion or the 1688–91 revolution, with some smaller older parcels remaining from earlier rebellions, the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the Norman period. Most confiscated land had been granted away again, as under the Adventurers' Act 1642, Act of Settlement 1662, and Act of Resumption 1700. The balance which remained in Crown hands included the "undisposed lands" of the 1662 settlement (worth less than the small quit rent that a grantee would have had to pay) and the balance unsold by the trustees under the 1700 act at its 1703 time limit. The scattered crown lands were farmed out on long leases with little regard to the collection of rent. Responsibility lay with the Quit Rent Office, which was absorbed in 1827 by the Commissioners of Woods, Forests and Land Revenues. The largest Crown estate in the 1820s was Pobble O'Keefe in Sliabh Luachra at 5,000 acres (2,000 ha). In 1828 the lease expired, and Richard Griffith was appointed to supervise its improvement, including the foundation of the model village of Kingwilliamstown. In the early 1830s the Crown Estate resumed possession of land in Ballykilcline following the insanity of the head lessee. The occupational sub-lessees were seven years in arrears with their rent and the result was the Ballykilcline "removals" – free emigration to the new world in 1846. There was further state-assisted emigration from overpopulated Crown estates during the Great Famine. There is evidence of Crown Estate public work schemes to employ the more distressed in improving drainage etc. In 1854 a select committee of the House of Lords concluded that the small estates in Ireland should be sold. 7,000 acres (2,800 ha) were subsequently sold for circa. £25,000 (equal to £2,153,459 today) at auction and £10,000 (equal to £861,384 today) by private treaty: a major disinvestment, with reinvestment in Great Britain.
Article 11 of the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State provided that Crown Estate land within the Irish Free State would belong to the state, which took over administrative responsibilities on 1 April 1923. At the time of handover, quit rents totalled £23,418 (equal to £1,225,747 today) and rent from property £1,191 (equal to £62,339 today). The estates handed over mostly comprised foreshore. The Crown estate in Northern Ireland in 1960 comprised "a few quit rents ... yielding yearly only £38." By 2016 it had an income of £1.4m, from cables, pipelines and windfarms on the foreshore, and goldmining in Tyrone. Development of the seabed below low tide is hampered by a sovereignty dispute with the Republic of Ireland.
It was not until 1830 that King William IV revoked the income from the Crown estates in Scotland. The hereditary land revenues of the Crown in Scotland, formerly under the management of the Barons of the Exchequer, were transferred to the Commissioners of Woods, Forests, Land Revenues, Works and Buildings and their successors under the Crown Lands (Scotland) Acts of 1832, 1833 and 1835. These holdings mainly comprised former ecclesiastical land (following the abolition of the episcopacy in 1689) in Caithness and Orkney, and ancient royal possession in Stirling and Edinburgh, and feudal dues. There was virtually no urban property. Most of the present Scottish estate excepting foreshore and salmon fishing is due to inward investment, including Glenlivet Estate, the largest area of land managed by the Crown Estate in Scotland, purchased in 1937, Applegirth, Fochabers and Whitehill estates, purchased in 1963, 1937 and 1969 respectively.
After winning the 2011 Scottish election, the Scottish National Party (SNP) called for the devolution of the Crown Estate income to Scotland. In response to this demand, the Scotland Office decided against dividing up the Crown Estates. However, plans have been developed to allocate some of the Crown Estate income to the Big Lottery Fund, which would then distribute funds to coastal communities. These plans have also been criticised by the SNP.
The Scottish government has taken control of a portfolio of assets totalling £272 million ($339.6 million) after a devolved Scottish Crown Estate was established, including the rights to develop marine energy projects in the country.
The Crown Estate now is a statutory corporation run on commercial lines by the Crown Estate Commissioners under the provisions of the Crown Estate Act 1961. Under the Crown Estate Act 1961, the Crown Estate Commissioners have a duty "while maintaining the Crown Estate as an estate in land [...] to maintain and enhance its value and the return obtained from it, but with due regard to the requirements of good management". The Act provides among other things that (Section 1(5)) "The validity of transactions entered into by the Commissioners shall not be called in question on any suggestion of their not having acted in accordance with the provisions of this Act regulating the exercise of their powers, or of their having otherwise acted in excess of their authority, nor shall any person dealing with the Commissioners be concerned to inquire as to the extent of their authority or the observance of any restrictions on the exercise of their powers".
Summary of the Act
In 2010 a UK Parliament Treasury Committee report on the Crown Estate, the first for twenty years, reported that
Crown Estate chief executive Roger Bright said: “We welcome the Committee’s recognition that we run a successful business operation.”
This includes the entirety of Regent Street and around half of St James's in London's West End as well as retail property across the UK in locations including Oxford, Exeter, Nottingham, Newcastle, Harlow and Swansea.
In 2002 the Crown Estate began implementing a £1 billion investment programme to improve Regent Street's commercial, retail and visitor facilities and public realm. In addition, they are investing £500 million in St James's, including a number of major redevelopments.
Holdings consist of around 116,000 hectares (287,000 acres) of agricultural land and forests, together with minerals and residential and commercial property.
|Agricultural interests||Agricultural interests include both livestock and arable farming. Consisting of around 106,000 hectares (263,000 acres) across the UK, they also include 26,900 hectares (66,500 acres) of common land, principally in Wales.|
|Forestry||Around 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres) of forestry |
|Minerals||Rights to extract minerals covers some 115,500 hectares (285,500 acres). Actual operations include 34 lettings, extracting sand, gravel, limestone, granite, brick clay, coal, slate and dimension stone.|
The Windsor Estate covers approximately 6,300 hectares and includes Windsor Great Park, the Home Park of Windsor Castle, extensive forests, residential and commercial properties, golf courses, a racecourse and let farms.
|Commercial and residential||Offices, retail and hotel||250 hectares|
|Leisure||Golf clubs/Ascot Racecourse||250 hectares|
|Parkland||Home Park/Great Park||1,600 hectares|
|Forestry||Woodland areas||3,100 hectares|
The Crown Estate's marine holdings consist of:
|Foreshore||Approximately 55% of the UK's foreshore is owned by the Crown Estate; other owners of UK foreshore include the Duchy of Cornwall and the Duchy of Lancaster. In Orkney and Shetland, the Crown does not claim ownership of foreshore.|
|Territorial seabed||The Crown Estate owns virtually all of the UK's seabed from mean low water to the 12-nautical-mile (22 km) limit.|
|Continental shelf and extraterritorial rights||Sovereign rights of the UK in the seabed and its resources vested by the Continental Shelf Act 1964 (sub-soil and substrata below the surface of the seabed, but excluding oil, gas and coal), the Energy Acts 2004 (renewable energy) and 2008 (gas and carbon storage).|
The Crown Estate plays a major role in the development of the offshore wind energy industry in the UK. Other commercial activity managed by the Crown Estate on the seabed includes wave and tidal energy, carbon capture and storage, aggregates, submarine cables and pipelines and the mining of potash. In terms of the foreshore, the Crown Estate issue licences or leases for around 850 aquaculture sites and owns marina space for approximately 18,000 moorings.
Other rights and interests include:
|Shopping centres||CrownGate Shopping Centre, Worcester.
Westgate Shopping Centre in Oxford and Princesshay Shopping Centre in Exeter are a 50:50 joint venture partnership with Land Securities. The Crown Estate also has a 4.97% share of Lend Lease Retail Partnership which provides an equity interest in the Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent and the Touchwood Shopping Centre in Solihull.
|Retail parks||Crown Point Shopping Park in Leeds, MK1 Shopping Park in Milton Keynes, Aintree Shopping Park in Merseyside, Altrincham Retail Park in Trafford, Bath Road Shopping Park in Slough, Morfa Shopping Park in Swansea, Ocean Retail Park in Portsmouth, Queensgate Centre in Harlow, South Aylesford Retail Park in Maidstone, Apsley Mills Retail Park in Hemel Hempstead, Victoria Retail Park in Nottingham, Morfa Shopping Park in Swansea. Coliseum Retail Park in Cheshire Oaks, Ellesmere Port has been bought for £81m.
Edinburgh's Fort Kinnaird, Cheltenham's Gallagher Retail Park and Warwick's Leamington Shopping Park are owned 50/50 through "The Gibraltar Limited Partnership" with The Hercules Unit Trust, a Jersey-based property unit trust. The estate recently purchased the new Rushden Lakes site in Northamptonshire from its developers.
|Retail/office buildings||Princes Street, London W1B (near Oxford Circus) with a 66.67% interest.|
|Savoy Estate apportionment||Right to receive 23% of the income from the Duchy of Lancaster's Savoy Estate in London.|
|Native mussels and oysters in Scotland||Wild crustaceans (does not include cultivated crustaceans)[clarification needed]|
|Reversionary and contingent interests||Some properties are sold by the Crown Estate for public benefit (such as educational or religious use) with a reverter clause, which means ownership may revert to the Crown Estate in the event of a change of use.
Hereditary properties of the monarch currently in government use will revert to the Crown Estate in the event of the government use ceasing.
|Escheated land||Land that has no owner other than the Crown as lord paramount of the whole soil of the country. Escheat can result from bankruptcy or the dissolution of companies. Freehold land owned by dissolved companies which were registered in England or Wales are dealt with by the Treasury Solicitor as bona vacantia.|
|Licences and right granted at nil rent||Includes: water mains, cables, substations and war memorials.|
In the 2015/2016 fiscal year, the Crown Estate's property evaluation was £12 billion with a £304.1 million net revenue profit (up 6.7%).
Previous officials responsible for managing what is now the Crown Estate were:
Chairmen (First Commissioner)
Chief executives (Second Commissioner)
The chairman (formally titled "first commissioner") is part-time. The chief executive (the "second commissioner") is the only full-time executive member of the Crown Estate's board.
The Quit Rent Office deals generally with the management of all forms of Crown property, including quit rents, which was transferred to Saorstát Eireann by virtue of Article 11 of the Constitution.