Crown Estate

Crown Estate
The Crown Estate
The Crown Estate.png
Statutory corporation overview
Formed 1961 (1961)
Jurisdiction United Kingdom
Headquarters 16 New Burlington Place, London, W1S 2HX
Employees 397
Statutory corporation executive Sir Stuart Hampson, Chairman

In the United Kingdom, the Crown Estate is a property portfolio owned by the Crown. Although still belonging to the monarch and inherent with the accession of the throne, it is no longer the private property of the reigning monarch and cannot be sold by him/her, nor do the revenues from it belong to the monarch personally (as upon accession, the monarch decides to surrender the surplus revenues, in return for an annual grant). It is managed by an independent organisation headed by the Crown Estate Commissioners. The surplus revenue from the Estate is paid each year to HM Treasury. The Crown Estate is formally accountable to Parliament, to which it makes an annual report.[1]

The Crown Estate is one of the largest property owners in the United Kingdom with a portfolio worth £7.0 billion, with urban properties valued at £5.179 billion, and rural holdings valued at £1.049 billion; and an annual profit of £230.9 million, as at 31 March 2011.[2] The majority of the estate by value is urban, including a large number of properties in central London, but the estate also owns 144,000 ha (356,000 ac) of agricultural land and forest,[3] more than half of the UK's foreshore, and retains various other traditional holdings and rights, for example Ascot racecourse and Windsor Great Park.



Crown land in England

The history of the Crown lands in England begins with the Norman conquest.[1] The period between the reigns of William I and Queen Anne was one of continuous alienation of lands.[4] When William I died, the land he had acquired by right of conquest was still largely intact.[5] His successors, however, granted large estates to the nobles and barons who supplied them with men and arms.[6] 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.[7] 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 £29,423,895 today).[8] By the end of the reign of William III (1689–1702), however, it was reduced to some £6,000 (equal to £906,403 today).[9]

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:[10]

  • the hereditary revenues, derived principally from the Crown lands, feudal rights (commuted for the hereditary excise duties in 1660), profits of the post office, with licences, &c.
  • the temporary revenues derived from taxes granted to the king for a term of years or for life.

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.[10]

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 in order to avoid pecuniary embarrassment, he was granted a fixed civil list payment and the income retained from the Duchy of Lancaster.[11] 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 £1,602,331 today) and was granted a civil list annuity of £800,000 (equal to £116,533,174 today) for the support of his household, subject to the payment of certain annuities to members of the royal family.[11]

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.[12] Debts amounting to over £3 million (equal to £200,886,522 today) over the course of George's reign were paid by parliament, and the civil list annuity was then increased from time to time.[13]

Every succeeding sovereign has renewed the arrangement made between George III and parliament and the practice has, since the nineteenth century, been recognised as "an integral part of the Constitution [which] would be difficult to abandon",[10][14] especially as resuming control of the income from the Crown Estate would cause the monarch to be liable for the cost of the civil government, civil and diplomatic services.

Crown land in Ireland

In 1793 George III surrendered the hereditary revenues of Ireland, and was granted a civil list annuity for certain expenses of Irish civil government.[11]

As in Scotland, the Crown lands in Ireland comprised a miscellany of feudal dues, land acquired for forts, and forfeitures especially after 1688. 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 arrear with their rent and the result was the Ballykilcline "removals" – free emigration to the new world in 1846. There is evidence of Crown Estate public work schemes to employ the more distressed in improving drainage etc.[15] In 1854 a select committee of the House of Lords concluded that the small estates in Ireland should be sold.[16] 7,000 acres (2,800 ha) were subsequently sold for circa. £25,000 (equal to £1,719,359 today) at auction and £10,000 (equal to £687,744 today) by private treaty: a major disinvestment, with reinvestment in Great Britain.[9]

From 1 April 1923, as regards the Irish Free State, Irish land revenues have been collected and administered by the Irish government. At the time of handover to the Irish Free State, quit rents totalled £23,418 (equal to £990,143 today) and rent from property £1,191 (equal to £50,357 today).[9] The estates handed over mostly comprised foreshore.[17]

Crown land 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.[18] 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.[17] 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,[19] Applegirth, Fochabers and Whitehill estates, purchased in 1963, 1937 and 1969 respectively.[20]

After winning the 2011 Scottish election, the Scottish National Party (SNP) called for the devolution of the Crown Estate income to Scotland.[21] In response to this demand, the UK Government has developed plans to allocate some of the Crown Estate income to the Big Lottery Fund, which would then distribute funds to coastal communities.[21] These plans have also been criticised by the SNP.[21]


Previous officials responsible for managing what is now the Crown Estate were:[22]

Chairmen and chief executives of the Crown Estate Commission

Chairmen (First Commissioner)

Chief executives (Second Commissioner)

  • 1955-60 – Sir Ronald Montague Joseph Harris (b. 1913, d. 1995)
  • 1960-68 – Sir Jack Alexander Sutherland-Harris (b. 1908, d. 1986)
  • 1968-78 – Sir William Alan Wood (b. 1916, d. 2010)
  • 1978-83 – Sir John Michael Moore (b. 1921)
  • 1983-89 – Dr Keith Dexter (b. 1928, d. 1989)
  • 1989-2001– Sir Christopher Kingston Howes (b. 1942)
  • 2001– Roger Martin Francis Bright (b. 1951)

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.[23]

Present day

Crown Estate Act 1961

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".[24] 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[25]

  • The Crown Estate is an estate in land only, apart from cash and gilts holdings necessary for the conduct of business.
  • The Crown Estate Commissioners, who comprise the main board, are appointed by the Queen. They are limited to eight persons.
  • The board of Commissioners have a duty to:
    • maintain and enhance the capital value of the estate and its revenue income; but at the same time –
    • take into account the need to observe a high standard of estate management practice.
  • When selling or letting its property the Crown Estate should always seek to achieve the best consideration (i.e. price) which can reasonably be obtained in all the circumstances, but discounting any monopoly value (mainly from ownership of the foreshore and seabed).
  • The Crown Estate cannot grant leases for a term of longer than 150 years.
  • The Crown Estate cannot grant land options for more than 10 years unless the property is re-valued when the option is exercised.
  • The Crown Estate cannot borrow money.
  • Donations can be made for religious or educational purposes connected with the estate or for tenants’ welfare. Otherwise, charitable donations are forbidden.
  • The character of the Windsor estate (Park and Forest) must be preserved; no part of the estate may be sold.
  • A report should be submitted to the Queen and to Parliament annually, showing the performance of the estate over the previous year.
  • The Crown Estate should observe professional accounting practices and distinguish in its accounts between capital and revenue.
  • Money received as a premium from a tenant on the granting of a new lease should be allocated between capital and revenue as follows:
    • where the lease is for a term of 30 years or less it must be treated as revenue;
    • for leases of more than 30 years it must be treated as capital.

In 2010 a UK Parliament Treasury Committee report on the Crown Estate, the first for 20 years, reported that

  • it is “alarmed” that the Crown Estate in 2007 started investing in joint ventures such as the Gibraltar Limited Partnership, which it says is in “grave” financial difficulties. The Crown Estate owns 50% of the partnership, which owns the Fort Kinnaird retail park near Edinburgh;
  • the Crown Estate has a monopoly over the marine environment, and has focused too strongly on collecting revenues rather than acting in the long-term public interest around ports and harbours;
  • the quality of residential property management in the urban estate falls short. Consultation processes have lacked transparency, and the Committee was “particularly concerned” that the Crown Estate had failed to consult local bodies which had rights to nominate key workers;
  • some non-commercial historic properties should be reviewed with a view to transferring management to conservation bodies such as English Heritage;
  • Ministers should take a greater interest in the Crown Estate, because its overall management struggles to balance revenue generating with acting in the wider public interest.

Crown Estate chief executive Roger Bright said: “We welcome the Committee’s recognition that we run a successful business operation.”[26]


Windsor Estate

The Windsor Estate consists of:

Commercial and residential Offices, retail and hotel 250 hectares
Leisure Golf clubs/Ascot Racecourse 250 hectares
Agriculture Farms 1,200 hectares
Parkland Home Park/Great Park 1,600 hectares
Forestry Woodland areas 3,100 hectares

Marine Estate

The Marine estate consists 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.[27]

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[27]
Continental shelf and extraterritorial rights Sovereign rights of the UK in the seabed and its resources vested by the Continental Shelf Act 1964 (the subsoil and substrata below the surface of the seabed but excluding oil, gas and coal)[27]

Other rights and Interests

Other rights and interests include:

Blue Water and Solihull shopping centres The Crown Estate has a 4.97% share of Lend Lease Retail Partnership which provides an equity interest in the Bluewater shopping centre and the Touchwood Court Shopping Centre.
Retail parks Fort Kinnaird shopping park, Gallagher retail park, The Shires Retail Park: Owned 50/50 through "The Gibraltar Limited Partnership" with The Hercules Unit Trust, a Jersey based property unit trust. Gibraltar Limited Partnerships are often used to avoid or reduce UK tax payments.[28][29]
Retail park Crown Point shopping park.
Retail/office buildings, Princes Street, London 66.67% interest [27]
Savoy Estate Appointment right to receive 23% of the income from the Duchy of Lancaster's Savoy Estate in London.[27]
Minerals Gold and silver in mineral strata in the UK. Mineral rights in approx. 115,000 hectares of land where The Crown Estate does not own the 'surface interest'.[27]
Salmon fishings in Scotland Salmon fishings in tidal and non-tidal waters in Scotland, except where these have been granted to third parties.
Native mussels and oysters in Scotland Wild crustaceans (does not include cultivated crustaceans)
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 use.

Hereditary properties of the Monarch currently in Government use will revert to The Crown Estate in the event of the Government use ceasing.[27]

Escheated land - Land that has no owner other than the Crown as lord paramount of the whole soil of the country. Escheat can result 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.

See also


  1. ^ a b "FAQs". The Crown Estate. Retrieved 20 October 2008. 
  2. ^ "The Crown Estate report and accounts, 2010/11",
  3. ^
  4. ^ Commissioners of Enquiry, s. 38
  5. ^ Pugh, p 3
  6. ^ Pugh. pp. 3-4
  7. ^ Pugh, p. 5
  8. ^ Commissioners of Enquiry, s. 26
  9. ^ a b c H M Treasury "Blue Note", Class X, 2, 1912
  10. ^ a b c Best, p. 1
  11. ^ a b c Best, p. 2
  12. ^ The Guardian, "The royal family and the public purse", March 6, 2000
  13. ^ A Student's Manual of English Constitutional History by Dudley Julius Medley, pg. 501, 1902
  14. ^ Ilbert, C. P., The Times, 14 August 1871, p. 4
  15. ^ Commissioners' Report for 1853, p. 601, and 1855, pp. 42-43
  16. ^ Commissioners' Report for 1855, p.47
  17. ^ a b Pugh, p. 17
  18. ^ Pugh, p. 18
  19. ^ Paterson, Wilma "Out of the shadows", The Herald, 13 November 1999, p. 12
  20. ^
  21. ^ a b c Settle, Michael (22 July 2011). "SNP anger at plan for Crown Estate handout". The Herald. Retrieved 24 July 2011. 
  22. ^ Crown Estate Publication scheme, accessed 8 July 2009
  23. ^ The Crown Estate's [1] annual report, 2008, accessed 8 May 2009
  24. ^ Crown Estate Act 1961, S. 1(3)
  25. ^ "The Crown Estate Act, Brief Summary", The Crown Estate website, accessed 12 July 2010
  26. ^
  27. ^ a b c d e f g
  28. ^
  29. ^


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