Acre not to be abolished – unfortunately

The media just can’t get it right. Nor can they miss any opportunity, however unfounded, to knock both the metric system and the European Union. The latest non-story is to be found in the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail of 21 July.

With a headline “EU abolishes British acre” the Telegraph declares that “The acre, one of Britain’s historic imperial measurements, is to be banned from use under a new European directive.” Similarly, the Daily Mail’s headline announced: “Selling land by the acre to be banned under new EU ruling.” See these links:

Both papers then go on to print verbatim the misinformed comments of a Conservative spokesman – from which it is obvious that the story emanates from a Conservative Party press release.

In fact the acre is not to be abolished. All that has happened is that, since the UK’s Land Registries have for many years used hectares rather than acres for land registration, it has been agreed that the exemption for acres for this purpose (and this purpose only) is redundant. So the decision is a tidying up measure that makes no practical difference to this or any other uses of the acre.

In any case, land is not bought and sold by unit of area (that is, priced per acre or hectare). Each site is unique and is sold as a single lot. You can’t stroll into the estate agent and order “10 acres/hectares of land, please”. Where acres and hectares are used, they are simply descriptions of the size of a site.

However, when it comes to paying of EU subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy, hectares are of course mandatory. This is because a consistent means of calculating subsidies is necessary, and since every other country uses hectares, it is only sensible that the UK should fall into line.

UKMA believes that it would be better if acres WERE abolished for all remaining legal, trade and official purposes. Once it is understood that a hectare is equivalent to a square 100 m by 100 m, it is very easy to work with. (The Mail and Telegraph articles illustrate the dysfunctional nature of acres by including the helpful information that an acre is 4840 square yards!) It is also highly inconvenient to have to work in hectares for some purposes and acres for others, with all the problems of conversion errors and incomprehension that result.

So the Mail and the Telegraph got it wrong. The EU has not abolished the acre. If only the UK Government would.

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