The term ‘unimproved land value’ is widely employed in much writing on LVT, but can be misleading. What is intended is to make the distinction between a site that has been developed or built upon (improved) and a vacant site where no apparent development has taken place (unimproved). The problem with this term is that it leaves unresolved various anomalies that might arise when trying to establish the actual meaning of ‘unimproved’ for the purposes of taxation.
Perhaps the commonest example is that of farmland, which from an urban point of view would appear to be ‘unimproved’, but which may have benefited from generations of careful cultivation, drainage and irrigation, but the evidence of which is not readily visible.
At the other extreme are industrial sites, which have been built upon and ‘developed’, but whether such development can be described as an improvement is debatable. The necessary structures, plant and machinery required for the industrial production become a liability when the industry goes into decline and the site is abandoned; no little expense is required to clear the site and render it usable for some other purpose.
Another example is that of land reclaimed from the sea, which is quite common throughout the world; the so-called ‘unimproved’ site would still be on the seabed.
It is therefore suggested that the term ‘unimproved land value’ should be avoided and only the simple terms ‘land value’ or ‘site value’ be used. This would imply the current market value of the site regardless of its history, or whether it is urban or rural.