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Planning and Compulsory Purchase (Re-committed) Bill

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The Chairman: Order. We are not discussing new clause 18 at the moment.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Thank you, Mr. Pike. I may well come back to the Minister once he has clarified those points.Matthew Green: I welcome the clarification on the date, which there was good reason to seek as the hon. Member for Cotswold said. However, my reading of the provisions leaves one unresolved issue on which I am sure the Minister will quickly put my mind at rest.

New section 5A(5) says:

    ''If the acquiring authority enters on and takes possession of part of the land . . . the authority is deemed, for the purposes of subsection (3)(a), to have entered on and taken possession of the whole of that land on that date.''

I am having a bad attack of the whatiferies, rather as the Minister did earlier, which I stayed well out of. I

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can foresee a situation where a local authority decides to take part of a landowner's land, but then six months down the line decides that it is going to extend the scheme that it is bringing forward and take a further part of that landowner's land. I am concerned that the local authority could claim it had previously taken possession of part of that land, and that therefore the date of the valuation was the earlier date, even though the authority had no intent at that time of taking the land later.

I am clearly describing a what-if situation, but it is not entirely implausible that a local authority would acquire further land, discover that it needs to amend its scheme and thus acquire even further land. Since the local authority would have a new intent, the second date should be taken into account rather than the first.

Sir Sydney Chapman: I dare to enter the debate on the new clause for just one reason, on which the Minister can perhaps help me. The new clause is clearly technical, immensely specialist and incredibly important. There cannot be a much more important issue than the assessment of compensation value in certain spheres of government.

As I said earlier, the original Bill was a fast-track Bill, but it then went into the railways sidings for a few months. It has now come out with new carriages and important appendages that we must consider. Frankly, I am not competent to deal with the problem and could not begin to have the expertise to do so. I hope that I am not slandering any colleague on the Committee, but I doubt whether anybody else here could either. However, I would be at least partly reassured if I could be told that on this new clause and one or two to come, which I cannot mention, the Government have consulted relevant organisations or institutions, interested parties or parties that are likely to be affected.

I could support the new clause in good faith only if I could be assured that the Government have consulted. A worry is that it was suddenly produced for public inspection just a few weeks ago, if not a few days ago. It is in the interests of democracy that these specialist organisations write to Members on both sides of the Committee to say that they have an interest in this matter and that they would like us to advocate it, and that they have had an opportunity to consider the proposals, so that we could then be asked to pass legislation in which we may fairly and reasonably have confidence.

6.30 pm

Mr. Turner: I am glad that my hon. Friend has admitted what I believe was going through many of our minds—that we are baffled by the Minister's explanation of what the clause is trying to do. I am certainly baffled. I suppose that the opposite of ''whatifery'' is anecdotalism. I shall therefore go for anecdotalism, because at least that provides me with a firm example. would then be of use to me if the Minister could at least try to deal with it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold suggested that a consequence of an imminent compulsory purchase order is that the price of the

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value of the land can be pushed up. An alternative consequence of an imminent compulsory purchase order is that the value of the land can be depressed. That is particularly the case with agricultural land and with land that is likely to be purchased for highways.

I know of a case in which the ombudsman found a local authority wrongly to have given planning permission for a particular agricultural development, which led to serious damage to neighbouring housing. The ombudsman ordered that compensation should be paid to the residents of that housing, which the local authority decided that it did not want to pay. Instead, it tried to extinguish the planning permission. For reasons best known to itself, it did not go down the route of the revocation order and compensation, but decided instead to buy by compulsory purchase the land on which the development had taken place. The whole process began in 1998 and is still going on. The farmer is a dairy farmer who has seen the value of his herd reduced significantly over that time, yet he has not been able to transfer his business to a longer-term agricultural prospect, as neighbouring dairy farmers have, because he has no guarantee that he will have any land on which to operate in the long term.

We have never reached the point, and I suspect that we never will, where the compulsory purchase order is confirmed—at least, not unless we hand the power to confirm compulsory purchase orders to local authorities, which we may do further down the line. However, I am sure that the Minister will accept that the value of the land has been severely depressed because of the blight of this ill-considered and ill-founded compulsory purchase order.

When discussing whatever these terms mean, it is entirely immaterial whether we talk about a general vesting declaration or, in this case, the notice to treat. The fact of the matter is that the value of the land has declined over five or six years and the farmer is still unsure in which direction he should go. He has done all sorts of things to try to resolve the issue, including applying for planning permission for housing on the land in question, which the local authority rejected. It is widely believed that the local authority wanted to buy the land for housing purposes.

Will the Minister clarify for my benefit, if for no one else's, how these different terms—notice to treat and vesting declaration—would apply if that compulsory purchase order had gone through and if a price had to be fixed?

Keith Hill: I believe that we all sense that we are dabbling in deep waters with this new clause. We have all expressed a certain amount of caution. I fully vouchsafe my own caution in dealing with such issues.

Let me attempt to deal with the questions raised by the hon. Member for Cotswold about speculation and the anecdotal case of changes in the value of land. The Committee now has another expression: after ''whatifery'' we have ''anecdotalism''. It is difficult for me, in my quasi-judicial capacity, to comment on a particular case, but let me say on the question of how changes in circumstances affect the compensation offered that the compensation is assessed on open-market value, ignoring speculation that may have

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resulted from the proposal. How does that prevent speculative gain? It appears that valuation techniques are capable of stripping back in such cases to the original value in what is described as a no-scheme world. I honestly do not know whether the technique would be applicable in the case of the farmer that was cited by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight, but I suggest that it may be a path worth pursuing. I certainly understand the difficulties of the individual concerned.

The hon. Member for Cotswold asked about the effects of a notice to treat under a general vesting declaration. The vesting declaration is a much quicker way of getting title to land that is in unknown ownership, as in the case that he cited. As I indicated earlier, the notice to treat method leaves an opportunity to identify ownership of a period of up to three years.

The hon. Member for Ludlow asked about the situation that would arise with the part and whole, a concept that is a very reasonable proposition. He asked what would happen to the compensation payable if a local planning authority decided to extend the area of compulsory purchase. The answer is as I had expected: entry on to a part of land applies only if a notice of entry has been served on the whole of the land, but it only takes a part. It does not apply to later notices of entry. Therefore, the compensation applies to the order that has been served and not to any later order. That seems entirely reasonable, and we seem to have agreement on it across the Floor.

The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet rightly alluded to the complexities of the provisions. He said that he would feel more confident in embracing them if he were satisfied that a proper process of consultation had been associated with them. I hope that I can carry him with me on the proposals when I tell him that there certainly has been a very thorough process of consultation. The compulsory purchase policy review advisory group, which comprises external experts on the matters, recommended exactly the proposals in a report published in 2000. The Government took account of its comments in the Green Paper of December 2001 and the comments received on that in our policy statement of 18 July 2002. I should enter a slight qualification to what I said. I said that the report recommended ''exactly the proposals'', but it is the gravity of the proposals that were put forward by the external group of experts. They have been further consulted on during the development of the Green Paper and the consultation following the July 2002 policy statement.

The proposals have been subject to a pretty thorough consultation process. External experts are with us on this and, on that basis, I am more than content to commend these fair proposals to the Committee.

 
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