Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Open Spaces Society (L 30)

The Open Spaces Society is Britain’s oldest national conservation body, founded in 1865. We campaign to create and conserve common land, town and village greens, other open spaces and public paths, in town and country, throughout England and Wales.

The Open Spaces Society is particularly concerned about Part 4 (Community empowerment), Chapter 4 (Assets of community value). We are worried that so much of the detail is to be dealt with by regulations, giving ministers wide-ranging powers to interpret the legislation as they wish, and without returning to Parliament.

The Bill is being paraded as offering opportunities for local communities, empowering them, but this will not be the case in practice.

Every local authority is required to compile and maintain a list of land of community value in its area, to remain on the list for up to five years (clause 71). The purpose of the list is not explained, nor why there is this time limit and what happens to the land on the list after the five years.

In addition, land can be nominated by others (clause 73), but it is for the local authority to decide whether it goes on the list (clause 74). However, much of this land may be owned by the local authority or be land in which the authority has some interest, so there is a risk that it will not be sufficiently impartial.

Inclusion on the list appears to offer little protection. If the owner of the land wishes to dispose of it, a community interest group must be given an opportunity to make a written request to be treated as a potential bidder (clause 79), but there is little chance that the group could raise sufficient funds to buy the land, especially if it is likely to be at market value based on any obtainable planning permission.

There is a provision for the payment of compensation to landowners (clause 82), but it is not clear where that funding will come from, nor what is to be compensated. If it is the alleged delay suffered by the landowner prevented from putting the property on sale in the open market, it will certainly encourage immediate attempts to do that.

We cannot see how the Bill provides any new protection for open spaces which local people enjoy for informal recreation and by including it on a list, it may encourage the owner to consider disposal.

The Bill does not refer to the proposed ‘new designation … to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities’ which is in the business plans for the Departments for Communities and Local Government, and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Questions to which we request the committee seeks answers from the Department of Communities and Local Government

1. What is the purpose of the list of land of community value?

2. Why is there a time limit for land to remain on the list?

3. What happens when this time limit expires?

4. What provision will be made to ensure that the local authority can take an impartial decision about the inclusion on the list of land in which it has an interest?

5. What protection is offered to land on the list?

6. What funding is available to enable a community interest group to acquire land on the list which the owner wishes to sell (bearing in mind this is likely to be at a market value based on whatever planning permission may be obtainable)?

7. What is the compensation under clause 82 for and whence comes the funding to enable the local authority to pay compensation to a landowner whose land is included on the list?

8. How does this relate to DCLG and Defra’s proposed designation to ‘protect green areas of particular importance to local communities’?

9. What benefits does this provide to local communities?

January 2011