Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Memorandum submitted by Hastoe Housing Association (GIB 11)

Written evidence to Growth and Infrastructure Bill Public Bill Committee 13 November 2012.

1 Summary of submission

 

1.1 Hastoe strongly supports the retention of much needed facilities for rural communities, including post offices, schools and, of course, village greens.

1.2 We welcome the provisions within the Bill to amend the Commons Act 2006 because they will:

· Protect the accessibility of the Town and Village Green (TVG) registration process

· Reduce the considerable waste of time and money caused by the volume of vexatious TVG applications

· Remove a disincentive for landowners to make low value land available for rural affordable housing for local people

· Prevent the considerable stress experienced by communities where vexatious applications are being fought

· Simplify the process and clarify when it is appropriate to apply for TVG status

· Provide local authorities with the opportunity to recover some of their costs.

1.3 We ask for:

· The character test, included in the consultation, to be reinstated - a common sense description of a town or village green and

· The two years referred to in section 15(3)(c) to be reduced to three months - a reasonable period which will not undermine the intention of the clause.

2 Hastoe Housing Association – about us

 

2.1 Hastoe is a specialist rural housing association, registered with the Homes and Communities Agency. We own around 5,000 homes and have worked in partnership with more than 200 village communities, providing affordable homes for local people on exception sites that are, usually, farm land.

2.2 We were established nearly 50 years ago by the Sutton Dwellings Trust. We have a number of subsidiaries including Hastoe Wyvern, a charitable housing association that provides support to rural communities, and Sustainable Homes Ltd, which provides training and consultancy support on environmental sustainability to housing associations and communities.

2.3 Hastoe only develops in villages following a request from parish councils to assist them in the provision of affordable homes for local people. Once the housing need is established, we walk around the village with the parish council and local planner to identify suitable sites. Options appraisals are then carried out and negotiations held with landowners. Usually the sites are farm land and ‘exception’ sites. Exception sites are outside the village envelope, would not normally be granted planning permission and can only be developed because there is good evidence of local housing need and on condition that the homes remain affordable and for local people into perpetuity.

Peter Riches, current Chair of Saham Toney Parish Council, comments on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill clause 13: "The clause is a good idea as it stops the business we have had going on in Saham Toney for so long. In our local area, the council chooses sites to develop and we have a say in it. If a planning application has gone through, then these applications are simply attempts to stop developments. That’s not what a village green application is about and not the way it should work."

2.4 Hastoe’s rural programme is entirely dependent on local landowners who are prepared to release land to us at low values. We can rent our homes at affordable rents because we can access low value land, valued at a multiple of agricultural value, normally around £8k per plot.

2.5 It is vital for our work that we can continue to access these low value sites.

2.6 Landowners will not continue to make their land available to us if they believe they will face the potential cost, time and emotional drain of fighting a vexatious town or village green application.

2.7 Without the low value land, the homes that we are now providing will no longer be built and rural communities will lose the local people who, for example, work on the farms and teach in the schools; they will lose, and are losing, local shops, post offices and schools. It is not an exaggeration to say that without homes that local people can afford to live in, our rural communities will become very different places. We need to protect them.

3 Our response to claims made by others

 

3.1 Claim: The clause will make it difficult, if not impossible, to register land as a town or village green once it has been identified for development.

3.2 Hastoe’s position:

3.2.1 It is, and will remain, very simple to register land as a village green. Defra and a range of organisations such as the Open Space Society are constantly promoting the importance of registering village greens and providing advice and support.

3.2.2 Town or village green registration should be available purely to register town or village greens and not as a tool to prevent development and/or over-ride the planning process. The ‘terminating events’ within the Bill ensure that public and private money is not wasted dealing with parallel planning and village green applications.

3.2.3 Similarly the owner’s statements (clause 12) will provide assurance to nervous landowners and encourage them to make land available for affordable rural housing. The period, after the lodging of a statement, that applications can still be made should be reduced from two years to three months to avoid undermining this clause.

3.2.4 There are currently 4,300 registered Town and Village Greens. This number, compared to the approximate 10,000 Parish and Community Councils in England and Wales, suggests that a high proportion of Town and Village Greens are already registered.

3.3 Claim: Few applications are purely vexatious and the clause has the effect of killing genuine applications too.

3.4 Hastoe’s position:

3.4.1 Please see Annex 1 for evidence about the volume of applications that have been unsuccessful since the Commons Act 2006. This provides the best possible indication of the incidence of vexatious claims.

3.4.2 Bodies such as the Local Government Association, the National Housing Federation and others would not be lobbying for change if this was not a significant and costly problem for their members.

Cllr Ian Metherell, Chair of Marsh Gibbon P arish C ouncil, comments:

"The village green application submitted in Marsh Gibbon delayed the affordable housing project for two years. The parish council and interested residents put considerable time and effort into producing material for the public hearing. Then time and costs were spent attending the hearing, which the applicants for the village green didn’t turn up to. As to whether it is a good idea to disallow village green applications after planning permission has been granted, it depends on whether there has been enough consultation by the planning authority."

3.5 Claim: The reason that so many applications are being refused is that people have difficulty filling in the forms.

3.6 Hastoe’s position:

3.6.1 The form is very simple to complete and the applicant does not bear any cost other than maybe printing and posting the form. There is plenty of accessible advice as stated above.

3.6.2 Annex 2 compares shows the coincidence of TVG applications with second home owners. In Hastoe’s experience vexatious claims are not made by people who have lived in the area for much of their lives but by individuals who have relatively recently moved in and are not primarily concerned about protecting the sustainability of the village and its facilities.

3.7 Claim: The trigger event may not even be public.

3.8 Hastoe’s position:

3.8.1 The neighbourhood planning process is not secret but very consultative and includes considerable community engagement. It is highly unlikely that an individual would not be aware of such a process unless, perhaps, their home in the village was not their primary residence. Should a site that is a genuine village green be identified for development, there would inevitably be considerable local objection, including from the Parish Council (a statutory consultee) and the application would be unlikely to succeed. Both vexatious applications experienced by Hastoe were objected to by the parish councils and individuals in the village who were strong in their affirmation that the farmers’ fields were not village greens.

3.9 Claim: Village and town greens are not only the old-fashioned sort with a duck pond and a cricket square. The ones which communities claim today are likely to be pieces of overlooked or marginal land which have been used by local people for recreation for walking the dog, kicking a ball about or picking blackberries, for instance. They … are loved and enjoyed by their communities.

3.10 Hastoe’s position:

3.10.1 There have been some ridiculous registrations of TVGs because clause 15 of the Commons Act 2006 is so loosely worded. It is obvious to the average person what a village green looks like and how it is used. It is not an agricultural field that people walk their dogs or pick blackberries - that would mean that vast tracts of farming landa. It is also not beach, estuary or pavement. Ideally, to register a TVG there should be evidence of organised activities taking place such as village fairs, bonfires, cricket, football etc. We strongly support the reintroduction of the character test proposed in the consultation document as this provides a good description of a TVG and would prevent this ‘definition creep’ that has been occurring since the Commons Act 2006.

3.10.2 Annex 3 provides examples of applications for TVG status that would have been more appropriately Common Land or Local Green Spaces.

3.10.3 Being ‘much loved’ by a community does not qualify any piece of land as a village green, especially considering the responsibilities and liabilities that brings to the landowner.

4 Hastoe’s experience of vexatious TVG applications

 

4.1 Hastoe has had two TVG applications on our land, both exception sites chosen for affordable housing schemes in partnership with the parish council and planning department. They are at Marsh Gibbon, Buckinghamshire and Saham Toney, Norfolk.

4.2 Annex 4 provides summary information about these applications.

5 Others’ experience of Town and Village Green applications

 

5.1 Annex 5 provides evidence gathered from other associations who have faced similar situations, along with indications of their costs. The considerable costs borne by the Registration Authorities are not shown.

6 Summary

 

6.1 Hastoe is not "anti" the registration of TVGs: indeed, we believe it is essential to retain village greens as part of preserving rural life.

6.2 The proposed amendments are not anti village green. They will, however, provide rural dwellers, parish councils, planners and housing associations with a clearer framework within which they can plan for local facilities, including affordable housing. This clarity will prevent the current waste of significant amounts of time and money and also the damage to community cohesion caused by the emotive disagreements that follow vexatious applications.

Annex 1

Extract from Defra biennial survey 2011:

Registration of new town or village greens – monitoring survey of section 15 of the Commons Act 2006

This chart shows the increase in unsuccessful applications since the Commons Act 2006: a good indication of the volume of vexatious applications.

Annex 2

Evidence about source of vexatious applications

The chart below provides evidence to support the view that vexatious applications are generally made by people who are not local to the village. The Bill will support communities whose main motivation is to support the viability of their village and its facilities.

The chart provides a comparison of the volume of Town and Village Green applications with the proportion of second homes owners in the council area.

Source data ‘TVGs’: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110523/text/110523w0002.htm#an.158

Source data ‘rate per thousand residents’:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/oct/22/second-homes-england-wales-detailed

Annex 3

Examples of applications for TVG status

These the lack of clarity about the definition of a Town and Village Green since the Commons Act 2006.

West Beach, Newhaven, East Sussex Unsuccessful

Fareham to Gosport old railway line Unsuccessful

Banks of Menai Strait, Anglesey Application in progress

Seafront land, Beadnell, Northumberland Unsuccessful

Heaton Park, Manchester [1] Application in progress

Herbrand Walk Beach, Cooden, Bexhill-on-Sea Successful. Reg no: VG78

Car park, Lytton Street and Cannon Street, Lincoln Application in progress

Small area of pavement, Hayfield, Derbyshire Unsuccessful

Annex 4

Hastoe case studies

1 Introduction

 

1.1 Hastoe has two village exception sites that have been the subject of TVG applications. A brief overview highlights many similarities:

2 Marsh Gibbon (Bucks)

 

· 8 affordable homes (6 rented and 2 shared ownership)

· ½ acre site chosen by parish council and planners

· Field been farmed for over 200 years, most recently for strip grazing dairy cattle

· Full planning permission granted February 2008

· Parish council and landowner adamant that the field in not a village green

· TVG application made on whole 15 acre field

· June 2010 Inspectors decision. TVG Green application unsuccessful

· Delay of 2 ½ years and £85,000 cost to Hastoe

3 Saham Toney (Norfolk)

 

· 10 homes for rent built and completed March 2010

· ½ acre site chosen by parish council and planners

· Field been farmed for generations, with good farming records available

· Full planning permission granted

· Parish council and landowner adamant that the field is not a village green

· TVG application made on whole 43 acre field

· Homes occupied March 2010

· TVG application finally submitted April 2010 (after previous unsuccessful attempts)

· Four day Inquiry held October 2012, decision awaited

4 Brief overviews of our two schemes from the developer’s perspective and the landowner’s perspective.

 

4.1 The developer perspective: Marsh Gibbon, Buckinghamshire

The parish council identified a need for affordable housing for local people and approached Hastoe to develop 8 rented homes. A corner of a farmer’s field was chosen by the parish council and the planners as the most suitable. There was full public consultation, planning permission was granted in February 2008, and Hastoe received grant from the (then) Housing Corporation.

This site is a ½ acre section of a larger 15 acre field, which has been farmed for over 200 years and has been used for strip grazing dairy cattle for nearly 40 years.

Hastoe started on site in March 2008 and then an application for village green status was submitted - on the whole 15 acre field. Hastoe halted the development, and removed the building contractor from the site. The parish council, the landowner and a local resident strongly objected to the application.

The case was eventually considered in June 2010 and rejected. This result was good news, but much needed affordable homes had been delayed by 2½ years, cost Hastoe £85,000 and a considerable sum of public money and resource was wasted.

4.2 The landowner perspective by Ed Buscall: Saham Toney, Norfolk

I believe that affordable homes are vital in sustaining rural communities.  As a result, when Hastoe, with the backing of the parish council, approached me about selling them some land, I agreed.  Many people retiring from the south-east have moved to this area in Norfolk, raising prices beyond local people's means and threatening the future of the school at Saham Toney.

Unfortunately, this decision to help has resulted in me becoming involved in an extraordinary process that will last several years and cost me many thousands of pounds. What is so frustrating is I have detailed crop records for the past 20 years and an acknowledgement from those claiming the arable field as a village green that they never walk on it when it is in crop.  On top of that, those making the claim have taken more than two years putting in their village green application, are funded by somebody whose main home is not in the village and have refused to reveal themselves to the rest of the village.  However, it appears that the law is so badly drafted and open to so much interpretation, that the County Council admits it is extremely unlikely to throw out the claim until it has gone to Public Inquiry as they do not want to run the risk of having to pay for any legal challenge to their initial decision. As a result, this legislation means I will now be very reluctant to do any more affordable housing schemes in the future.

Annex 5

Other cases provided to Hastoe

Housing Association

Address

Delay

Estimated costs

Hastoe

Marsh Gibbon

2.5 years

£85,000

Eden

Lark Lane

2 years

£10,000

Arcadia

Smart’s Green, South Gloucestershire

2 years

£70,000

Orwell

Flowton Road, Somersham

2 years

£70,000+

Housing Plus

Silverdene, Penkridge

Over 2 years

Unknown

Home Group

Pontefract, Wakefield

2 years

£10,000

Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust

Derwent Thorpe, York

Colne

Heighbridge, Maldon

Since June’11/ongoing

£1.2m

Impact Housing

South Lakeland

3 years

£17,500

First Wessex

Gosport, Hampshire

2 years

£5,000

Other body

Sainsbury

Mildenhall

1 year

£70,000+

North Norfolk District Council

Holt, North Norfolk

2 years

£10,000

November 2012


[1] Extract from website:

[1]

[1] Heaton Park is a huge family park owned and managed by Manchester City Council.

[1] The Animal Centre is open all year round and has a wide variety of Farm Animals to come and make friends with. As well as the usual animals you would find on a farm such as pigs goats and geese there are some other very interesting animals that are waiting to meet you too!

[1] For a unique experience why not spend the weekend in Smithy Lodge . The 18 th century building was beautifully restored in 2001 with Heritage Lottery Funding. This interesting building with its quirky features and modern facilities will leave you with lasting memories of your time in Heaton Park.

[1] Heaton Park has an exciting events programme from astronomy evenings and children's activities through to large scale dramatic and musical productions.  Heaton Park hosts many events like these every year and because of its proximity to the motorway network and Metrolink it is easily accessible and attracts a wide audience from across the region.  If you would like to hold an event at Heaton Park please refer to the events section of this website for further details and information. 

[1] Heaton Park's Championship Golf Course, is managed by Mack Golf, and has won two awards for the best mun icipal course in the country. 

Prepared 14th November 2012