Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Memorandum submitted by University of Kent (GIB 81)

Summary

1. This written evidence is submitted on behalf of the University of Kent ("the University"), and contains the University’s response to the Growth and Infrastructure Bill ("the Bill"). The University:

· supports the restrictions contained in the Bill on the right to register land as a town or village green ("TVG") under the Commons Act 2006 ("the Act"); but

· is concerned that the proposed ‘trigger events’ unduly disincentivise consultation with local communities concerning proposed developments; and therefore

· proposes that an additional event or additional events should be added to the Bill to protect landowners who engage in such consultation.

The University

2. The University is a body established by a Royal Charter granted in 1965, which educates around 20,000 students at both under- and post-graduate level, and employs nearly 3,000 staff.

3. The University’s largest campus is in Canterbury, and covers around 300 acres located less than 20 minutes’ walking distance from the city centre. Towards the south of that campus is an area of land that has recently become known as "Chaucer Fields". In March 2011, the University applied for planning permission to construct a new development on that land, consisting of a 150 bedroom hotel and conference centre, and a new college containing 762 new student rooms.

4. The University is aware of the importance of consultation prior to the making of a planning application, and accordingly held public exhibitions in December 2010 and January 2011 concerning its proposed development. The exhibitions were advertised in the local press, and by means of leaflets distributed to local residents.

5. Those public exhibitions led to significant local opposition, and on 20 April 2011 a group of local residents submitted an application to register the land as a TVG under the Act. The University opposes that application, primarily on the basis that permissive signs were in place throughout the period meaning that members of the public did not use the land "as of right".

6. However, that evidence is disputed, and accordingly the matter is to be resolved at a public inquiry. That inquiry is scheduled to last a week, starting on 18 March 2013. In the meantime, that application has delayed the University’s plans to develop the land, and caused the University to incur significant legal fees and to spend a considerable amount of time in opposing it.

The University’s response to the Bill

7. The University fully supports the proposed amendments to the Act contained in s.13 of the Bill, removing the right to have land registered as a TVG on the happening of certain triggers. The University considers that it is important that land which is not subject to TVG constraints at the time it is earmarked as being potentially suitable for development, being when it is identified in a draft or adopted development plan document, or in a planning application, should remain available for development while the land remains so earmarked. This is not simply a matter of protecting the private interests of landowners, it is important both economically and socially. In the University’s case the TVG application which it is facing is hampering a development which will provide both economic and educational benefits.

8. The University is however concerned about the proposed definition of those trigger events. At present, the first trigger event specified in the proposed paragraph 1 of new Schedule 1A to the Act is the time when a planning application is first publicised.

9. This provision however is less likely to be of benefit to a responsible landowner who has sought to consult with the local community before finalising its application for planning permission, as the University sought to do; in those circumstances, aggrieved local residents will be aware of the landowners’ intentions with regard to the land before the application for planning permission is made, and will accordingly have the opportunity to apply to register the land as a TVG prior to that happening. Further, in the case of a large scale development the requirements for Environmental Impact Assessments mean that responsible developers are very likely to seek to engage with the community before a planning application is made.

10. Having the submission of a planning application as the trigger event therefore has two perverse consequences. First, it means that a more responsible landowner is less likely to benefit from the protection the Bill seeks to confer. Secondly, it provides an incentive to landowners to apply for planning permission without first consulting the local community (or to reduce the extent to which they do so), thus avoiding the cost and delay a TVG application can cause.

The University’s proposals

11. To avoid those two consequences, the undesirability of which the University takes to be self-evident, the University proposes that an additional trigger event should be included in the Bill, beyond which the right to apply to register land as a TVG under the Act should cease to apply.  That additional trigger event could be related to the commencement by the landowner of public consultation in respect of the proposed development. The trigger itself could be a public notice from the date of which a defined moratorium (say three months) on TVG applications being made could come into effect (which notice could perhaps be given in the same manner as the statement provided for in the amended s.15A of the Act proposed to be introduced by s.12 of the Bill). The landowner could then undertake consultation during the period of the moratorium, without having to consider whether such consultation might provoke a TVG application. The termination event ending the restriction on application could be the end of the moratorium period (though if the consultation resulted in a planning application coming forward another trigger event would occur, under the provisions of the Bill as currently drafted).

12. An alternative way of avoiding or mitigating the potential penalisation of responsible developers who have consulted with local communities before applying would be to suspend any pending TVG applications in the event that an application for planning permission were made. If planning permission were refused, then the application would revive. If planning permission were granted, then the TVG application would be at an end.

13. Either procedure would provide a "breathing space" in which local inhabitants, landowners and local authorities could consider the planning merits of the development of land which by definition at the time is not subject to the statutory constraints of TVG status. Such procedures would balance the interests of landowners, the community, and importantly the public interest in ensuring that land which is available and potentially suitable for development remains available.

December 2012

Prepared 10th December 2012