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Infrastructure Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by the Open Spaces Society (IB 47)

Summary

The Open Spaces Society seeks an amendment to clause 27 of the Infrastructure Bill to safeguard common land and open spaces and prevent them from being treated as surplus land, and to safeguard public paths including those not yet recorded on definitive maps.

1 The Open Spaces Society is Britain’s oldest national conservation body, founded in 1865. It campaigns for common land, town and village greens, open spaces and public paths throughout England and Wales, and their use and enjoyment by the public.

2 The society is specifically concerned with what is currently clause 27 (Property etc. transfers of land to the HCA and the GLA) of the Infrastructure Bill.

3 As drafted this clause enables the Secretary of State to create schemes to transfer to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) designated property etc of a specified public body. Such bodies may be specified, or of a description specified, by regulations made by the Secretary of State [Clause 27(2)].

4 Clause 27(5) defines ‘public body’ as a person or body with functions of the public nature.

5 Paragraph 152 of the explanatory notes state that these provisions are intended to affect arm’s-length bodies of government departments such as executive agencies and NDPBs.

6 However this limitation to such arms-length bodies does not appear in clause 27. Further the very wide definition of ‘public body’ means that schemes may be made for a huge variety of different public bodies which may have a huge variety of different kinds of property etc.

7 This clause, as since amended, now excludes land which was acquired, or is treated as having been acquired, for the purposes of forestry.

8 Baroness Kramer, in the second reading debate, gave the following assurance: ‘I confirm that the Government are committed to England’s public forest estate and national parks remaining secure in public ownership for the people who enjoy them and the businesses that depend on them. The measure that we discussed for the HCA is about transferring surplus land from government agencies. The public forest estate and our national parks are in use; they are therefore not surplus and none will therefore be transferred to the Homes and Communities Agency. This measure does not apply to them.’

9 However, as can be seen, the Government did accede to an amendment expressly excluding such land from the effects of the Bill.

10 However in relation to open space such as commons and allotments, this assurance is not reflected in the language of the Bill, despite requests that it be made explicit that such land cannot be used for the purposes for which land is to be transferred to the HCA.

11 Moreover, the drafting of this clause is so wide that there is concern that land comprising open space or having public rights over it could be transferred under this provision and any rights attaching to the land removed when a scheme is made by the Secretary of State. This is an alarming possibility and it needs to be is clear on the face of the Bill that this cannot happen.

12 It is submitted that, unless provision is also made in the Bill for the exclusion of such land in addition to forestry land, the real concerns about the use to which open space land such as commons may be put cannot be allayed. There is also a risk to public paths, in particular to those not yet recorded on the definitive map.

13 The amendment which the society has proposed and which has, so far, been rejected by the Government is set out in the annex below. The society considers that such an amendment would be sufficient to ensure that open spaces etc cannot be treated as land surplus to requirements, thereby ensuring that the accompanying risk that their status is threatened or removed cannot occur.

January 2015

ANNEX

Page 26, line 43, at end insert -

"provided that any designated property, rights or liabilities to be transferred pursuant to a scheme -

(a) have been classified as surplus;

(b) do not comprise land forming part of a common, open space or fuel or field garden allotment; and

(c) do not extinguish any public rights of way"

Page 27, line 9, at end insert-

" "common", "open space" and "fuel or field garden allotment" have the same meaning as in section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981."

Prepared 15th January 2015