22 Jun 2014

Who owns the land?

On the 18th of June, this petition,  signed by some 25,000 people was presented to the House of Lords at the start of their debating this 'Infrastructure' Bill. It is still well worth signing it.

Threats to our land came to the local Green Party’s attention via Hands Off Our Forest (HOOF) which is a pressure group dedicated to keeping the Forest of Dean and other public woodlands in public ownership, set up after the previous government attempt to sell our land. It seems that this government has ignored all previous public outcry against the attempt previously to privatise the land that belongs to all of us. Now, they are attempting again to give away of our countryside, but this time by the back door.

The 2nd Reading, a Debate, was in the House of Lords on the 18th June 18, where as far as I can tell, nothing definitive happened. This is still the start of a process and there is scope to stop the worst aspects of this bill. http://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2014/june/lords-infrastructure-bill/

The following information is all taken from what we’ve heard from HOOF – edited in places for brevity and because we’re now after the second reading... This is not the work of a legal expert, but it’s all we have at the moment.

HOOF say:

' Action  is  needed  now  to  halt  proposed  legislation  which  would  allow  all  public  land  In  England  &  Wales  to  be  privatised.

At our (HOOF's) meeting this week, we decided we must press for an exemption for the Public Forest Estate (that is, all those woodlands in England that are owned by all of us, and managed by the Forestry Commission) within the Infrastructure Bill...

You may recall that we kicked up quite a fuss in 2010/11 over plans for the forest sell-off, and the law which would have made it possible, the Public Bodies Bill.   Our campaign, in association with others around the country and national efforts has transcended politics, class and many, many interests because our public woodlands mean so much to so many people (40 million visit them in England every year) ...this Bill is a massive juggernaut and could hit us before we've had a chance to take evasive action. It affects ANY public land and all private land except that owned by the Queen and Royal family.

The Queen's Speech announcing the Infrastructure Bill was on June 2, it was introduced to the House of Lords three days later, and got its second reading (and first debate) June 18. The Bill is designed to fulfil many functions, so many that it's easy to only concentrate on that hot potato, fracking, and possibly also the HS2 railway line  -  but the Bill enables far more than that.

There is also the issue of the need to build more houses.  However, is it right that all these developments should take place on the precious little public land there is?  Isn't it our land, the people's, and shouldn't we have a say in what happens to it?  As about three-quarters of the acreage of Britain belongs to 0.6% of the population (see Kevin Cahill's Who Owns Britain?), can't they spare any of their land to be built on?

What the Bill proposes is that the Secretary of State can hand over any amount of public land to the arms-length, non-departmental Government body, the Homes & Communities Agency.  The HCA can then dispose of it to developers.  There will be no need to go through local authority planning processes  -  the Secretary of State can give the green light without any local politicians or planners' involvement,  just by consulting a panel of two people.

As for public rights of way, the proposed law allows any of them to be extinguished.  There is no need for permission for easements (i.e. roads, power-lines, railways. drilling, tunnels, etc).  And any existing laws that protect land and prevent its being built on, appear to be over-ridden by one simple enabling clause (quoted from the Bill, see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2014-2015/0002/lbill_2014-20150002_en_7.htm#sch3):

"SCHEDULE 3 Transfer schemes...
2 (1) The property, rights and liabilities that may be transferred by a scheme include—
(a) property, rights and liabilities that would not otherwise be capable
of being transferred or assigned;"

So, while the Public Bodies Bill came to the attention of forest campaigners because it specifically mentioned the Forestry Commission and forests and proposed changes to the Forestry Act 1967, for the Infrastructure Bill there is no need to list this act or others (such as Rights of Way and other protections for other pieces of land), because in one fell swoop, it enables every statute to be ignored and over-ridden!
The Government briefing (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/infrastructure-bill) on this aspect of the Bill states:

Public sector land assets
The bill would permit land to be transferred directly from arms-length bodies to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). This would reduce bureaucracy, manage land more effectively, and get more homes built.

The bill would make sure that future purchasers of land owned by HCA and the Greater London Authority (GLA) will be able to develop and use land without being affected by easements and other rights and restrictions suspended by the agency. Sometimes land owned by HCA and GLA has easements or rights and restrictions from its previous use. At the moment HCA and the GLA can suspend these, but not pass that suspension on. The bill would make sure that purchasers of this land would also benefit from the suspension.

Land Registry
The bill would also allow Land Registry to take on statutory responsibility for the Local Land Charges register and an extension of powers would also allow Land Registry to play a wider role in the property market. Consultation on these measures took place between January and March 2014...
You may be aware there is already a campaign against the privatisation of the Land Registry. Not only will it be privatised, the newly-private entity will have extra powers over who owns what land!

Please consider writing to your MP, and sign the petition. Also have a look at  www.handsoffourforest.org

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