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We today roundly condemn the Localism Bill, the government’s flagship measure for giving people power to run their own lives and neighbourhoods. The bill is due for second reading in the House of Commons on Monday 17 January.
Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, says: ‘One of the bill’s most important aspects-the care and future of open spaces-lacks any clear idea of what is needed and is a muddle of conflicting provisions’.
Our case officer, solicitor Nicola Hodgson, has analysed the bill as follows.
‘The bill requires every local authority to compile and maintain a list of land of community value in its area, to remain on the list for up to five years, but inclusion on the list appears to offer little protection to the land. If the owner of such land wishes to dispose of it, a community interest group must be given an opportunity to bid.
We cannot see how the bill provides any new protection for open spaces which local people enjoy for informal recreation. Indeed, once land is on the list, the owner may be encouraged to consider selling it for development.
The purpose of the list of land of community value is not clear. Why does land only remain on the list for five years, and what happens to it after that time? What protection is offered to land on the list?’
Land may be nominated for the list by others but it is for the local authority to decide whether it is included. Since much of the nominated land is likely to be owned by the local authority, how can we be sure the authority will be sufficiently impartial?
If the owner of the listed land wishes to dispose of it, a community interest group must be given the opportunity to bid for it, but there is little chance that the group can raise sufficient funds to buy the land, especially if it is at market value based on any obtainable planning permission.
We fear that the bill’s provision for payment of compensation to landowners will encourage them to put land of community value on the market.
And this bill does not mention the government’s proposed “new designation ….. to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities” heralded in the business plans for the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. How does the bill fit in with those plans?
We have called on MPs to ask these and other questions at the second reading debate on Monday 17 January. This bill needs to be rewritten if it is to offer any protection to open spaces which are loved and enjoyed by local people, and if it is to enable and empower those people to play a part in their protection,’ Nicola concludes.