Localism Bill threatens open spaces

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We have once again criticised the Localism Bill, the Government’s flagship measure for giving people power to run their local communities. The bill is due for a second reading in the House of Lords on Tuesday 7 June.

Our case officer Nicola Hodgson, says: ‘We believe one of the bill’s most important aspects should be the care and future of open spaces but it lacks any clear idea of what is needed and is a muddle of conflicting provisions’.

The society considers that the most worrying threat to open spaces is contained in the new general powers given to local authorities in Part 1. Says Nicola ‘Even with the limitations proposed, we are concerned that the general powers could be used to enable local authorities to do whatever they want with open spaces and public access land.’

The society wants the Government to undertake that the bill will not bypass existing legislation in order to authorise a local authority or government minister to use, appropriate or dispose of land which is subject to special protection or conservation, and will not relax any existing procedures relating to that land.

Nicola continues: ‘We believe the bill should exclude open spaces held in trust for the public, and rights of way dedicated as highways from modification under the general powers.

‘We remain concerned that much of the detail in Part 4 (community empowerment, assets of community value) is to be dealt with by regulations, giving ministers wide-ranging powers to interpret the legislation as they wish, and without returning it to parliament.

‘The bill is being paraded as offering opportunities for local communities and empowering them, but this will not be the case in practice. Every local authority is required to compile a list of land of community value in its area, to remain on the list for up to five years; however the purpose of the list is not explained.

‘We cannot see how the bill provides any new protection for open spaces which local people enjoy for informal recreation and, by including such land on the list, it may encourage the owner to dispose of it.

‘The bill does not refer to the proposed ‘new designation…. to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities’, which is in the business plans for the Departments for Communities, and Local Government, and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Instead of there being a statutory basis for the designation it is merely referred to in the draft of the National Planning Policy Framework, from the Practitioners’ Advisory Group,(1) with no information about how the process will work.

‘We have called on members of the House of Lords to question these points at the second reading on Tuesday 7 June. This bill needs to be amended if it is to offer adequate protection to open spaces which are enjoyed by local people and to enable local people to play a part in their protection,’ Nicola concludes.

(1) The draft National Planning Policy Framework, from the Practitioners’ Advisory Group was launched on 20 May 2011  Read more here

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