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Orders of the Day — Land Compensation Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th November 1972.

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Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Birmingham Handsworth 12:00 am, 27th November 1972

I hope that the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) will forgive me if I do not follow him over his bridge at Widnes. I share some of the criticisms that the hon. Member made of the Bill. Unfortunately, however, there is a tendency to be churlish towards a Government who have at long last grappled with a serious problem concerning compensation. The Bill is unique and radical in its proposals, and for those reasons I welcome it.

My diffidence in rising to speak is caused by the fact that the last time I spoke on the Second Reading of a Bill concerning money and housing I was lumbered on the Standing Committee which considered the Housing Finance Bill and cost me precisely 257 hours of my life. I hope that the Whip on duty, my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins), will take this as an early application for a dispensation from serving on the Standing Committee which considers this Bill.

The Bill tries to grapple with the problem of reconciling public needs and individual rights and deals for the first time with the question of injurious affection or, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) put it, perhaps a little more concisely if less delicately, worsenment in introducing the Second Reading of his Private Member's Bill on 27th February 1970. That in a sense was a forerunner of what the Government seek to do.

One important spin-off from the Bill when enacted will be that it will make those responsible for planning public structures more careful about where they put them. The classic example of this is to be found in the motorway network system. We have at long last completed the first generation of motorways which gives us a superficial national network. That network was first planned in the 1930s. When it was planned, although the exact lines of the motorway were not created then, the conditions were different from those prevailing today. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Kinsey) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) will agree that had the effects which exist today existed in the 1930s no national motorway network could have been put through, for example, north-east Birmingham. The realisation that consideration will have to be paid to damage done to people's lives will be reflected in better planning policies and decisions.

The question of blight and the serving of blight notices is at the crux of many of the difficulties we face and the injustices which are seen to be done. I welcome the extension under the Bill of the ability to serve a blight notice, not only as hitherto when the development is about to take place, but also to land affected by proposals in development plans, where the plan has not yet come into force.

Difficulties and unfairness have been quoted. From my experience as a planning consultant I make a personal plea to the Government for them to see if it is possible to extend this important new proposal to where alternative routes have been proposed but one has not yet been chosen. This could be of actual benefit to the Department of the Environment or local planning authorities in acquiring property or land even if the route on which that property is situated is not finally selected for the motorway or new road. Land and house prices tend to rise rather than fall, so in the long term it could be good investment policy to require local authorities to enter into negotiation to acquire such property or land.

I welcome Clause 57 which enables local authorities compulsorily to purchase a whole farm unit in a case where the compulsory purchase of part of it would make the remainder uneconomic. Can this be extended to residences and commercial and industrial properties particularly in urban areas? I link my suggestion to Clause 35, which provides: Where land is acquired from any person for the purpose of works which are to be situated partly on that land and partly elsewhere, compensation for injurious affection of land retained by that person shall be assessed by reference to the whole of the works and not only the part situated on the land acquired from him. I am not very worried about the question of including loss of visual amenity in other matters that come within the ambit of compensation. If it cannot be heard, smelt or felt in the form of vibration but can be seen, there is less likelihood of no real loss of visual amenity, especially when in contradistinction under Clause 1 artificial lighting is deemed to be a disturbance. There may be the exceptional case such as Spaghetti Junction, as it is euphemistically called, but my view is that many properties near there or similar properties would qualify on grounds of disturbance because of noise, fumes or vibration.

The constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr have suffered greatly if their residences are near the line of the new M6. Grants can be made for sound insulation. However, some buil- dings are so near the cause of disturbance that no matter how much sound insulation were carried out they would still be unfit for human habitation. I hope that the qualifying level of 70 decibels will be lowered because some noise levels below that are intolerable.

I agree with the hon. Member for Widnes that the Bill should be extended to cover injurious affection arising from private development. The radical proposal under the Bill, which is welcomed on both sides, emphasises that it should not matter whether the construction or building is undertaken by private enterprise, by a Government Department—at national or local level—or by a statutory undertaking. This is particularly so in relation to industrial works, commercial works and even, in a sense, residential buildings such as hotels. I very much echo the sentiments of the hon. Member for Widnes when he put forward this point. Of course, there is redress in the civil court and in many other ways. Of course, a person has a right to his easements, as I believe they are called, whether it is the right of light or the right of way. But going to law is necessarily expensive, and, whilst I very much advocate the need which was referred to by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) for small claims courts to be set up, certainly if they cannot be set up the law ought to be changed so that it becomes easier for ordinary people to treat with these concerns.

I particularly welcome the right to advance payment to help individuals find alternative accommodation. I believe this is a definite right, according to the Bill, but if it is only discretionary, I am very wary about local authorities honouring discretionary powers.