Kew is a scientific institution of huge importance. As the global resource for knowledge of plant and fungal diversity, it plays a critical role in addressing the unprecedented scale and pace of threats facing the natural world, and indeed humanity, including the threat of climate change. It is fitting that our Secretary of State delivered his flagship environment speech last week at Kew. The fundamental purpose of the Bill is to help Kew to invest and support its vital mission in a way that also maintains and enhances this outstanding world heritage site.
The Bill amends restrictions on leases on the Crown land on Kew Gardens estate. Currently the Crown Lands Act 1702 limits leases at Kew to just 31 years; the clause amends those provisions, allowing leases up to 150 years, in line with provisions made for the Crown Estate in 1961. Clause 1(2) disapplies the 1702 Act in relation to leases granted under this Bill. The change will allow Kew to generate revenue to improve the quality of its estate and thereby to support its vital scientific mission and retain UNESCO world heritage site status. All proposals for granting long leases will be in line with Kew’s world heritage site management plan, and Clause 1(3) goes further on this point.
Clause 1(3), as amended in the other place, requires that before granting any lease the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the lease, and anything that the leaseholder is permitted to do with the property under the terms of the lease, would not have any adverse impact on the functions of the board of trustees, as set out under the National Heritage Act 1983. The Secretary of State must also be satisfied that the lease would have no adverse impact on the world heritage site status. The changes do not allow the sale of the freehold of Kew land. Furthermore, the Bill will not change the freehold position of the land, which remains with the Crown; it simply provides the ability to grant longer leases on the land.
Proposals for leases will be subject to scrutiny by Kew trustees and finally signed off by the Secretary of State. Proposals for the development of existing properties and new developments will require permission from the local planning authority advised by Historic England in consultation with local residents and other stakeholders, as well as the Kew trustees. That is unchanged from the existing governance processes.
Clause 2 is a standard provision. Subsection (1) sets out that the Bill extends to England and Wales only, this being the legal jurisdiction for property in Kew. However, the Bill applies only to Crown land at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Subsection (2) sets out the arrangements for the commencement of the Bill, two months following the day on which it is granted Royal Assent. Subsection (3) sets out the Bill’s short title once it has become an Act on Royal Assent. This provides the abridged title as opposed to the long title found in the preamble. The short title of this legislation will be the Kew Gardens (Leases) Act 2019. For the reasons I have set out, I urge that these clauses stand part of the Bill.