Compulsory Purchase and Planning

– in the House of Commons at 1:43 pm on 4th September 2019.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle 2:46 pm, 4th September 2019

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to grant local authorities increased powers of compulsory purchase;
to amend the law relating to land valuation and compensation;
to make provision requiring landowners to fulfil conditions relating to planning permission;
and for connected purposes.

Mr Speaker, it will be of no surprise to you or any Member that I begin this speech by extolling Hull’s virtues. Hull is a growing, successful city that is attracting significant investment and undergoing really positive change. The council has already granted numerous housing, commercial, industrial and educational permissions, the majority of which have been implemented and are taking vital steps to secure our future. Members who were present at my Westminster Hall debate yesterday will have heard me talk about one such step: Hull’s bid to become Yorkshire’s maritime city. They will have heard me talk about the proud place that the sea plays in the history of Hull and how, for years, the shipping and deep sea trawling industries dominated our economy and their buildings stood prominently along our skyline. One such building was the Lord Line building on St Andrew’s dock, which was constructed for the Lord Line trawler fleet in 1949. The Lord Line building is locally listed and a site of personal significance to the people of Hull, as it is one of the last buildings relating to Hull’s fishing heritage. It is the site of the dock where the fishing boats used to come in and out when we were the capital city of the UK fishing trade, but it has been left to go to ruin, causing great upset in Hull’s fishing community.

Young people go in there for reasons that I do not wish to elaborate on here. We can see from the discarded needles, from the bricks thrown from the top of the building and from the fire engines that attend the site regularly that it is not being properly safeguarded or protected. There will end up being a tragedy there, because people keep going to the building and it remains unsafe. If you ask people who is to blame, they will answer: Manor Properties. The company owns the Lord Line building and has a habit of promising wonderful, big, pie-in-the-sky dreams to the people of Hull. It would have been fantastic if it had been able to deliver on its original proposals, but time passes and the work is not done. The building continues to be damaged and to lose its integrity, and a vital and beloved part of our history as a seafaring city goes to rack and ruin.

This is an exceptionally important local issue, and it is one that goes to the very heart of the concept of property rights and what we value in this country. The question that we, as the representatives of the people, must answer is whether owning something gives someone the right not just to use it and earn from it but to actively destroy it, especially when it is of cultural significance to others. Of course this is a philosophical question, but that does not make it any less important to answer. If anything, abstracting the question makes it easier to answer. Imagine if, instead of a building, the thing being owned was a priceless piece of art or a beloved public service. There are few among us here who would say that anyone, even those who own such artefacts, had an absolute right to take a shredder to the Mona Lisa, for example, or to destroy our NHS. The fact that we can accept that there is no absolute right to destroy property that one owns is one of the bases of our compulsory purchase system, but unfortunately, in one area in particular, our current system of compulsory purchase does not go far enough. This is a situation in which a property developer continually fails to fulfil the conditions of their planning permission within a reasonable amount of time, such as in the Lord Line case. It is such situations that my Bill seeks to address.

The first of the main provisions through which we aim to do that is enhancing compulsory purchase powers when planning permission has not been implemented in full for five years. Such powers would enable a local authority or other relevant body to acquire a site provided that development commences within 12 months of the acquisition and that at least 50% of the development is completed within three years. Secondly, we would introduce compulsory sale orders that could be utilised by councils under the same conditions. Compulsory sale orders would give local authorities the power to order that a piece of land that met the required conditions be put up for open auction. Related to that, the Bill makes provision for the introduction of completion notices and for changing what it means for a developer to make a “material start” to a property, which would prevent a developer from just digging a hole and claiming that work has been done.

We are lucky in Hull, because we do not have a particular problem with land being held back from the housing supply, but that is an additional issue that the Bill could tackle. The two new powers would allow for a common-sense system for the transfer of ownership of buildings in a productive way that will prevent anyone from being able to sit on a piece of land and run it down. They would also give local authorities a choice, and even allow cash-strapped councils to free pieces of land from abusive ownership while properly compensating the owner.

However, we must consider what we mean by proper compensation and, again, my Bill contains two provisions to address that. The first establishes that the rate of proper compensation should be that provided in the Planning (Affordable Housing and Land Compensation) Bill, which was introduced by my hon. Friend Helen Hayes. The second would require a discount in compensation when a notice has been issued under section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. We must also look at removing VAT for any conversion works to properties in heritage action zones and making new pots of money, to be administered by Homes England, available to local authorities to unlock such pieces of land.

The situation is not unique to Hull. It is also not a particularly party political issue, because such problems exist in constituencies up and down the country—the recent report by Sir Oliver Letwin on land banking revealed as much. This Bill offers a common-sense method to address the issue that is potentially acceptable to both sides. Yes, there may be tangential issues in my particular version of the Bill that some Members may disagree with, but I plead with those who do disagree, and with the Government as a whole, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater and to work with me. Let us find a common-sense compromise solution that will not allow Lord Line to crumble. Let us act now to save this piece of Hull’s history. The people of Hull will not forget or forgive us if we do not.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Emma Hardy, Mike Amesbury, Siobhain McDonagh, Bambos Charalambous, John Spellar, Stephen Pound, Rosie Duffield, Vernon Coaker, Mrs Madeleine Moon, Debbie Abrahams and Catherine West present the Bill.

Emma Hardy accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Thursday 5 September, and to be printed (Bill 434).