I am glad that my hon. Friend has admitted what I believe was going through many of our minds—that we are baffled by the Minister's explanation of what the clause is trying to do. I am certainly baffled. I suppose that the opposite of ''whatifery'' is anecdotalism. I shall therefore go for anecdotalism, because at least that provides me with a firm example. would then be of use to me if the Minister could at least try to deal with it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold suggested that a consequence of an imminent compulsory purchase order is that the price of the
value of the land can be pushed up. An alternative consequence of an imminent compulsory purchase order is that the value of the land can be depressed. That is particularly the case with agricultural land and with land that is likely to be purchased for highways.
I know of a case in which the ombudsman found a local authority wrongly to have given planning permission for a particular agricultural development, which led to serious damage to neighbouring housing. The ombudsman ordered that compensation should be paid to the residents of that housing, which the local authority decided that it did not want to pay. Instead, it tried to extinguish the planning permission. For reasons best known to itself, it did not go down the route of the revocation order and compensation, but decided instead to buy by compulsory purchase the land on which the development had taken place. The whole process began in 1998 and is still going on. The farmer is a dairy farmer who has seen the value of his herd reduced significantly over that time, yet he has not been able to transfer his business to a longer-term agricultural prospect, as neighbouring dairy farmers have, because he has no guarantee that he will have any land on which to operate in the long term.
We have never reached the point, and I suspect that we never will, where the compulsory purchase order is confirmed—at least, not unless we hand the power to confirm compulsory purchase orders to local authorities, which we may do further down the line. However, I am sure that the Minister will accept that the value of the land has been severely depressed because of the blight of this ill-considered and ill-founded compulsory purchase order.
When discussing whatever these terms mean, it is entirely immaterial whether we talk about a general vesting declaration or, in this case, the notice to treat. The fact of the matter is that the value of the land has declined over five or six years and the farmer is still unsure in which direction he should go. He has done all sorts of things to try to resolve the issue, including applying for planning permission for housing on the land in question, which the local authority rejected. It is widely believed that the local authority wanted to buy the land for housing purposes.
Will the Minister clarify for my benefit, if for no one else's, how these different terms—notice to treat and vesting declaration—would apply if that compulsory purchase order had gone through and if a price had to be fixed?