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Clause 88

Localism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 15th February 2011.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I have a few quick points to make on the clause, which sets it out that a community nomination could be

“part of a building… part of any other structure, and… mines and minerals, whether or not held with the surface”.

I am hoping that the Minister can shed some light on why minerals are included, as they are the software to the hardware of building and land. The Mineral Products Association has concerns that interchanging the terms “assets of community value” and “land of community value” is misleading—we touched on that earlier. It appears that the designation of “assets of community value” could apply not just to land, but to buildings and any uses of that land, including mineral working. The MPA would like clarification on that.

A similar concern is that such designations could be applied to areas with a mineral interest. The local authority with responsibility for designating assets of community value will not, in many cases, be the mineral planning authority. Therefore, to prevent the unnecessary sterilisation of mineral resources, it is essential that the agreement of the mineral planning authority is obtained on each decision, and that it is consulted and kept informed.

Mineral deposits, rather like rivers, are no respecters of boundaries. The minehead might be in one place, but the mine’s lode and underground workings could extend some miles further, so an asset of community value could apply to an area further along the mine shaft. The problem is similar to that with rivers and I would welcome the Minister’s comments on it.

Other issues have been raised with me. For example, a company might have a landholding that it intends to quarry at some stage, because it knows that there is a mineral deposit underneath it. The community, however, decides that it wants to list the land that it sees on the surface. The owner does not want to sell, but wants to dig a big hole, which will change the nature of the listed land. How does the Bill address such a scenario?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government

First, items (a) to (c) simply relate to the standard definition in the Interpretation Act 1978. I am reliably informed that it covers every sort of land, and that mines and minerals are part of that. That represents the parliamentary drafters at their best again. The hon. Lady also asked a relevant question, drawing on the example of mineral extraction, about whether the provision may be used to sterilise future growth and development. The answer is that the land will still be in the ownership of the extractor. It will be dealt with through a planning application—having participated in a debate on Friday on open-cast coal mining, I have become slightly more expert on this—and the process includes a range of things, including environmental impact assessments and so on. In other words, the case of which she speaks will be covered by planning legislation, not a community asset listing.

Following that logic, one can apply for planning permission on land that one does not own, so, even in the event of a community holding land, it would not be out of order for an application to be made over its head in relation to that site.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

A mine shaft could go for many miles to the east of a minehead, and it could go underneath a piece of land that had been listed because there was  something else on it. If the mine owner needed to put a significantly sized ventilation shaft on that piece of land for safety reasons, but it had been designated for a particular purpose, would that be problematic?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government

I think that it might be problematic, but not for the reason suggested by the hon. Lady. Clearly, that mine shaft would have to be on land that was owned either by the mine owner or by someone whom they had persuaded to give them permission to use it. That seems to me to be the relevant consideration, rather than whether there was land of community value in the general neighbourhood. That is covered by planning and, possibly, other legislation, but it is certainly not relevant to the clause.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I have an example to add to the debate. My constituency includes an area called Chat Moss, which comprises 30% of the land area of Salford. It is the largest area of grade 1 and grade 2 farmland in Greater Manchester, but its main contention in assets of community value terms is that it is an ancient piece of raised wet moss land. The contention is between companies that want to extract peat from it and charities such as Lancashire Wildlife Trust that want to return it to peat bog.

I offer that example, and I am sure that the Minister knows Chat Moss. Such issues can become contentious, and I expect that this one will. Planning is difficult, but I am sure that Chat Moss will be one of the first pieces of land of community value put forward for listing by the local council.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government

I cannot say that I know Chat Moss as well as the hon. Lady, but I have certainly travelled across it by train on many occasions. There are already plenty of situations in which one interest wishes a different outcome from another. Sometimes it is community groups or a wildlife trust on one side, and on the other might be landowners who want to exploit the land for one purpose or another. She has given a good example of a case in point.

However, such matters will be resolved by the planning system. I do not want to discuss specific applications too specifically, but, in principle, a wildlife trust that could show local connections and the participation of a relevant body would be in a position to bid if the land came up for sale. That is the point at which the legislation will become operational. The fact that land is listed as land of community value does not become a relevant consideration unless the land is being disposed of, or is intended to be disposed of, by the current owner. Whether it should be exploited by the current owner is a matter to be handled through the planning system, which will be dealt with in a subsequent part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 88 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.