Like amendment 25, these amendments seek to ensure that extenuating and mitigating circumstances are taken into account when awarding costs for public local inquiries that do not go ahead for compulsory purchase orders. It is not clear in the clause or the explanatory notes against whom the Secretary of State would be awarding costs, so perhaps the Minister could help to identify what would happen in such circumstances. The impact assessment states that clause 3 will save the Secretary of State
“the expense of arranging a specific costs inquiry” and that
“there will be benefit in avoiding the loss of costs,” but it does not set out who will lose out by having to pay costs that they would otherwise not have paid. As compulsory purchase inquiries are usually held on the Secretary of State’s behalf would he be awarding costs against himself? If not, can the Minister shed some light on which parties will pay and under what circumstances?
However the costs are to be awarded, we know from the short title of the Bill that it is expected that measures such as this will have a spectacular impact upon growth and the economy. I return to that point because the detail and red tape established by the Bill make it easy to lose sight of the fact that it is supposed to be about growth and infrastructure development. We want to know who will be footing the bill and what the resultant leap in GDP will be as a result of the measures in clauses 2 and 3. I hope that the circumstances in which the costs will be awarded exclude those in which a party misses an inquiry, or is forced to cancel due to reasons beyond their control. That would be unfair for anyone, whether landowner, developer, local authority or even the Secretary of State, who is unable to attend an inquiry or has been prevented from doing so by matters outside their control. Amendment 61, like those before it, seeks to ensure that circumstances such as those are taken into account when the clause is applied.
I hope that I shall be able to reassure the hon. Lady that while the clause may not be the single most important provision in the Bill, it is nevertheless justified and worth while and that we will not need to detain the Committee for too long. The body that would meet any costs awarded in the case of a compulsory purchase order is the acquiring authority—the local authority that is pursuing a compulsory purchase order in order to facilitate some development or other.
The purpose of the clause is simply to clear up a current anomaly that occurs when a party to such an inquiry does not attend the inquiry, because they have actually managed to come to a separate agreement with the acquiring authority. It could be a property owner who did not need to have their property compulsorily acquired, because they had actually reached an agreement with the acquiring authority to develop it alongside the authority. In that case, bizarrely, at present they need to go to the inquiry in order to apply for their costs in going through that process. That seems somewhat strange and crazy, so we want to sort it out.
I am glad to say that the hon. Lady’s concern that it might be somehow unfair on the acquiring authority if an inquiry is cancelled due to an inspector being taken ill is unnecessary, because if an inspector were indisposed for some reason or was precluded because of a conflict or whatever other reason, the inquiry would not be cancelled; it would simply be adjourned or postponed. The only body that can cancel the inquiry is the acquiring authority, so it will not be penalised by its own decision. The clause will clear up the slight anomaly in the position and align it with the way we deal with other kinds of inquiries, to ensure that people can get their costs, having behaved reasonably, without attending the inquiry.
The Minister’s comments are helpful in allowing us to understand why the clause is in the Bill. Will he reassure us further that the clause is not intended in any way to turn local authorities away from using compulsory purchase orders? We know that they are incredibly important to amass land for future development. The Committee would like to hear reassurance on that front as well.
I am happy to provide that reassurance. CPOs are an important tool in local authorities’ armoury for the exercise of their general power of competence on behalf of local people and to create important benefits for the entire community. There is no intention at all to make CPOs a less attractive route; there is just an intention to sort out an anomaly that is unfair on some parties. It happens on relatively rare occasions, but it does happen.