Clause 28 - Easements etc affecting land

Infrastructure Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:45 pm on 6th January 2015.

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

Photo of Brooks Newmark Brooks Newmark Conservative, Braintree

Thank you, Sir Roger. I appreciate that time is pressing, so will keep my remarks to below 30 minutes, if possible.

I welcome the Government’s determination to tighten up the legislative shortcomings of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, but the drafting of clause 28 provides only a partial solution to those shortcomings. The problem is that the protection that will be provided by the clause as it stands will not fully cover historic disposals; in other words, some key development land will not be covered by the Government’s reform, and so will remain unprotected. I believe that that would be contrary to the Government’s reason for introducing the clause and therefore must be addressed.

In order to be legally robust and prevent the unnecessary blocking of planned strategically important developments, the changes made by clause 28 must be retrospective and cover all historical disposals. In order to reverse the adverse effect of subsection (11), I ask the Minister to consider changes that would cover relevant developments from the time when section 11 and schedule 3 to the 2008 Act came into force, thereby ensuring that all relevant land left unprotected by the defective provisions of schedule 3 is covered by the changes and corrections made by clause 28. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s feedback on my concerns and how the Government might address them.

Alistair Burt rose—

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

No, it is not, unless you know something I don’t.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

Thank you very much, Sir Roger. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and I wish you a happy new year.

I will be brief. I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree. On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) spoke about the concerns of some in London, particularly the Mayor of London, that some land left after the Olympics might not be covered by existing legislation. We propose a protection to ensure that easements run and that future complications are avoided. I am pleased to associate myself with my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree, and I hope that this probing amendment might get a fair response from our Front Benchers.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

Order. Nice try, but the probing amendment is not an amendment, because it has not been selected.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I will speak briefly about the purpose of clause 28 and respond to the speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree and my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire. The clause will ensure that future purchasers of land owned by the Homes and Communities Agency, the Greater London authority or mayoral development corporations will be able to develop and use land without being affected by easements and other rights and restrictions. The HCA, the GLA and MDCs have powers to override certain third-party rights and restrictions on their land, such as easements and restrictive covenants. However, purchasers of that land are unable to override such interests, and that can cause delays in the progress of schemes for development and cause issues in relation to the use of the land.

Clause 28 is designed to bring the position of purchasers of land from the HCA and the other bodies into line with that currently enjoyed by purchasers from local authorities and other public bodies involved in regeneration and development. That, in turn, will enable us to increase the attractiveness of surplus public sector land to developers, and it will facilitate the development of much-needed new homes and support economic growth by removing obstacles to development.

I turn to the remarks that have been made. We do not believe that it is necessary to amend subsection (11) to allow powers to override easements to transfer to sites that have already been disposed of. Clause 28 is intended to accelerate development. The proposed amendment—which, as you have quite rightly said, Sir Roger, was not selected—would not help to facilitate that any further. Developers who have bought land and entered into agreements were clearly aware of the powers available to them. The conditions with which the land was sold and the price that was paid will have reflected those conditions.

We are satisfied that where land has been leased but the GLA, HCA or MDC has retained the freehold, the existing powers to override easements already apply and will continue to do so. That is sufficient to support development on most of the sites that are being disposed of. Changing the law now to apply to sites that have previously been sold would be an unusual approach and might have unintended consequences.

We accept that in a small number of cases of which we are aware, the freehold may have been disposed of, meaning that the power does not apply. However, alternative mechanisms are available to address such situations, such as taking out insurance, negotiating with easement owners and making references to the upper tribunal’s lands chamber. Given that such mechanisms are already available, and given the small number of sites that would be affected, the Government do not believe that we need to make further legislative changes. I hope that those remarks will give some comfort to my two hon. Friends.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 28 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Dr Coffey.)

Adjourned till Thursday 8 January at half-past Eleven o’clock.

 Written evidence reported to the House

IB 15 Local Land Charges Institute’s (LLCI)

IB 16 United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG)

IB 17 Local Government Technical Advisers’ Group

IB 18 38 Degrees Stroud

IB 19 Local Government Association’s (LGA)

IB 20 Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)

IB 21 Miss E R Adam

IB 22 Alan Tootill

IB 23 Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE)

IB 24 Alliance of British Drivers (ABD)

IB 25 John Oddie

IB 26 National Farmers’ Union (NFU) (on energy and planning)