Privatisation of Public Land
Author: Owen Adams
ACTION NEEDED NOW TO HALT PROPOSED LEGISLATION WHICH WILL ALLOW ALL PUBLIC LAND IN ENGLAND AND WALES TO BE PRIVATISED
DEBATE (SECOND READING) IN HOUSE OF LORDS THIS WEDNESDAY (JUNE 18)
For all those sent this who don’t know me… I am secretary of Hands Off Our Forest, a pressure group dedicated to keeping the Forest of Dean and other public woodlands in public ownership. At our meeting this week, we decided we must press for an exemption for the Public Forest Estate (that is, all those woodlands in England that are owned by all of us, and managed by the Forestry Commission) within the Infrastructure Bill…
You may recall that we kicked up quite a fuss in 2010/11 over plans for the forest sell-off, and the law which would have made it possible, the Public Bodies Bill. Our campaign, in association with others around the country and national efforts has transcended politics, class and many, many interests because our public woodlands mean so much to so many people (40 million visit them in England every year)
Once a statement has been agreed by us all on the HOOF Steering Group, I will be sending it out… our remit is our own Forest and its surrounding, or contiguous woodlands, so the statement will focus on our group’s interest (see www.handsoffourforest.org
However, I feel compelled to give everyone a heads up and try to raise the alarm because this Bill is like a massive juggernaut that is coming up a hill and could hit us before we’ve had a chance to take evasive action. It affects ANY public land and all private land except that owned by the Queen and Royal family.
I hope you can pass this message on to all your contacts. I hope the media will take notice and journalists and columnists will investigate the issue, and it will be reported.
The Queen’s Speech announcing the Infrastructure Bill was on June 2, it was introduced to the House of Lords three days later, and gets its second reading (and first debate) this coming Wednesday, June 18. Last time I looked, only a handful of peers are due to take part in the debate. I believe if more were aware of the contents of the Bill, and its massive enabling powers, many more Peers would be taking part – as they did in the Public Bodies Bill debates in late 2010/ early 2011.
The Bill is designed to fulfil a number of functions, so many in fact it’s easy to only concentrate on that hot potato, fracking, and possibly also the HS2 railway line – personally I am opposed to both, but the Bill enables far more than that.
There is also the issue of the need to build more houses. However, is it right that all these developments should take place on the precious little public land there is? Isn’t it our land, the people’s, and shouldn’t we have a say in what happens to it? As about three-quarters of the acreage of Britain belongs to 0.6% of the population (see Kevin Cahill’s Who Owns Britain?), can’t they spare any of their land to be built on?
What the Bill proposes is that the Secretary of State can hand over any amount of public land to the arms-length, non-departmental Government body, the Homes & Communities Agency. The HCA can then dispose of it to developers. There will be no need to go through local authority planning processes – the Sec of State can give the green light without any local politicians or planners’ involvement, just by consulting a panel of two people.
“SCHEDULE 3 Transfer schemes…
2 (1) The property, rights and liabilities that may be transferred by a scheme
(a) property, rights and liabilities that would not otherwise be capable
of being transferred or assigned;”
So, while the Public Bodies Bill came to the attention of forest campaigners because it specifically mentioned the Forestry Commission and forests and proposed changes to the Forestry Act 1967, for the Infrastructure Bill there is no need to list this act or others (such as Rights of Way and other protections for other pieces of land), because in one fell swoop, it enables every statute to be ignored and overriden!
The Government briefing (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/infrastructure-bill) on this aspect of the Bill states:
Public sector land assets
The bill would permit land to be transferred directly from arms-length bodies to the Homes and Communities Agency ( HCA ). This would reduce bureaucracy, manage land more effectively, and get more homes built.
The bill would make sure that future purchasers of land owned by HCA and the Greater London Authority ( GLA ) will be able to develop and use land without being affected by easements and other rights and restrictions suspended by the agency. Sometimes land owned by HCA and GLA has easements or rights and restrictions from its previous use. At the moment HCA and the GLA can suspend these, but not pass that suspension on. The bill would make sure that purchasers of this land would also benefit from the suspension.
The bill would also allow Land Registry to take on statutory responsibility for the Local Land Charges register and an extension of powers would also allow Land Registry to play a wider role in the property market. Consultation on these measures took place between January and March 2014…
You may be aware there is already a campaign against the privatisation of the Land Registry. Not only will it be privatised, the newly-private entity will have extra powers over who owns what land!
So in summary… WE ALL NEED TO GET ENGAGED WITH THIS AND WITHOUT DELAY!
I am sorry I cannot be more eloquent and have not had much time to research this. I am also not a legal expert. I hope legal minds (those not involved with this Bill) will offer their opinions and tell me I’m overreacting. But from my several years in scrutinising Government legislation in a bid to save our forests from privatisation, I have acrued a fair bit of legalese…
I haven’t had time to launch a petition, to consult my colleagues in HOOF and other campaigns, and apologies if anyone thinks I’m jumping the gun. If it wasn’t urgent, I would bide my time…
The more of us who do whatever is in our capacity to do, write to Lords (I recommend Bishops and Crossbenchers), MPs, media contacts, public interest groups, legal experts… make banners, make petitions, whatever it takes… but please help me sound the alarm… today, if you can.
I think it relevant to end this email with a quote from Nietzsche:
“The state is the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies, too; and this lie creeps from its mouth: `I, the state, am the people.’… Everything about it is false; it bites with stolen teeth.”