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New Clause—(Agreement Under Previous Acts)

Volume 437: debated on Tuesday 13 May 1947

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Where in consequence of the provisions of the Ninth Schedule to this Act an owner of land in respect of which an agreement for restricting its planning, development or use under Section thirty-four of the Act of 1932 has been made with any such authority as is mentioned in Subsection (2) of that Section, or has been made, or has effect as if made, under any provision of a scheme under that Act with the responsible authority for the purposes of the scheme, shows to the local planning authority in a claim made to that authority in the manner prescribed by regulations under this Act that by reason of any provision in a development plan made or amended under this Act his interest in any land is depreciated and that neither he nor any of his predecessors in title has received any consideration in respect of that agreement, the local planning authority shall pay to that person compensation (to be assessed in accordance with the Fourth Schedule to this Act) in respect of that depreciation.— [ Mr. W. S. Morrison.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This proposed new Clause deals with the provisions contained in paragraph 7 of the Ninth Schedule which states:
"Any agreement for restricting the planning, development or use of land made under Section thirty-four of the Act of 1932… shall cease to have effect on the appointed day."
Under the Act of 1932, most valuable agreements were made between landlords t, on the one hand and public authorities on the other, to secure amenities for the benefit of the public at large. In Standing Committee we raised the larger question, which I shall raise again if I get the opportunity, of the inadvisability of bringing these agreements to an end. I believe it is a mistake to bring all these agreements suddenly to a conclusion. The Minister says that the planning powers contained in this Bill would enable anything that was done by agreement to be done by this planning scheme. I doubt whether that is so. I am advised by many experts in this matter that some of these agreements made under the Act of 1932 enter into more detail concerning various points in connection with the use of land, which in their cumulative effect are very valuable from the point of view of the public, than is possible in any statutory instrument.

That is the major proposition, and it is far more important than the point raised by this Clause. This is only a secondary offshoot from that general proposition that these agreements should be honoured and not swept aside in this ruthless manner. The point raised by the new Clause is illustrated by the case of an owner, or his predecessor, who has entered into an agreement with a local authority giving access to his land or doing something for the preservation of the countryside, and whose interest in making the agreement was the common interest of all the inhabitants in the locality, that its beauty and character should be preserved. He was acting in a double capacity—first, as the owner of the land with power to enter into a contract, and, secondly, as a citizen of the locality itself, so that the agreement was of benefit to all. In these cases— and I am advised they do exist—there will be no consideration whatever of the position of the owner or his predecessor in relation to these agreements. When these agreements are brought to an end by the operation of the Ninth Schedule on the appointed day, if action contrary to the agreement is taken by the planning authority, as may well happen—there may arise a generation which will take a different view of the joint property of the countryside—a claim for compensation should be considered. As long as the matter is allowed to rest on the agreement, which I submit should not be disturbed, there is no question of any money passing to anybody. If the agreement is broken by statute, and something detrimental to the owner is put in its place by the planning authority, if he or his predecessor in title can show that no remuneration has been received for what he did, a claim for compensation should be considered.

4.45 P.m.

I now understand what I have had some difficulty in understanding hitherto—the purpose of this Clause. The Clause is not at all intelligible, and I had great difficulty in understanding what the right hon. Gentleman was seeking to secure. I now gather that he wants to raise the whole question of Section 34 agreements. I do not think the Clause itself would stand that critical examination. For one thing, it is extremely vague and difficult to follow, and I do not think the purpose which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind would be achieved. I will give two reasons why I believe that to be so. Let me refer to the example which the right hon. Gentleman himself gave. It seems to me that the owner who has entered into an agreement will not have suffered any damage and will not necessarily become entitled to compensation, because it is difficult to see where the question of depreciation arises. Secondly, this Clause would only operate if there had been no consideration at all. In fact, there will have been some consideration in all cases because—to take this example—the fact that the amenity has been preserved since the agreement was entered into would be some consideration. In any case, therefore, I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that this Clause could not stand.

I should like to say a word about the Section 34 agreements in general The matter was raised in Standing Committee, and I then promised that I would examine the question of these agreements. I think it was generally admitted that these agreements were probably a mixed bag. Some were good and some were bad. There were some which one would probably wist to preserve in the spirit if not in the letter, and there were some which a local authority ought to be able to abrogate. It is very difficult to talk about these agreements in the abstract. There are probably some thousands of them which have been entered into between a local authority and an individual, with no obligation on the part of the local authorities to communicate the contents of these agreements, let alone to submit copies of them, to the Ministry. Frankly, we have no definite knowledge of what kind of agreements have been generally entered into, and whether by and large, they are advantageous or otherwise.

We have accordingly communicated with the local authorities—1,500 of them —and have asked them to submit to us any agreements which are still in force. We have had replies from a thousand of these local authorities, and it appears that, in many cases, a number of agreements are in force. I do not suggest that my Department will examine every one of them—I do not think that would be necessary—but we will examine a sufficient number of them to enable us to get a good idea of the general character of these agreements. Based on what we find, I am prepared to give an undertaking that the matter will be considered again. I am by no means wedded to the proposal contained in the Ninth Schedule that all these agreements should be abrogated. It was thought that the new system of planning could probably reproduce all that was best in the agreements that had been made, and would have the further advantage of abrogating those agreements which were not in the public interest.

However, I see the force of what was stated in Committee and of what the right hon. Gentleman has now said, that some of these agreements may have entered into considerable detail, and that it is in the public interest to preserve them. One would not wish to abrogate something which has already been achieved with great care and, very often, with great public spirit. Therefore, I am prepared to give an undertaking that the matter will be re-examined in the light of our survey of the existing agreements, and, if necessary, an Amendment will be put down at a later stage.

I also wish to say that I would not assent to one of the parties to an agreements extracting all the benefits from it and then saying, "Thank you very much. I now abrogate it." I think the best of these agreements are mutual affairs, and where a party has received some benefit from it, neither he nor his successors in title should then be able to abrogate the agreement, and to put the other party to the agreement in a worse position. I am prepared to examine that aspect of it as well. Of course, every owner of land becomes subject to the provisions of this Bill when it becomes law, and the person who has entered into an agreement, can be in no better position as regards the provisions of the Bill than any other person; but I imagine that nobody would suggest he should be. With that proviso, I am prepared to examine the matter in order to ensure that fair treatment is given to persons who have entered into agreements in good faith, where for reasons of sound public policy the basis of the agreement has changed, and, in consequence, the person who entered into the agreement suffers loss. In those circumstances, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not press this new Clause.

I am very glad to hear what the Minister has said. I am certain he is wise to look into the matter again. I would add only a very few words on the two points he raised. First of all, he raised the question of fairness for those who have entered into these agreements. Under the Clauses of the Bill as it stands, the very injustice which he has clearly recognised as wrong would be at any rate possible. Therefore, on the ground of justice alone, it would be necessary for him to make some further provision. The main point about which I wish to speak is the advantage of these agreements, in many cases, to the public. This is, of course, the provision under which many private open spaces have been preserved. The owner of the land enters into a covenant to retain the land, or part of it, as a private open space, which can be of the very greatest advantage to town planning.

; A private open space does not always give the public access. If the public has no access to a private open space, how can the question of compensation arise?

I am not dealing with the question of compensation for the moment. I am dealing with the question of the use of the land. I do not want to go too far into the question of compensation, for the reasons given by the right hon. Gentleman. These agreements have served a good public purpose, because they have, in fact, preserved much land as private open spaces, and in other ways. For that reason Section 34 of the 1932 Act was found, by amenity societies and civic societies, to be a valuable instrument. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, that there were certain risks in the procedure. There was at least the possibility that some unwise agreements would be entered into under this statutory provision. It was for that reason that, when Parliament came to legislate again on the subject in 1943, we provided, as the Minister well knows, in Section 10 of the Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Act, 1943, that:

"No agreement made after the commencement of this Act under Section thirty-four of the principal Act for restricting the planning, development or use of any land shall have effect unless it has been approved by the Minister."
That was to guard against the possible dangers to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred.

It was not thought right by Parliament, when they legislated in 1943, to make any further interference with agreements made under Section 34 of the 1932 Act, because of the belief of the Department that those agreements taken as a whole were very much in the public interest. It is perfectly true, that the inquiries which could be made at that time were not nearly so extensive, or on anything like the same scale as the Minister says he has made and is making, very properly, at the present time. I think the Committee will welcome the undertaking given by the Minister, to look into this matter again, because both in the interests of planning and for the sake of avoiding injustice some further provisions in the Bill will be necessary. In view of what the Minister has said, I have no doubt my right hon. Friend will think fit to withdraw the Motion.

I welcome the announcement of the Minister, that he will look into the problem again. I can only envisage it in the rather narrow field of a local planning authority. I must say, from the point of view of an authority which submitted to the Minister its interim development scheme well before the war, I can quite see that there will be a certain amount of difficulty. A large number of agreements were entered into, the result of which was that the owners refrained from developing, or selling for development, a lot of land which, I am afraid, would otherwise have gone. That was the result of their agreement, so something has definitely been forgone. There will be a feeling that some of them have been let down if they find the other side of the agreement in any way not implemented, because it was really a question of quite a large number of self-denying ordinances. After the Bill becomes law, the general tendency will be to restrict very much more land, so that people will have lost their chance for ever of developing land which, in some cases, they actually bought with a view to development.

I welcome the statement made by the Minister. His inquiry into the two points mentioned will be well worth while, and I am sure the statement he has made will be received with considerable relief by many persons, including amenities societies, who are very interested in this matter. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.