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Clause 55—(Recovery Of Certain Sums From Acquiring Authorities)

Volume 530: debated on Tuesday 13 July 1954

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I beg to move, in page 58, line 23, at the end, to insert:

(d) the interest was acquired pursuant to a purchase notice resulting from a planning decision made before the eighteenth day of November, nineteen hundred and fifty-two.
We had some discussion on this matter in Committee, and I do not want to repeat the arguments at length. I think that there is an important point of substance here which might well be cleared up at this stage or in another place. Subsection (2) provides exception to the general rule laid down in subsection (1) as to the recovery by the Central Land Board of payments made by them in respect of the compulsory acquisition of land from the acquiring authority.

Subsection (2, b and c) provides for cases where the local authorities may avoid these back payments where interest in the land was acquired either by reason of notice to treat or by contract made by 18th November, 1952. That, of course, as the House will remember, was the date of the White Paper abolishing the development charge. They may escape that payment for development or redevelopment of an area as a whole—the so-called blitzed and blight areas under the Town and Country Planning Act—or where land is to be used for open spaces or allotments.

It will be noticed that the back payments can only be excused, and are only excused, in cases where the notice to treat was served, or the contract made, on this date, 18th November, 1952. As I pointed out in Committee, there are many cases where a local authority has gone through all the motions by that date, and may have been only awaiting the decision of the Minister. A local authority may be completely committed to acquiring the land but, because it had not technically completed the process by 18th November, it is not excused these back payments.

It seems to us that this is a very arbitrary proceeding. I know that there has to be a date, but we consider that this arbitrary division is not a satisfactory or necessary one when it is quite easy to determine what steps have been taken by the local authority which may only be awaiting confirmation by the Minister. It seems to us unfair that, because the Minister has not given his decision, the local authority, or the acquiring authority, should have to pay the whole of the back compensation. It is the failure of the Minister, not of the acquiring authority.

I am disappointed that, although he promised on Committee stage to consider the matter—and I am sure that he has—the right hon. Gentleman so far has not seen fit to make an exemption in this category of case where the local authority has virtually acquired the land. I hope that, even at this late stage, he may be prepared to reconsider this matter.

I beg to second the Amendment.

I do not suppose this will cover a large number of cases. In London there are about 20 cases to which this would apply. I wish to put it to the Minister that there is a precedent in Section 14 (3) of the War Damage Act, 1943, where a somewhat similar point was dealt with and similar arrangements made to avoid the payment of compensation in such cases by local authorities. I hope that the Minister will agree to examine this matter again, and that if he is not prepared to accept this Amendment, perhaps something might be done in another place.

This Amendment is almost in the same terms as that moved during the Committee stage, which was opposed first on the ground of time. That is a familiar ground which we must consider in this and so many other cases. Where some change is made there is always a problem of the dividing line. I have carried out my undertaking. I said that I would examine the matter although I did not think there was a great deal in point, but that I could not promise to make a concession. These matters arise on the point of time, and sometimes cause hardship.

The hon. Gentleman also developed the case about the character of the land and the matter was argued in terms of land which was acquired for open spaces or areas of comprehensive development. The argument was that the acquiring authority were virtually committed to these purchases at a certain date. But this Amendment goes far beyond that. It would apply to all purchase notices served before 18th November, 1952. Not only that, but it could apply to all notices served after that date in pursuance of a decision before that date, and there is no limitation to land acquired for open space or comprehensive development. Indeed, there could not be because land acquired under a purchase notice is not acquired for a particular purpose. The local authority can use it for any purposes for which it is empowered to use land. It has the land free of any liability to development charge or any payment in lieu, and it is not unfair that in the circumstances it should pay for any development value. I must ask the House to agree in resisting this Amendment. I have thought about the matter, but the character of this Amendment goes further than that which originally was moved.

Amendment negatived.

I think that with this Amendment we could take the next three Amendments to lines 41, 42 and 43.

The owner of an interest in land whose interest is compulsorily acquired by a local authority after the commencement of the Bill may have received, or be entitled to receive, compensation in three categories of cases. In the first place, under Part II of the Bill he may receive it in respect of the refusal of permission to carry out development or the grant of permission subject to onerous conditions after the commencement of the Bill; or, secondly, under Part V of the Bill in respect of planning refusals or orders revoking or modifying planning permission before the commencement of the Bill; or, thirdly, the Minister may have made a contribution under Part IV—I think it is Clause 43—in respect of an order of a local planning authority under Section 21 of the principal Act revoking or modifying planning permission.

In the case of a refusal of permission or its grant subject to conditions after the commencement of the Bill, compensation will only have been paid by the Minister after he has reviewed the planning decision under Clause 29. He will have satisfied himself that the proposals of the planning authority are reasonable proposals and he will, therefore, approve them and thereby make himself financially responsible to pay compensation. The fact that the Minister in these cases will have made payments is evidence, I think, that he is generally in support of the decision arrived at by the planning authority.

Some of the land which has been the subject of the Ministry's decision and on which compensation has been paid may some time in the future—in some cases a great many years afterwards—be acquired by a local authority. As the Bill now stands, the local authority will be required to make good the compensation even though the decision was one which the Minister obviously upheld, for he approved it under the appropriate Clause and he agreed that compensation should be paid. It seems very unfair that if years afterwards in some cases the local authority acquires that land, even at that stage it will have to make good the compensation which the Minister himself has approved. It is asking the authority to pay for its own planning proposals.

9.0 p.m.

The Amendment to delete paragraph (a) of subsection (6) is designed to remove the obligation placed on the local authorities in this connection, and the remaining Amendments are consequential. These are matters which have seemed to local authorities to be unfair. Decisions have been made by the Minister approving on general grounds of public interest the decisions of the local planning authority, compensation has been paid and, perhaps years afterwards, because the public authority requires it, that land is acquired by the local authority which has then the additional burden thrust upon it of repaying to the Minister any payment made by him as compensation for restrictions placed upon its development. I hope the Minister will see his way to clear that up.

These four Amendments raise a single point. If they were accepted their effect would be that the Minister, acting for the Treasury, would be unable to recover from an acquiring authority any sums previously paid out of the unexpended balance on account of planning restrictions.

Why have we put in this provision? Because a large part of public acquisitions are preceded by safeguarding action under planning powers. It is almost the general course. For example, if a local authority proposes to buy land for open space or schools, and permission to develop that land is refused for that reason, under this Bill the Exchequer pays for the loss of development value caused by that decision, thus extinguishing or reducing—sometimes one, sometimes the other—the unexpended balance. Consequently, the payment which the acquiring authority makes to the owner by way of the unexpended balance is very much reduced, if not wiped out.

Supposing nothing was done to deal with this position, the result would be that public authorities would be buying land more or less at existing use value, as they did under the 1947 Act, but relieved of any liability to pay development charge. Therefore, in order to restore a fair balance between them, it is necessary to see that the Exchequer is not left to pay the whole of the development value without, in this case, recovering the development charge. In other words, we should have a form of concealed subsidy and we think it better, when we want to give a grant to local authorities, to do so in the ordinary way. Hon. Members may dislike the method or, indeed, the whole Bill, but I think they will agree that it is logical within the structure of the Bill that we should require the acquiring authority to repay the payment to the Exchequer.

It may be argued that the planning decision had nothing to do with the needs of the authority. In point of fact no public authority will buy land subject to restrictions which prevent it using the land for its own purposes. And if the restrictions do not hurt the acquiring authority, they have no grievance and have suffered no hardship.

The only other point which I thought might be made and I believe was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, was that, in a sense, it is making the authorities pay for planning restrictions. As a matter of fact, in practice the restriction is normally the herald of the intended acquisition and this is a fair balancing arrangement in view of the fact that the development charge is no longer levied upon the local authorities when they purchase land for development. For these reasons, I must ask the House to resist the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.