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Injurious Affection (Amendment)

Volume 173: debated on Wednesday 6 June 1990

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3.33 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to reduce the time limits within which compensation may be claimed under the law of injurious affection.
I am concerned principally with those people in Kent, particularly in my constituency, who will be adversely affected by the channel tunnel rail link and various concomitant works. However, the Bill would also benefit people in other constituencies being immediately affected by motorways or other works of public transport construction.

The law as it stands means that compensation does not become payable until 12 months after the first date of use of whatever is in question. As things are progressing at the moment, it looks unlikely that the channel tunnel rail link will be up and running before the turn of the century.

Constituents of mine and those of my hon. Friends who are just outside the 240 m corridor will not have their properties compulsorily purchased, they will have all the uncertainty until construction is complete, they will suffer nuisance during construction and, when the first train runs, they will have to wait 12 months before they can prove nuisance. The Bill sets out to reduce that period so that people who are injuriously affected by various works of construction will be able to claim within three months rather than 12.

The present arrangements are set out in the Land Compensation Act 1973. When that Act was passed, there had been no major railway construction since the turn of the century. We need to look in detail at our planning and compensation laws to see whether they are adequate to deal with this new phenomenon of the first major railway construction for so many years. In particular, I am worried about those constituents who will not be affected by the much talked about new high-speed rail link but who will be affected by all the concomitant works for freight that are being carried out on other lines. Those people will not be able to get any compensation unless there is negligence in the course of construction.

While British Rail says that the loop lines at Headcorn and elsewhere are merely for intensification of the use of existing lines, those who are affected by them, no matter how closely, cannot claim compensation because the Land Compensation Act specifically excluded intensification of use as a ground for claiming compensation. However, I could show hon. Members the houses of constituents in which cracks are already quite obvious and where there is already subsidence and immense noise pollution.

I am aware that the Government take the matter seriously. They have shown that by the Department of Transport initiative in setting up a committee specifically to look at noise nuisance. However, that committee's deliberations are likely to be long and I do not know whether ultimately they will help immediately those who will be affected by the various construction works.

If a nuisance can be proved within three months, it will not go away in the next nine months. Why is it necessary to wait 12 months if one can prove immediate nuisance? I do not understand that. There are major benefits in reducing the period to three months. First, there is the obvious effect on householders who are suffering uncertainty about the value of their property and about the nuisance. A three-month period would give a shorter time scale in which the Lands Tribunal could work and in which appeals could be made, and would therefore remove the complicating factors that can arise in 12 months.

For example, if a householder sells his property before the 12 months have elapsed, there are additional complications in adjusting the compensation. There would be benefit in the administration of the law, as well as benefit to those householders who are suffering. The complicated adjustment that is necessitated by many interim effects which can arise between three and 12 months, such as adjustments to the value of the property, inflation, market changes and other influencing factors, would also be subject to a shorter time scale, and that would make matters neater and tidier.

My prime concern is that my constituents and the constituents of the other sponsors of the Bill in Canterbury, Gravesend and Dartford are all suffering because of inadequate compensation laws. My Bill would reduce a further period of uncertainty for which there appears to be no good reason and which inflicts further mental suffering as well as suffering caused by physical nuisance.

These matters are causing more problems in Kent than are generally recognised. If my constituents must wait another five, six or seven years for construction to take place, only to be asked to sit back and suffer one year's blight of nuisance, noise, house damage and undervaluing of property, they are faced with a monstrous proposal. A simple change in the law would at least reduce that blight if it could not entirely eliminate it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Miss Ann Widdecombe, Mr. Julian Brazier, Mr. Jacques Arnold, Mr. Bob Dunn, Mr. Andrew Rowe, Mr. Roger Sims and Mr. David Shaw.

Injurious Affection (Amendment)

Miss Ann Widdecombe accordingly presented a Bill to reduce the time limits within which compensation may be claimed under the law of injurious affection: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 6 July and to be printed. [Bill 155.]