I beg to move,
That the draft Legislative Reform (Epping Forest) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 21 March, be approved.
The 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games will be the greatest sporting festival this country has ever seen. Athletes, officials, media representatives and spectators will come from all over the world to enjoy top-class competition, together with all the associated events that come with the Olympics. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members are as excited as I am about the prospect and number of applications for tickets, even if it has inevitably led to disappointment for a lot of people. It shows that the British people are similarly looking forward to the games.
Such a big event inevitably requires a significant safety and security operation. Indeed, the police are preparing for the largest ever peacetime security operation in this country. I am pleased to be able to say that planning is well under way, as was confirmed by the audit and review that the Government carried out on taking office. In securing major events such as the Notting Hill carnival, the Metropolitan Police Service has developed a well-tested approach to hosting large numbers of officers from outside its usual areas of work through the use of a temporary muster, briefing and deployment centre. That provides a facility where large numbers of officers can be gathered, fed and, most importantly, briefed before being sent off to their duties.
I thank the hon. Lady for her opening remarks. We are all looking forward to the Olympic games, and we are very excited in the east end of London, but on this specific proposal, will she tell me what other venues were considered for this important site?
I will come to the venues. However, I can tell the hon. Lady that 29 were considered, but that only this one—Wanstead Flats in Epping forest—was considered suitable. That was an operational matter for the police; it was not for the Government to intervene or make suggestions on. I will deal with that in more detail later, however.
Three muster centres are planned for the London 2012 Olympics. The main one will be needed to support the main Olympic park area, the transport hub at Stratford and other Olympic facilities. The police and emergency services already have facilities built into the park itself, but the police need to have a base that is a sensible distance from the site, not least so that they can respond sensibly in the event of an incident that puts the park out of action. The Metropolitan police are satisfied that the fairground site at the southern end of Wanstead Flats in Epping forest is the best option for a deployment centre. The fairground site offers the best combination of location and access, minimises disruption to local people and is the most cost-effective solution to the needs of the police.
The hon. Lady says that it will create minimal disruption to local people. May I gently suggest to her that local people in the vicinity of Wanstead Flats and the fairground area would not necessarily concur with her observation? Given that she is a Home Office Minister and given that the Home Office—effectively in its broadest family—has considered these proposals, will she tell the House why residents in the area were not told of the other venues considered by the Metropolitan police and on what basis they had been rejected? Surely that should have been part of the consultation process.
My understanding was that there were three consultations, but indeed the other sites were never open to selection by local people. As I explained to the hon. Lady, however, that was because the police said that, operationally, only this site would facilitate a muster centre of the necessary size and in a suitable location.
There were three consultations, but at least two were deeply flawed. If anybody speaks to the people who live near the fairground site, which is almost entirely in my constituency, they will struggle to find anybody who supports the construction of the muster centre.
I will come to the consultation in due course, although I would say now that only 31 representations were made throughout the process.
The City of London corporation, which is responsible for Wanstead Flats, is content with this approach. I should make it clear that the Government accept that there will be some disruption and inconvenience to local people, but are satisfied that this is the best solution to a specific problem, serving the wider public interest. It is also worth pointing out that the Metropolitan police will pay £170,000 in lieu of rent, in addition to the costs of making good the site. That sum will help to create lasting legacy benefits for those who use Epping forest.
The Minister rightly says that the police are paying £170,000 a year, effectively for 120 days, which works out at about £1,500 a day. Given the cost of putting the area back to its former use once the muster site has gone, is she really convinced that that is enough money properly to reinstate the flats to a state at which they can benefit the local community?
I think the hon. Lady has misunderstood what I said. The £170,000 is additional to the duty and obligation on the police to put the site back to its original condition within the 90-day period, and the £170,000 is for the local area to spend to advance the site and make it better than it was before. The cost of putting it back to its current condition is above and beyond the £170,000.
Wanstead Flats are legally part of Epping forest. The Epping Forest Act 1878 prohibits the enclosure of any part of the forest, even on a temporary basis, and that is why we have brought forward a legislative reform order to make a temporary amendment to the Act. Let me make it quite clear that the Government have no wish to see any change to the status of Epping forest, which is a well-loved amenity. Accordingly, the order before us is strictly time-limited and at the conclusion of the games the muster, briefing and deployment centre will be removed, the land will be restored to its former status and the full protections of the 1878 Act will remain intact. No lasting change to the law will be made.
Our proposals have already been subject to consideration by three separate parliamentary Committees—the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Hybrid Instruments Committee in another place, and this House’s Select Committee on Regulatory Reform. It is on the latter that I should like briefly to focus. I am grateful to the members of the Regulatory Reform Committee, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr Syms), for its very thorough and comprehensive report on the order, which was published on 6 May. I am pleased to note that it stated at paragraph 49:
“The Government…believes there are good reasons to maintain the restrictions in the 1878 Act rather than removing them in their entirety, so has proposed to limit the position, coverage area and duration of the LRO provisions. We support this belief and agree that the proposal is a proportionate measure to achieve the policy objective.”
The Committee went on to say, at paragraphs 50 and 51, that it agreed
“that the proposal strikes a fair balance between the public interest and the interests of any person adversely affected by it…and…does not remove any necessary protection.”
The Committee went on to recommend that the order should be approved.
I would like to address a couple of concerns that the Committee raised, some of which have also been raised by Members. The first relates to consultation. The proposal was subject to three separate consultation processes during the second half of 2010, covering the police proposals to use the site, the specifics of the LRO itself and the planning permission from Redbridge council. The latter was unanimously approved by the council’s regulatory committee on 24 February 2011, subject to conditions to which the Metropolitan Police Service has agreed. Every effort was made to involve and consult local people and to give them an opportunity to express their views. That included leafleting the streets most directly affected and holding public meetings and exhibitions in the area. Respondents and petitioners clearly were not deterred from contesting the principles in the proposal. The previous Security Minister, Baroness Neville-Jones, held two specific meetings on this issue with the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) and I am grateful to him for his support in this matter.
This is complex territory and I accept the Committee’s view that the consultation was imperfect. I apologise for that. Nevertheless, the Committee did conclude, at paragraph 53, that the Home Office
“has respectably arguable grounds for concluding that its consultation was adequate.”
It is also worth pointing out that the Hybrid Instruments Committee in another place invited petitions against the order and, having considered them carefully, decided not to recommend that the order be referred to a special Select Committee, in part because
“Many of the matters complained of in the petitions have been so dealt with, in particular by the normal planning process or in the report to the House by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee (4th Report, 2010-12), that no further inquiry into them is necessary”.
That quote was from paragraph 6 of the House of Lords Hybrid Instruments Committee’s First Report of Session 2010-12, on the Legislative Reform (Epping Forest) Order 2011.
I shall touch on one specific issue—whether the Home Office should have consulted just on the legislative options for Wanstead Flats or whether it should also have introduced possible alternative sites into the equation. As the published documents make clear, the Metropolitan police considered a very large number of possible sites in north-east London for the muster, briefing and deployment centre. Applying objective criteria they concluded that Wanstead Flats was the only suitable site. That was the clear professional, operational advice from the police to the Government, and I think it would have been very difficult, and dangerous, for the Home Office to try to countermand that advice. I do not believe the effectiveness or the clarity of the consultation process would have been enhanced had we included reference to alternative sites that had already been ruled out as unsuitable. Indeed, to have done so might have unnecessarily alarmed residents living near those sites.
Finally, on the question whether this sets a precedent for future development on Wanstead Flats or, indeed, other open spaces, the answer is emphatically no. The Olympics are a unique event in terms of their scale and the policing challenge they present, and I can think of nothing else that would require similar arrangements to be made. More than that, the particular legislative route that we have adopted means that even if a future Government were minded to put buildings on Wanstead Flats, even temporarily, they would have to start all the procedures again from scratch and secure fresh parliamentary approval. Nine months into the process and after three public consultations and three parliamentary committees, I can assure hon. Members that that is something not easily obtained.
I am sorry to have spoken at some length, but I thought it was important to address these issues. In conclusion, I return to where I started. The success of the 2012 safety and security operation depends on the police being able to operate effectively, and the muster, briefing and deployment centre on Wanstead Flats is an integral part of that. The proposal before the House is a proportionate measure. It enables the policing operation to take place while making no lasting change to the protection granted by the Epping Forest Act.
Notwithstanding the other points that I have made, does the Minister genuinely believe, and can she categorically assure my constituents, that this is a temporary, one-off measure, that it will not happen again and that it will not be a precedent for future use by anybody else following the Olympic games?
Yes. If there ever were to be anything on the scale of the Olympics—something that none of us in the House today can imagine—the process would have to be started all over again, and there would be opportunities to comment. The answer to the hon. Lady, in the scope of what one can imagine, is yes.
We are satisfied that the proposed LRO is the best solution to a specific, time-limited problem in the unique circumstances of the 2012 games. I request that the House support the measure.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer), for West Ham (Lyn Brown) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) on the way in which they have represented their constituents’ views on this matter. Anyone who has had a conversation with them about the issue is left in no doubt about the strength of the opposition locally to the proposals.
I am sure that we all welcome the fact that we have the Olympic games coming to London. We also understand that it is impossible to have the world’s greatest sporting spectacle take place in our great city without we, as hosts, accepting some inconvenience if we are to put on a safe, efficient and enjoyable games. Our aim must be to showcase our city and country and confirm our status as one of the world’s leading nations, a place that people want to visit and do business in. However, we must also remember that foremost in the minds of local people is the legacy. One way that the success of the games will be judged, when the pomp and fanfare has been and gone, is the legacy left for the people of London, particularly those who live in and around the Olympic boroughs. We all understand and accept that in order to deliver a safe and efficient games the Metropolitan police must be free to make judgments and decisions on operational matters, and the Minister has our full support in that, but it is unfortunate that this decision is being made in the face of local opposition. I am sure that the Minister will want to reassure local people that their concerns about the future of the site will be considered.
Wanstead Flats is a highly valued and essential open space in that part of London. In the short time I had to prepare for the debate, and being that sort of anorak, I decided to look up the history of Wanstead Flats and discovered that attempts to enclose it and restrict access for the common people have long been a source of controversy. In 1871, Henry Wellesley, Earl Cowley, attempted to enclose another piece of the flats. An advertisement with the headline “Save The Forest” encouraged working men to “Attend by Thousands” an open air meeting on Wanstead Flats on Saturday 8 July 1871 and protest against the enclosure. We are dealing with a highly sensitive site in east London that has a history of local activism to protect it. As that piece of history demonstrates, it is clearly because local people have campaigned effectively to protect it that it is still there for us to debate in the House today.
According to the briefing paper provided by the Residents of Leytonstone and Forest Gate campaign, to which I am grateful, the site is designated as green belt and green corridor land, as heritage land and as a site of metropolitan importance for nature conservation. To of the north of the site is a part of the flats that is designated as a site of special scientific interest. As a veteran of the campaign to stop the east London river crossing and protect Oxley woods, which is also an SSSI, I sympathise with the people who are sensitive about the use of the site and wish to protect it for the future.
The Epping Forest Act 1878 lays down a legal framework for the preservation and management of Epping forest, requiring its conservators to keep it for local use. I will not list the six requirements set out in the Act because I want other local Members to have enough time to speak. Suffice it to say that the previous Government introduced the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, which gives the powers to set aside the 1878 Act, which is what the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice is doing. It is a little churlish of me, but I thought I should point that out as another U-turn.
When we deal with local communities like the one in east London, we must remember that they will still be there when everyone has gone home, waiting to see whether the organisers of the games have proved as good as their word and delivered on their promises. The people opposing these plans feel that insufficient effort has been made to find alternative sites and there is concern locally that it could set a precedent for future events. I welcome the comments that the Minister has just made to give reassurances on that.
Will the Minister clarify the position on the future use of the 2006 Act? Is it the case that to use this site in the same way in the future, the same procedure will have to be used and Members of Parliament will again have the opportunity to bring the matter to the Floor of the House if there is strong opposition? Will she also give an assurance that the corporation of London will consult the local community and involve it in future decisions on this site? From the conversations that I have had, there is a feeling that the local community has been left out of those discussions.
Notwithstanding what the Minister said about the site being restored following its use as a muster site, I know from my time in local government how much argument there can be about whether there has been true restoration of green and open spaces. There are inevitably arguments about how much restoration will cost and to what standard it should be done. Given my fear that the £170,000 will be used to restore the site, rather than to enhance it, does my hon. Friend agree that the police are getting the site rather on the cheap and that they should up their cash so that local people really have something to invest in the site at a later date?
I am not qualified to say what the true value of the site is and what a proper rent would be. However, I do not think that the £170,000 should be used to restore the site. It should be available as a legacy and be spent in consultation with local people. I was just about to make that very point.
To be clear, we are talking about a large structure, stables for up to 54 horses, an area for dogs and parking for 375 vehicles on a site that has dense vegetation. Many of my constituents very much enjoy going to the Wanstead Flats. I hope the shadow Minister can understand why we are concerned about the restoration of the land, not just in its quality, but in its content. That is vital to the future of the site.
Absolutely. People will need reassurance about the management of that process and should have some input into it to ensure that the standards are not diminished, that the site is restored to its former state and that the damage is not permanent. The only way to reassure the local community is to involve it in the process. I ask the Minister to clarify who will ultimately be responsible for overseeing this. Does she have any influence over the body that will be responsible so that she can ensure that it involves the local community?
I am grateful for the Minister’s unequivocal statement that the £170,000 is for the restoration of the site and not its repair. Will she guarantee that it will be spent in consultation with local people, who have demonstrated through their campaign a great love of and commitment to the site? From their experience of living near the site and visiting it regularly, they will have essential expertise and ideas on how the money can best be spent.
I hope the Minister agrees that when it comes to the legacy, it is issues such as this that will determine in the long run whether local people and communities in the Olympic boroughs feel that the Olympic games have been in the interests of ordinary people, their local communities and London. I hope that the Minister will do everything in her power to ensure that those communities are involved not just in planning the legacy on this side of the games, but in delivering it post the games.
I rise as Chairman of the Regulatory Reform Committee. The draft order and the explanatory document were laid before the House on 21 March under section 14(1) of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006. The Government recommended that the draft order be subject to the affirmative procedure, under section 17 of the Act.
The draft order proposes an insertion into the Epping Forest Act 1878 that would allow the Metropolitan Police Authority to erect a muster, briefing and deployment centre on Wanstead Flats for up to 90 days. As we have heard in the debate, it will be quite a busy centre, with perhaps upwards of 3,500 police officers on certain days of the Olympics, providing security at the Stratford centre, the Olympic stadium and various other stadiums in that part of London.
The Home Office has reassured the Committee that the draft order is a temporary provision that constitutes no precedent, as we have heard from the Minister. It believes that it is the most efficient way to ensure the safety and security of the 2012 games, following a site selection process that found Wanstead Flats to be the most suitable location. Clearly, we are all concerned about security.
The Committee considered the draft order on 3 May. It concluded that the affirmative resolution procedure was appropriate and recommended that the draft order be approved. The report was agreed, but following a Division in which the Committee divided five to three. Under the procedures of the House, when there is a Division the matter has to be referred to the Floor of the House.
I think it fair to say that members of the Committee were sympathetic to local Members, particularly the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer), who wanted to attend the Committee but could not under the Standing Orders of the House. He made representations himself to the Metropolitan Police Service and the consultation, and I hope that he will catch your eye in a moment, Mr Deputy Speaker, to represent the views and concerns of his constituents. The debate provides an opportunity for local Members to make their concerns known.
As we have heard, a number of concerns were expressed in our report, such as the fact that the consultation document contained an avoidable error.
The hon. Gentleman is an honourable man. Does he not agree that given the state of the consultation, local people have a right to be concerned? Does he also accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) that how and where the £170,000 will eventually be spent is a concern, given the botched consultation?
There were clearly problems with the consultation, although it is true that, as the Minister said, there were only 31 replies. However, my Committee still found that it wished to approve the order, and I hope that the House will do so today. It seems to me that there would be a very good reason for local Members to write to the Home Office to put pressure on the Metropolitan police, and indeed the City of London corporation, so that there is some local involvement in how the £170,000 is spent. Once the site is repaired, if it is used by many of the hon. Lady’s constituents, they clearly ought to be consulted about what improvements are made. That seems to be a matter for another day, but I am glad that she has put her point on the record.
Although the difficulties with the consultation were unfortunate, the Committee concluded that that should not inhibit the progress of the draft order and did not alter the fact of the site’s utilisation. There was concern about the adequacy of the consultation, because the wording used in the consultation document was potentially deficient. Wanstead Flats was described as
“essential to ensuring the safety and security of the Games”,
which was a bit of an overstatement, even though it was clearly the preferable site.
The consultation was poorly conceived, which raised unnecessary worries among local residents, and took place nearly a year after Wanstead Flats was identified as the preferred site. It was limited in scope to rule out comments on alternative sites, and the document contained a factual error about the criminal sanction. The poor design and preparation of the consultation gave the impression that the process was a done deal, and that the legislative reform order was being used as the easiest way to reach the desired solution. That is one reason why we are having this debate on the Floor of the House today.
The fact that the Metropolitan Police Service is clear that it requires the site for the policing of the Olympics is a persuasive, but not conclusive, reason for the narrow terms of the consultation, as it has no statutory function in relation to the Olympics. Direct responsibility for the centre lies with the Metropolitan Police Service, which formulated the site criteria. Its assessment against those criteria found that Wanstead Flats was the only site to meet all of them. However, it would have been more appropriate if the consultation document had taken that assessment as a starting assumption that the Department expected to adopt unless persuaded otherwise.
As we have heard, the consultation generated 31 responses. The explanatory document dealt with them in a rather perfunctory manner and should have contained a more detailed response and information. Despite the concerns raised, the report concludes that the Department has “respectably arguable” grounds for believing that its consultation was adequate.
The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of the House of Lords reported on the draft order on 4 May. It, too, considered the Government’s consultation to have been “very poorly handled”, and drew this to the House’s attention, while concluding that the draft order was appropriate to proceed. As we have heard, a Hybrid Instruments Committee of the House of Lords considered the draft order on 23 May, concluding that there ought not to be a further inquiry by a Select Committee into any of the matters complained of by the eight petitioners.
There were genuine concerns, which is why the matter has been referred to the Floor of the House, so that local Members can raise those concerns. I am sure that there are further discussions to be had on another day about the details of the improvements to the site and the £170,000. However, I hope that the House concludes that the site in question is the most appropriate and will support my Committee’s decision by voting for this order today.
We have certainly had contrasting debates this afternoon. Let me start by saying—I will make my reasons clear—that I am speaking against the order. I do not support it in any way, and I do not want to mislead the Minister by putting her in the position of believing me somehow to be offering my support, because I am not. The order and the proposed creation of the muster centre have caused deep concern among my constituents. Wanstead Flats are a cherished local amenity and have been since 1878. They have actually been a local amenity for longer than that, but they have been recognised in statute for nearly 140 years, since 1878. The decision to build a police muster centre for the 2012 Olympics on a piece of much-cherished and precious piece of common land is simply wrong and should not have gone through in the first place.
Let me go back over some of the history of Epping forest and Wanstead Flats, which are partly in my constituency. Epping forest has been fought over for centuries, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) mentioned. In the 18th and early 19th centuries there were fights over enclosure. Repeated attempts were made to enclose the land—as there were across the south-east of England—but the campaigns launched and fought by local people kept it as common land. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were battles over house building. As London rapidly spread eastwards into Essex, there were successful campaigns to maintain Epping forest—and, therefore, Wanstead Flats—as a local amenity. The Epping Forest Act 1878 was the result of those campaigns, and it has kept the area as an amenity for local people ever since.
The City of London corporation has long been seen as the defender of local people—ironic, in view of what has happened recently. It has fought battles against landowners and others to prevent encroachments on common land. That is why the City of London corporation was made the conservator of Epping forest. Over the past 150 years there have been more recent battles, particularly over Wanstead Flats. The 1878 Act states clearly that the land should remain open and undeveloped. On an 1882 visit to High Beach, another part of Epping forest, Queen Victoria declared Epping forest dedicated to the free use and enjoyment by the public “for all time”. However, the City of London, having had quite an honourable record, has now spinelessly lain down and abandoned its traditional defence of local people and the local amenity, and decided to go along with the creation of a police muster centre without even the use of primary legislation to do so. There was some house building there during the war, between 1939 and 1945, but that took place under the wartime emergency powers legislation, which is a crucial point. That was primary legislation, and as soon as hostilities ended, the emergency powers legislation lapsed and the 1878 Act came back into prominence. As a result, the houses were moved—as a matter of fact, I recently met somebody who lived in one of the houses on Wanstead Flats until about 1950-51.
I want to run through what I see as the major points in these proposals. As for the location, which has been raised before, the Home Office explanatory document says:
“It is a large site close to the Olympic Park and new Westfield shopping centre through which a large percentage of visitors to the Park will transit.”
However, the site is actually not particularly near either, so that argument starts to fall down. Many locals—certainly people in my constituency who live near the site—have asked why the muster centre cannot be built on the Olympic site itself. I have yet to hear a compelling argument in favour of the muster centre being established on Wanstead Flats, which are a considerable distance from the Olympic site and from the Westfield shopping centre.
I also have to raise the question of security. A number of local people have said that the police muster centre could be a target for terrorists. That is certainly a possibility, given that the plans for the centre are widely available online, whereas the specific plans for the Olympic site itself are rather more difficult to get to grips with.
As far as traffic is concerned, the route from the muster centre to the Olympics will be a circuitous one involving the use of the A12. The reserve plans, for use in certain situations, involve the use of fairly narrow roads such as Cann Hall road, and an increase in traffic could cause serious problems for police transport accessing the Olympic site. Mixed messages about transport have been given to the public in east London. An Olympic planning document states that there will be a traffic downturn during the games, although I cannot imagine what evidence that is based on. Local businesses, on the other hand, have been clearly told that they should expect a rise in the volume of traffic. Both cases seem to have been put forward as an argument for building the police muster centre, so I would be grateful if the Minister could tell me which is correct. Is there going to be a downturn or an upturn in traffic? How will that answer back up the argument for the creation of the muster centre?
On compensation, I have to say that £170,000 is a paltry amount to pay for the site. The rent on an equivalent brownfield site in the south-east of England for a period of 90 days would be in the region of £1.5 million. Wanstead Flats are obviously not a brownfield site, and an equivalent site would cost nearer to £3 million to rent for that period, yet the City of London corporation is perfectly content to say to the Metropolitan police, “We’ll take 170,000 quid.” That is an absolutely pathetic amount of compensation, especially as far as local people are concerned.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that very good point. I will touch on that further in a minute.
Three consultations have taken place, as has been mentioned. One was a straightforward planning consultation conducted by Redbridge council, the local planning authority. The Metropolitan police consultation was one of the most bizarre that I have ever come across. It could be accessed only online, so none of my constituents could write a letter to the Metropolitan police. They had to make their submissions to the consultation online and it dealt only with specific questions. I believe that those factors alone should render that consultation null and void, because it was not a proper consultation. It was conducted entirely on the Metropolitan police’s terms, and it excluded an awful lot of people in my constituency who do not have access to the internet.
The Home Office consultation focused on section 34 of the Epping Forest Act 1878, which was a bizarre way to go about it, given that that section ceased to be in force in about 1882. I would have thought that someone might have spotted that. The section of the Act that the consultation should have dealt with is section 7, which I want to quote in full. It states:
“Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Conservators shall at all times keep Epping Forest uninclosed and unbuilt on, as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the public; and they shall by all lawful means prevent, resist and abate all future inclosures, encroachments, and buildings, and all attempts to inclose, encroach or build on any part thereof, or to appropriate or use the same, or the soil, timber, or road thereof, or any part thereof, for any purpose inconsistent with the objects of this Act.”
It is difficult to argue that that is in any way ambivalent. It is absolutely crystal clear: that building on Wanstead Flats or in Epping forest—the Act covers the whole of Epping forest—was intolerable to Parliament at the time.
The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 is being used for the first time to attack the central purpose of legislation from a past era. The 2006 Act has been used in the past to make what can now be seen as relatively minor amendments to legislation, but here it attacks the central thrust of the 1878 Act because it undermines section 7—the whole basis of the legislation. The purpose of the 2006 Act was to remove regulatory burdens, but in this case, it is about removing protection—protection afforded to the people of east London since 1878.
This should never have gone ahead and it has probably happened because of all the mistakes made during the consultations. It is almost certainly vulnerable to judicial review if anyone wanted to take up that case. There are, however, one or two guarantees that we need to secure from the Minister at the end of this debate.
For a start, we need a guarantee that the muster centre will be gone after 90 days. The original plan was for 120 days; it was then cut to 90 days, so we need an absolute guarantee that the police’s muster centre will last for no more than 90 days. Secondly, the Minister has already touched on this matter, but it needs to be made absolutely clear that this will not set any precedent. We are potentially amending primary legislation, which could be used in future court cases to set a precedent that might allow developers to build on Wanstead Flats. That needs to be dismissed absolutely so that in future court cases, today’s proceedings can be cited and developers told clearly that the Government had no intention of creating a precedent.
We also need guarantees that the order will be complied with to the letter and we need to know how the consultation on the disposal of the £170,000 will be conducted. Who will be consulted, who will run the consultation, and who will make the judgment that the land has been returned to its original use and its original state? I can feel an Adjournment debate coming on at some point in the future if we are not satisfied that all the criteria are being met. In the meantime, I leave it to the Minister to answer these questions.
I begin by apologising for not being in the Chamber at the beginning of this debate. I was attempting to enter the House but the events occurring in the immediate area around Parliament right now have undemocratically deprived me of access. Given that we are debating a narrow order, Mr Deputy Speaker, it would be inappropriate for me to discuss the workings of democracy, so I will not do so or take up any more of the House’s time on the subject, but I do make the point that if Members of Parliament are denied access to the House of Commons through action taken by other people in the Westminster area, that is an affront to democracy. That is the best excuse I have ever had for being late!
Although this legislative reform order specifically refers to Epping forest and I represent the Epping Forest constituency, I must explain that the piece of land in question is not in my constituency, but almost entirely in that of the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer). It is he who has the duty to speak on behalf of local people, but I have every sympathy with the points he has made. Wanstead Flats are part of Epping forest, and although my Epping Forest constituency does not cover the whole of the forest geographically I am nevertheless always concerned for the protection of our wonderful and ancient forest. It is the duty of us all, and particularly those with an interest in this particular area of London and Essex, to be concerned for the preservation of Epping forest itself. Any threat to our forest is unacceptable.
The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead has waxed lyrical—and rightly so—about the dangers of enclosure and about the historical position that has seen the people of east London and Essex fight literally for centuries to ensure the preservation of our forest. As the hon. Gentleman has just explained, that culminated in the Epping Forest Act. All of us who are concerned with the forest and its preservation will never allow anything to happen, in the House or anywhere else, that would undermine its preservation. Enclosure was wicked and took resources away from people who needed them, but nowadays the threat is somewhat different: it is generally a threat of house building and overdevelopment on what ought to be one of the most important lungs of London. I agree with all that the hon. Gentleman said in that regard.
In 1882 Queen Victoria visited High Beach, which is in my constituency, and only a couple of weeks ago I went to see the oak tree that she planted when she was there. Actually, that one died; another was planted two years later, and still stands as a permanent reminder of the importance of preserving the forest for the people. Queen Victoria said that she was dedicating
“this beautiful forest to the… enjoyment of my people”
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the forest must be preserved for the enjoyment of the people for ever, but I disagree with him slightly on another point. I feel able to support the order because it refers specifically to a 90-day period. If it were a general order allowing the forest to be used in any way in perpetuity, I would join the hon. Gentleman in expressing deep concern. Furthermore, the area in question constitutes only about 2% of Wanstead Flats and is already used for circuses, fireworks and other forms of enjoyment. It is therefore geographically suitable for the purpose for which it is to be used during those 90 days.
I hear what Opposition Members say about the payment being made by the Metropolitan police. As the Minister explained earlier—I was not present, but owing to the wonders of modern technology I was able to listen to her on a mobile phone—
Yes, it was. I am glad to be able to make that absolutely clear.
As the Minister explained, the Metropolitan police are making a significant payment to the conservators of Epping forest, in lieu of rent, and in addition to the payment for the restoration of the site. I hear what Opposition Members say about the amount involved, but the important point is that the entire amount paid by the Metropolitan police will be used for the enhancement of Wanstead Flats. Opposition Members argue that the amount should be greater, but I do not agree. Money paid by the Metropolitan police is taxpayers’ money, and if it is used for the enhancement of Wanstead Flats, it obviously cannot be used for the prevention of crime and the maintenance of law and order. There is a wider interest. It is absolutely right for an amount to be paid for the enhancement of Wanstead Flats, but it should not be larger than the amount that has already been negotiated.
Does the hon. Lady interpret the order as meaning that the restoration must be completed before the end of the 90-day period? My reading of it does not make it clear whether it means that the Metropolitan police must have left by then, or that the restoration must have taken place.
I cannot answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question, but I agree that assurances must be given on a time scale within which the work on Wanstead Flats must be undertaken and completed. It is not for me to answer the detail of his question, however.
Although I am very concerned at all times for the preservation of Epping forest, I do trust the Committee that examined the order; I have heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr Syms) has said, and I trust him and his Committee to have properly scrutinised this proposed small piece of legislation. On that basis as well, I can support the order.
Like all our other commonly owned property, Epping forest is there for the good of all the people, not just those who live in the immediate area of Wanstead Flats or the forest itself; and for the good of all the people, there is a wider public interest here. The Olympics are also for the good of all the people. My part of London and Essex will benefit enormously from the fact that an historic world event is being held on our doorstep. Therefore, we have to play our part in contributing to the effort for the Olympics for the temporary period that that effort is required. The conservators of the forest are trying to accommodate that wider public interest by making arrangements with the Metropolitan police for Wanstead Flats to be used for this temporary period, and I therefore feel that I can support the order.
I wish to respond briefly to some of the many concerns raised in this debate. I am grateful to all the Members who participated, and I appreciate that this proposal raises strong local feelings about the protection of what is a valuable open space in north-east London. I can assure the House that I would be adding my voice to that of the opponents of the proposal if I thought that this was an attempt in any way to destroy a much-loved open space or to weaken permanently the protections guaranteed by the Epping Forest Act 1878. It is neither of those things. This measure is constrained in scope and time, and it will leave all the provisions of the Act in place exactly as they were, while Wanstead Flats will be restored to its previous state.
The hon. Members for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) and for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) made speeches, and they understandably have a strong interest in the subject. They show great care for their constituents and the well-being of this much-loved space. The hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) asked if £170,000 was sufficient in lieu of rent. That figure was arrived at following discussions between the Metropolitan police and the City of London on what would constitute a reasonable payment for the temporary use of the land. The police are a public service, so they rightly should consider getting best value for money. It would be odd for London taxpayers to expect their local police to spend more money, not less.
The hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) asked whether local people would be consulted on the nature of the structures put on Wanstead Flats. I am sure that the Metropolitan police will want to consult local people. He also asked whether local people will be consulted on the future of Wanstead Flats. That is a matter for the City of London corporation, but I can assure the House that the City has said it will consult local people on the use of that part of the £170,000 that is above and beyond what is required for the use of the land.
I do not have to hand an official answer per se, but I would be surprised if local people, the hon. Lady and other hon. Members did not raise this issue if the restoration were not done to what local people felt was the right standard and if the area had not been restored to the state in which it was found. The restoration is about that and the £170,000 is about enhancing the land above and beyond the state it was in when the police first came to use it.
Should we find difficulty in appealing against the state in which the flats have been left after the police have gone and after the restoration has taken place, to whom would we appeal? Will the hon. Lady write to me or have the appropriate Minister write to me on that point?
I am happy to do that, but may I suggest to the hon. Lady that photographs would be useful in that regard?
I was asked whether the legislative reform order procedure would be required if ever a proposal were made to put something similar on Wanstead Flats, and the answer is yes. As I explained during my opening remarks, we would have to go through all this all over again—there is no question about that.
The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead asked why the facility was not part of the local Olympic park itself. There will be facilities for the police and emergency services, including front-counter services, on the park, but we are talking about different things here, as there are operational reasons why a briefing centre needs to be a reasonable distance from the park. Obviously, if anything happened in the park, people would need to come from outside to deal with it.
Redbridge council considered the traffic problems as part of the planning application and was content that the proposals would not damage the local environment. Transport for London raised no objections, and the location was chosen, in part, to avoid potential traffic nuisance.
Before the hon. Lady wanders too far from this subject, may I take her back to the issue of the site? It is not good enough just to say that the City of London corporation is responsible for restoring the site for the local community. After all, the previous Government and this Government have been all over this project of delivering the London Olympic games; no doubt, Secretaries of State and other Ministers will be posing for photographs with famous sports personalities and so on as they arrive. So it is not good enough to say that all this about restoring the site is a local skirmish between the local community and the City of London corporation. Does the Minister not think that the Government have a duty to ensure that the corporation is as good as its word and to represent local people who have these concerns when the site is being restored?
The hon. Lady is shaking her head. I will not tempt her further and will write to hon. Members on this matter.
The traffic issue might be one of the things that worries local people the most. The Olympics will be taking place during the school summer holidays, so traffic levels will be lower than normal. The muster centre will cause some increase in the level of traffic, but all officers will arrive by coach, not in individual vehicles and, as I said, Transport for London is content that this proposal will not give rise to undue problems.
I was asked whether this order would set a precedent, and the answer is no. I am happy to put on the record the fact that should any future Government want to do something similar—I can see no reason why they would; that is outside the scope of imagination because the Olympics is the biggest event this country will be hosting—they would have to repeat this procedure and secure parliamentary approval all over again. I was asked how we can be sure that the police will be off the site after 90 days, and that they will have no legal power to be on the site beyond that point.
The police will have dismantled the muster, briefing and deployment centre, it will be off the site and they will have made the necessary restorations within the 90 days.
We are satisfied that the proposal is sound in principle and practice and all the statutory gatekeepers have broadly agreed with us. As I said, that includes the three parliamentary Committees as well as the local council, as the planning authority. The proposed LRO will ensure that the 2012 games are a safe and secure spectacle that can be enjoyed by all those involved, particularly those who have tickets.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Legislative Reform (Epping Forest) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 21 March, be approved.