Committee (6th Day)
Relevant documents: 15th and 16th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee.
Clause 74 : List of assets of community value
133E: Clause 74, page 61, line 9, leave out subsection (3)
My Lords, here we go again. I will speak also to Amendment 135A in this group. Amendment 133A challenges Clause 74(3), which states that assets that have been placed on a list of community assets will be removed after five years. This is a probing amendment. My first question is: why is it necessary to make the list temporary in this way and provide lots of extra work for the local authority? Why does an asset not remain on the list until there are good reasons for removing it, rather than being removed after an arbitrary period? Secondly, if there is to be an arbitrary period, why is it five years rather than two or 10? Thirdly, can assets be put back on the list once they have been taken off after five years? Will the procedure be the same as that for putting them on in the first place, which would seem to necessitate a lot of duplication?
Fourthly, can community organisations and parish councils propose that an asset which is due to come off the list at the end of five years should stay on? In other words, can they make a new nomination before the end of the five-year term or do they have to wait until the asset has come off the list and then make a new nomination—in which case there would be a gap between the end of the five years and the new nomination? These are straightforward questions, but they are not answered in the Bill and they are important if we are to know how the system will work.
Amendment 135A suggests that under the provision in the Bill for the appropriate authority—in England it is the Secretary of State—to change the period of five years to another length of time if he or she thinks that that would be a good idea at some time in the future, it should be possible to make different periods for different classes of assets. Why is it not possible for the local authority to make sensible decisions based on local circumstances, according to what is appropriate for a particular community asset? It will know the circumstances that relate to each asset. If there is a long-standing recreation ground that is not in council ownership—or even that is—and has been there for 50 years, having to apply every five years to put it back on the list would seem unnecessary. A village hall that might be in private or some sort of other ownership will not go away. One hopes that it will be there in five or 10 years, when the same problems will occur if the owner proposes to close it down or change its use to something else. That might also apply to a village pub or post office, and it seems that village pubs and post offices are where this legislation came from in the first place.
Why is it necessary automatically to take privately owned allotments off every five years and then put them back on? Why do all sorts of green spaces that people hope will be there for a considerable time have to come off and then be put back on? For example, burial grounds are not going to go away, although quite often there are proposals to take local burial grounds over, dig up the bodies and develop them. That is what happens in too many cases perhaps. That problem is going to be there in five, 10 or 25 years, so why cannot the local authority or even the Secretary of State allocate different periods for different classes of assets? These are practical problems and practical questions about how this legislation is going to work. It is important that we understand what the Government think about them. I beg to move.
My Lords, before speaking to Amendments 134 and 135, I should declare some interests. I am a district councillor and a parish councillor, the owner of an agricultural estate which contains assets which might fall within the scope of the Act and chairman of the National Playing Fields Association.
These amendments, and other amendments in my name, were put down before the Minister deposited in the Library her paper on assets of community value. I thank her for the paper and for the helpful remarks she made when this Bill was being debated earlier in the week. I am most grateful as are, I am sure, many others in this House.
The effect of Amendments 134 and 135 would be to have included in the Bill a maximum period of five years for an asset to remain on the local authority’s register of community assets. It would stop the Secretary of State being able to extend the period without primary legislation and would thus avoid the worry and concern for the owner of the asset that the five-year period might be extended at short notice and without his or her foreknowledge.
In a property-owning democracy, such as ours, security of tenure is not just an important matter; it is, as my noble friend Lord Hodgson pointed out, fundamental to the way our society works. Anything which affects property ownership or value can have far-reaching effects for the vast majority of citizens of this country. For the Secretary of State to be able, by regulation, to extend the period of five years for an asset to be on the register will create uncertainty which will, in turn, affect value.
One of the faults of this Bill, as many of your Lordships have commented, in particular my noble friend Lord Jenkin, is that too much power is reserved for the Secretary of State to make what can be far-reaching changes. For the Secretary of State to be able to alter the length of time for an asset to be on the register without the requirement to introduce primary legislation could affect the value of any asset on the register. This will most affect the less well off, where the asset may represent virtually everything they have in the world. Owners of small shops and the other types of small businesses, at which this Bill is aimed, are not normally people of great resources. In the paper deposited in the Library, reference is made to renominating assets after a five-year period has ended. I urge the Minister to reconsider this, although if the five-year period remains in the Bill, having to take positive action for the asset to remain on the register would at least be a step in the right direction.
The value of assets is a theme to which I shall return in later amendments because there are other measures in this Bill which could cause harm.
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their points on this matter, to which I shall respond briefly. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred to Amendment 133A, but I think we should be referring to Amendment 133E. The amendment would remove the time limit all together. We do not think that this is a good approach because a fixed-term listing will ensure that assets do not remain on the list when they are no longer considered to be of community value.
Under Amendment 134, rather than a fixed period of five years for listing, the local authority would be able to remove the asset from the list at any time but no later than five years after listing. Amendment 135A would introduce different fixed terms for listing depending on the type of asset in question. Both amendments would have an unwelcome effect. They would make it unclear to community groups how long the listing would last and on what basis it could be brought to an end—consequently, reducing the transparency of the whole process. Under our proposals the fixed term will apply unless the site is sold in the meanwhile or the local authority changes its decision on review of the listing.
Amendment 135 would remove the power for the Government to change this period by order after the Act comes into force. We oppose this because the power will enable Parliament to review the five-year limit in the light of experience. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, suggested that this would require primary legislation but as things are in the Bill at the moment it would have to come back to Parliament without ever introducing primary legislation but on secondary legislation. We will also want to take account, for example, of the frequency with which listed assets come on to the market and how often communities wish to re-nominate assets that have changed hands.
In answer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, yes, after five years an asset can be put back on the list but only if it is re-nominated and again goes through the process of the local authority having to judge whether the asset still meets the definition. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, asked whether the change of the five-year period and the period that land is listed would affect sites already listed. The answer is no. A change would affect only land listed after the change.
I hope that that answers the questions and satisfies both noble Lords for at least the time being. I ask that noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful for those answers. The question in the back of my mind is the extra staffing resources that local authorities will need in order to compile and maintain these lists of community assets. I suppose the answer is that we do not know because we do not know how many nominations there will be. I suspect that in some places there will be a lot and in others there will be very few. We will find out in due course. However, on the basis of the Minister’s response, I am happy to withdraw Amendment 133E. I apologise if I got the number wrong earlier. I have not brought the right glasses for reading and I will have to get them.
Amendment 133E withdrawn.
Amendments 134 to 136ZZA not moved.
Debate on whether Clause 74 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I rise, at last, to speak in this clause stand part debate. I shall speak to whether all the clauses in Chapter 4 of Part 4 should stand part of the Bill. In some ways I am glad that I did not get to speak on Tuesday. Our debate then and some of the statements that have just been made confirm my view that I might have a solution to everyone’s concerns.
Before I set out my position, I must first make it clear that I totally endorse the intentions behind Chapter 4. I have spent the greater part of my life trying to save community assets, as envisaged in this chapter. When I was at the Countryside Agency, we worked hard to provide funding for villages that were trying to protect and enhance their pubs, shops, sports facilities and heritage assets. On the latter, we ran the local heritage initiative for the Heritage Lottery Fund for both rural and urban communities. At the same time, the agency was one of the instigators of the Pub is the Hub movement. We also had a great scheme for encouraging the use of village facilities for multiple purposes, such as using the same room or building for everything from a hairdresser and a citizen’s advice bureau to political surgeries and Jobcentre Plus services. We also worked hard with others to persuade the Government to put £150 million a year into saving rural post offices. We were not totally successful in saving all rural post offices, of course, but we certainly helped. Ultimately, in all these things, and as is the intention behind these clauses, whether prized community assets survive depends on the oomph or activities of the community itself.
Having established, I hope, my credentials and my enthusiasm for this chapter’s intentions, I shall now explain why these clauses, as currently framed, first, will not work and, secondly, are an unnecessary nightmare of administrative red tape. First, why will they not work? On the basis that the two main community assets to be saved are probably the village shop and pub, or, in urban areas, the local shop and pub, perhaps I may use them as prime examples. I note at this point that open land used for sport or quiet recreation is already catered for by Section 15 of the Commons Act 2006, under which it can be registered as a town or village green. I put that forward tentatively because I am not an expert on the use of Section 15.
Sticking to the pub and the shop, it is important to note, first, that they are both customer-based businesses. Any interruption to their trading is tantamount to a direct hit on their sustainable future. In any period of closure, people soon develop the habit of going elsewhere for their shopping or their pint. It is surprising that even those without their own transport find alternative ways of getting what they need. More to the point, those habits soon become ingrained. There are lots of reasons why a publican or shopkeeper might want to retire. Customers may be drifting away and the business owner might be finding it hard to make ends meet. It might all be too much hard work. Believe me, running such enterprises really is hard work. There might be family reasons for moving or they might just want to retire. However, if they do want to retire, it is likely that they will want to maximise the value of their business asset. At the moment, the best way to do that is to get permission for a change of use and sell the building as domestic premises. Often, half of it will already be a house, so they try to turn it into a bigger house, or even to have two units to sell.
If, on the other hand, they want to sell their business as a going concern, that is all well and dandy and none of this is needed. If not, and particularly if the business is failing, the first thing they will do is to close the business in order to justify any change of use application. Very often the business will sit like that with the shutters closed, in my experience, for six months or a year—in some instances that I know of, considerably longer—even before an application is made. As I have already explained, that means that the business as a community asset could be snookered anyway. Of course, as far as the business owners are concerned, it is more likely that they will get their change of use because such a permission will be merely confirming a fait accompli.
I should point out that there could be as much as an extra £100,000 accruing from a successful change of use application, but the main point is that, after planning permission and building conversion, the sale of a property in this scenario—the “disposal”, as it is called in Chapter 4—is often several years down the track, by which time there is definitely no community asset to save.
If the local planning authority refuses permission—I accept that, if the property is now deemed a community asset, this is more likely—the owner will probably hang on for a year or two, maybe until the five years have elapsed, and have another go. They are probably living in the property or they can lease the living quarters for a few years. Alternatively, they might, under the new circumstances, give up and sell the business as a going concern, in which case we do not need to protect this community asset at all. If the disposal of the property, being usually six months to a year or more after the closure of the business, is used as the trigger for the moratorium to give the community a chance to galvanise itself and take appropriate action, it is already too late. To plagiarise Charles I, “The bird has already flown”. The business, as opposed to the property, already has both feet in the grave.
I accept that the focus that the Bill now gives to community assets means that the owner will know that an application for a change of use is likely to be refused and is therefore more likely than ever simply to close the business and carry on living in or letting the domestic side of the premises until the property slips off the radar as a recognisable community asset. However, the effect is the same. No trigger has been given to spark the community into action. Although, frankly, if the community is not sparked into action by the closure of the business into doing something to revive it elsewhere—perhaps by using their right to build, for example—there is probably nothing we can do to help them anyway. In any case, my point is still valid: it is very unlikely to be the disposal of the asset—I stress the word “asset”, as in that particular property—that kills the business; it is the change of use.
If all this is not bad enough, Chapter 4 as currently proposed could actually be the killer blow to the community asset when it is in no danger at all. Let us take the example of a publican or shopkeeper who dies in service. It is not unknown, as I said earlier. It is extremely hard work. The widow or executors will want to implement a quick sale in order to keep the business going, possibly for the sake of the community, but under the current proposals, they cannot do that, so the proposals could actually cause the demise of the very business that they are supposed to save. I believe that it is important to stimulate the necessary community action only when the business is actually threatened, rather than when the ownership of the property is transferred. The threat to the business really only occurs when a change of use planning application is made. It is at that stage that the community needs to take action, rather than wait for a disposal, when it is usually too late. I accept that a passive closure of the business not involving planning permission has the same effect and that this event is not covered either by my proposal or by the current Chapter 4. As I said, only the community itself will be able to take independent action to deal with that scenario.
My other point, which I shall make briefly and is similar to the points made last Tuesday by the noble Lords, Lord True and Lord Jenkin, is that this chapter is a nightmare of administration and red tape. I looked at it, wondered how I could possibly put down any meaningful amendments and realised that I could not. I am sorry to be so blunt, but to me, it is totally over the top. At a time when local authorities are desperately trying to cut down on costs, they will possibly have to start new sections of administration keeping lists, and not only lists of successful community assets, but also lists of unsuccessful ones. Why on earth one needs the latter, I do not know. Like the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, I should have thought that a non-appearance in the first list was enough for everyone.
My solution, which I hope is a positive suggestion, is that the Government should put a loose but meaningful description of a community asset on the face of the Bill. Then, when an application for a change of use comes into a planning department, the planning officer could inform the parish council or neighbourhood forum and all the members of his planning committee immediately—just in case they disagree with him—that he is deeming the premises to be a community asset. The community would then have, as at present, six weeks in which to express an interest which, if forthcoming, will result in a moratorium on the decision for a change of use for, say, six months or more to allow the community to galvanise itself so that it could, as it were, head off the danger at the pass. That would be a very simple but, in my view, far more effective approach than the current quicksands that we are all being sucked into. Do we really need 19 clauses and a whole wodge of regulations to achieve a very simple procedure? I think not.
I am sorry to have gone on for so long—I bet that those who were here late on Tuesday night are quite glad that I did not speak at that hour—but, as I said at the beginning, this is an important matter. I am right behind the Government in their intentions and I really want to make this work, which it definitely will not do in its current form. I know that there have been consultations, but I expect that the responses were based on what is currently proposed. I bet that few have had the temerity to say that the emperor has no clothes. Chapter 4 sounds good politically, but I do not believe that it will achieve what it is trying to do. I cannot see these provisions saving a single village shop or pub. Indeed, I can see them condemning a few to the grave—
Does the noble Lord accept that these provisions are not primarily directed at post offices and pubs? They cover wasteland in cities, disused bank buildings, disused offices, railway arches, warehouses, mills and allotments. Might not the noble Lord be undermining his own case if he is trying to tell the House that this is just about pubs and post offices?
I accept that there are other community assets. As I said, I think that the open-space community assets could be dealt with in other legislation. However, the provisions are ultimately about a change of use rather than the disposal of what is a community asset. I accept that I speak for rural communities, but I think that one of the main purposes of these clauses is to protect, alongside urban community assets, rural community assets such as the village shop and the village pub. In any case, I think that my comments here apply equally to urban properties.
I urge the Government to rethink this whole chapter. I look forward to hearing the views of others.
My Lords, as this is the first time that I have spoken at the Committee stage of the Bill, I would like to declare my interest as a landlord and landowner.
I have put my name down to remove all the clauses in Chapter 4, so I would like to speak to all those clauses collectively, but in fact I would not want there to be nothing in the Bill on this subject. The Government have made too big a political commitment for that. Nevertheless, I have always understood that the original political interest and intention was to make sure that local communities are given a chance to intervene to try to keep going a village pub or post office or shop or public library that has been threatened with closure. Despite what the noble Baroness said, the intention goes slightly further but not much further than that. When Ministers talk about the proposals, those are the examples that they generally give—my noble friend the Minister did the same on Tuesday.
However, the Bill goes vastly wider than that. In the first place, everything would have to be listed, as the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Cameron of Dillington, have emphasised. The Government have completely glossed over the implications of that. As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, explained on Tuesday, this would be an extremely time-consuming operation. Every local authority would have to take on someone to list all assets of community value. My noble friend Lord True, sitting beside me, on Tuesday said that he thought that his council would need two extra staff. A cheer must have gone up in the Guardian newspaper’s advertising department upon seeing this provision in the Bill.
Secondly, almost any sort of asset could, by a creative council employee, without even being mischievous, be considered to have community value. Any sort of business which employed people who lived in the locality could be argued to promote or improve the economic well-being of the local community. Any cherished landmark, any listed building—although not, as the Minister tells us, if it is a residence, as regulations will prevent that—and any popular view, even, could be argued to promote the environmental well-being of the local community.
Thirdly, I should like to ask the Minister about the degree to which the provision is limited to assets of which the community has already enjoyed the use. Could a piece of ground that in someone's eyes might make a nice football pitch, cricketing pitch or playground be listed? Could it not be argued that the prospect of enjoying the use of a certain building or piece of land had contributed to the well-being of a local community?
Fourthly, the point of sale—here, I take up the point emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington—is not the point at which local interest and local involvement should be triggered; it should be change of use or the threat of change of use. A pub can change hands and still remain a pub, but if an owner wants to redevelop it, then the community should have the right to bid. Change of use should trigger the right to bid—ditto with post offices and village shops. Could not this be done in a way that tied in with existing planning powers?
As it is, we have a snooper’s charter which could lend itself to all sorts of inventive arguments and practices, and which would surely result in landlords and landowners who have willingly made facilities available in the past less likely to do so in future for fear of having such a restriction placed on their property. They would want to avoid a situation where, whenever they might want to sell or transfer their property, this blocking mechanism could arise to impede and, in practice, prevent the transaction. On Tuesday my noble friend Lord Moynihan explained in detail how this could have massive adverse consequences for the provision of land and buildings for recreational and sporting use by private landlords in private agreements with local communities throughout the country.
Many amendments have been put down that deal with one or other part of the objections which I have mentioned, but none deals with all of them. I liked the amendment proposed on Tuesday by the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Tope, which would have required assets to be businesses. Unfortunately, when she wound up the debate, my noble friend the Minister said that she did not like the amendment and wanted to include more than just businesses. I am not sure what specific assets she had in mind but the examples that she and her colleagues tend to give are of businesses.
I also liked the amendment of my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, which would have required that land to be listed needed the consent of the owner. Again, my noble friend the Minister did not like that; she said that no private owners would sign up. That in itself is a bit of a giveaway. She and her officials know that they are imposing on landowners something that they will not like.
Unless landowners see a way of providing facilities of whatever sort on their land to local communities without incurring the risk of the land or building being listed as of community value, with all the nuisance that that could bring, I foresee that supply drying up. That would be a huge tragedy. It would be a great folly, if the outcome were likely to be so counterproductive, to allow the Bill to be enacted with this part of it unamended.
Ministers have so far not come up with anything that remotely measures up to the numerous and serious objections to this part of the Bill. However, they have certainly listened to us, and I hope that something can be achieved during the Recess if not before. Meanwhile, I shall follow carefully other amendments which we are about to come to. I certainly liked what I hope may be an amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, mentioned towards the end of his remarks.
My Lords, we need to recognise this for what it is—a full-frontal attack on this part of the Bill. I am sure that I do not need to say that to the Minister.
I need to amplify the remarks that I made to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. I am an urban person—I live in Bradford and in London—and I have been involved in community activities, projects and the acquisition of land and property for community benefit in both places. For example, my title is Baroness Thornton of Manningham. I am the patron of the community centre in Manningham Mills—the wool mill in Manningham which was acquired as part of an arrangement to provide a community centre in a very deprived urban area. That is what we are talking about. It was acquired through the imagination and drive of local community organisations and is replicated in thousands of initiatives, both rural and urban, across the country.
What more does the noble Baroness think this part of the Bill will give to what already existed for the acquisition which she has just referred to? She and her group seem to have been very successful in acquiring it; why do they need all this bureaucracy?
If I can continue with my remarks I think there will be some agreement across the House. We would all prefer the Secretary of State to have a smaller role in these matters. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that this is a convoluted part of the Bill which may need simplification and to give more reassurance. However, it does not need to be deleted completely. The Government are on the right lines.
In answer to the noble Lord’s question, I would be happy to list for the noble Lord, although perhaps not right now, a host of initiatives that have fallen by the wayside, either because the powers or the time did not exist for community organisations to raise the money—this applies also in rural locations—to enable them to use the asset in question for community benefit. That is what this part of the Bill is about, and I believe that the Government are on the right lines.
During the Second Reading debate I said to the Minister that we needed to discuss this part of the Bill. I have yet to be involved—as have any of my Front-Bench colleagues—in any discussions on this part of the Bill, but we hold ourselves ready. On Tuesday evening several remarks were made about the discussions taking place but, so far, those discussions do not involve us. I hope that that will change. I also hope that organisations that are expert in these issues—the Plunkett Foundation, Locality—will also be involved in those discussions. I am sure and confident that this House can resolve this situation satisfactorily.
My Lords, I was in two minds whether to speak on this but I have something here that I prepared earlier.
The whole chapter has been so badly thought through that, as written, it will do more harm than good. I have two points to make. First, we must not forget that the original aim was to allow communities to save their village shops, pubs and post offices from closure. That is an admirable aim, but no mention is made of businesses and services in the Bill. Why not? Why is the wording so broad? I suppose it was thought that there may be other assets of benefit to communities, and so the scattergun approach was adopted. The great danger of using a scattergun is that one often misses the target—and that is exactly what has happened here.
The Bill needs to be drafted so that it hits the nail on the head. As it is currently written, any person, parish or community group can nominate any asset they deem to be of value to the community. As has been said before, this has put the cat amongst the pigeons. Landowners who for purely altruistic reasons have allowed their communities to use part or all of their land for sport and recreational activities are now reconsidering their positions. On Tuesday, my noble friend the Minister said:
“The fact that my noble friend Lord Moynihan spoke about the loss of sports and recreation facilities if this goes ahead, and that other noble Lords commented on the fact that landowners will be advised not to let their land be used for any community facility, is something of which we need to take cognizance. If that is what is being said, and if that is a fear … We need to take note of that”.—[Official Report, 5/7/11; col. 243.]
I assure my noble friend that I know of national firms of land agents that have already advised their clients of the consequences of this Bill as it is currently written. I was talking to my agent the other day, and at the end of the business he asked me what I was up to. When I said that I was involved in the Localism Bill, he said, “Oh, we are watching the progress in the Lords very carefully and we will advise our clients during the summer”. So warnings and advice have already been given to landowners.
I must congratulate my noble friend the Minister on all the meetings and efforts that she has made in trying to resolve these issues. As she said on Tuesday:
“I tried to bring this back from being a very wide problem into being quite a simple, singular matter … There are lots of examples already of people buying their local pubs or shops to keep them from going out of business”.—[Official Report, 5/7/11; col. 242.]
There my noble friend hits the nail right on the head. Why does not Clause 74 say that a local authority must maintain a list of shops, pubs and post offices or other similar business or services that are of community value, rather than the current list of land? As the Minister said, that would bring this back into being a “simple, singular matter”, and it would hit the target—a bull’s-eye!
I know that Governments are reluctant to put lists on the face of a Bill, so why not put “businesses and services” in the Bill, as was suggested in Amendment 133D and echoed today by my noble friend Lord Reay? As it is, we have been given the right of appeal, compensation schemes and a whole list of exemptions—inheritance, gifts, transfers between family members, between partners in the same firm, and between trustees of a single trust and homes—all to allay the fears of landowners, who are just doing things for altruistic reasons. I have no doubt that many more exemptions will be given before the Bill is through. It is all getting far too complicated. If my noble friend wants to keep it simple, for goodness’ sake put shops, pubs, post offices and/or businesses and services on the face of the Bill, and then all these bones of contention will disappear overnight. I concede that there may be the odd asset missed off the wish list, but there is no reason why a community group cannot bid for that asset if it comes up for sale, just as any other purchaser does at present.
I am bound to ask, what about railway sidings, for example? What about waste land in cities? What about all those places that people want to have access to and cannot? I beg noble Lords to stop thinking about this just in terms of pubs and post offices.
The noble Baroness raises a good point—what about them, indeed? If communities do not use them at the moment, they do not form part of this Bill. It is the very question that my noble friend Lord Reay has just raised.
My second point is that the Government seem hell-bent on the trigger point being when an asset is disposed of or sold. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, I do not think that the selling of an asset of community value hits the spot at all. Hundreds of shops and pubs are sold every week up and down the country, with no loss to communities, as the purchasers are another shopkeeper or publican. So the business continues with no loss to the community. The real trigger point is when the facilities are closed down subject to an application for change of use or a demolition order. So I ask my noble friend to listen sympathetically to my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts when he speaks to his Amendment 144.
To illustrate the point, there is great concern over the loss of so many school sports fields to development over the past 20 or 30 years. I do not believe that the measures in this Bill would do anything to stop this in future. The Minister might say, “But they can be listed as assets of community value”. And so they can. But the local authority can give itself planning permission for development without a sale of the land taking place and without triggering the right to bid provisions. The local authority can receive a shed load of money from the developers and retain ownership of the land for a nominal annual ground rent. The land has not been disposed of or sold, but the playing field has been irretrievably lost. Surely there should be an obligation on local authorities to supply alternative sports facilities.
I know that my noble friend is well aware of the shortcomings of this part of the Bill and is as keen as any of your Lordships to get it right. She recognises that the most valuable asset is the current good will and genuine community well-being that already exists.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, in a number of respects, not least in that I think the Government are on the right lines. Some aspects of procedure and process—how this may be delivered—might need to be looked at before Report. I wanted to give some examples from my personal experience of where this legislation could well help to protect a community asset.
This is not entirely about pubs and post offices, but let me give an example of what can happen with a pub. Let us say that a pub is owned by a national, private sector organisation and is closed down. It is sold on the open market but, when research is done with a small advert in a newspaper over the summer, it is knocked down by the purchaser, and the community has no power under planning law to prevent it being knocked down. There is then an application for a change of use, but the criteria for change of use alter because the building no longer exists. It is treated and deemed to be a brownfield site. As a consequence, different planning law pertains and new planning permission for a change of use is much easier to obtain.
My second example is more hypothetical, but it reflects a concern that I have about the financial viability of sports clubs, which often find themselves in financial difficulties and needing to do things to protect their position. This might involve a merger, for example, or moving to a new site. There is an issue about whether land used for a sporting purpose should be considered, before it is sold, for permanent use as a sporting provision. Of course, planning law and the zoning of land help in that respect, but are not the entire story. There has to be a right to give a community the power, if the sports club is going to move, to say whether some greater community interest should be considered whereby a trust could be formed to perpetuate sporting recreational activity on that site.
A third example is government-owned land or buildings. This is not just about privately owned buildings. What about a cricket pitch on open space that is within the purview of a government building, such as a National Health Service building? Planning law currently protects that. One of my great fears is that it becomes easy, when finance is difficult, to suggest that the solution to that finance problem would be to sell off more land and that, to secure a reasonable price, it needs to be sold off for housing or some other purpose with a commercial outcome, which then generates a large sum of money for that government department. The community has to have some general right to intervene to protect that open space, above and beyond the rights bestowed by the planning system.
Another real-life example involved Ministry of Defence buildings for the Territorial Army next to a large secondary high school on a constrained site. The school needed further land, ideally for expansion, because it was too tightly constrained for the growth that it needed. It was in the community's interest that the school should expand, but it was clearly in the Ministry of Defence’s interest to secure the largest income it could from the sale of the buildings and land. That was a housing use issue. We are then up against the difference in values between what one government department is prepared to pay to another. Nothing in current legislation says that one government department must give another the right to buy at a price lower than open market value—in this case, for housing development. This is a problem because the community's interest is not in the housing development—that may be in the MoD's interest—but in that of the children being educated in our schools.
I fully understand that the Bill does not deal with precisely that problem, but I am trying to give the community's point of view on what it worries about, such as controlling the assets that it perceives to be of community value in its area.
There is a further general issue with council-owned buildings: whether councils should have an automatic power to sell buildings that they own prior to testing community interest in running a building, such as a loss-making facility. With everyone's good intentions, I am sure that is what councils would do under the Bill. However, a register of those buildings would make councils ensure that they behaved reasonably in protecting community assets that local people might want to use. The development of community trusts and facilities whereby people in a neighbourhood can get together and form a community interest company trust is in the public interest. Put simply, there is a lot of discussion to have on the Bill between this stage and Report, but this debate is not simply about pubs and post offices. I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, that we have to think much more widely about what is in the public interest.
This has been a very interesting debate and I am stimulated to make one or two comments in view of what has been said. I am less sanguine than my noble friend Lord Shipley about whether this chapter of the Bill will help to do the kind of things that he has been talking about. I agree 150 per cent with what he said about the need for communities to be able to be much more active and involved, particularly over pieces of land. There are ways forward here, but they require resources and organisation. Local government can help in that area, but it is not just a matter for local government.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said that some of the comments were a full-frontal attack on this part of the Bill. When I first heard about this part—indeed, when I first saw it in this telephone book of a Bill that we have—I was enthusiastic and excited about it, because I thought that someone was at last getting to grips with the problem of the loss of community resources in both rural and urban areas. The more I have looked at it and thought about it, and the more I have listened to comments here, the more I think that what is being proposed will cost money but not actually do much good at all.
My personal view is that if this part of the Bill disappeared while going through your Lordships’ House, that might not be a bad thing. The basic problem is there, but I cannot see the point of introducing what looks like an heroic gesture but will not achieve anything in practice. I find myself a little surprised to find myself saying this and on the same side as some Conservative Members here, who I quite often do not agree with on this kind of issue. However, simply from the point of view of workability and practicality, and whether the money spent on it will be of any value, I question whether it is actually of great use.
There is a rural/urban division here. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and my noble friend are quite right to look at some of the other problems, but the genesis of this really came from villages, particularly when losing pubs and post offices. We have to remember that post offices, for example, are Post Office businesses and not premises. When a sub-postmaster wants to retire, the contract to run that post office is transferred to whomever the Post Office thinks is the best person to take it on—if there is more than one person; very often there is not. It is not linked to a particular building; it is a Post Office business, and that is how it works.
Often, the Post Office business has been closed down not by the sub-postmaster but by the Post Office in reducing the size of its network. In quite a few villages in smaller places, the removal of the post office facility has been the trigger for closing the local or village shop, which was partly a post office but partly a typical local or village general shop. Losing the Post Office business was the straw that broke the camel’s back and made that business no longer viable. Noble Lords on the Labour Benches opposite have to understand that the biggest programme of post office closures was under the 13 years of the previous Labour Government. Often, hundreds of post offices closed a year.
Those noble Lords should also understand that this coalition Government have stopped that closure programme. My right honourable friend Vince Cable, my honourable friend Ed Davey and their Conservative colleagues—I would not take away from them as well— have stopped the enforced post office closure programme. That does not mean that no post offices will close, because the businesses might not be viable or people might retire and want to sell on the properties but there is no enforced programme under the new Government. Perhaps noble Lords opposite who are so concerned about local post offices will give some credit to the new Government for that action.
I have tried to get my mind around this part of the legislation as it regards urban areas. With the sort of area that I represent on the council, we all think of these things. I am finding it very difficult indeed to think of many circumstances in which putting assets on a list held in the town hall will make any difference at all. The moratorium will make no difference because the assets that we are talking about are often closed assets. Urban pubs are closed, and then stay empty for months and years on end while the owners of the buildings try to find another use for them. If people in the community wanted to take over those pubs, the owners would be absolutely delighted, but that is not the case. Then we are told that the measure is about railway arches, railway sidings and wasteland.
I wish to relate one more anecdote. There is a piece of former wasteland in the ward I represent that has been wasteland for 40 years. For a lot of that time we have wondered what on earth could be done about it. It has now been transformed by a partnership between local residents, the borough council and the town council into new allotments and a new mini park. It is a brilliant scheme—the sort of scheme that everyone would look at and say, “It is a wonderful, south-facing site, superb for new allotments”. Why did it never happen before? That is because the resources were not there to do it. Why has it now happened? That is because it happened to be part of an area that was included in a housing market renewal priority area and we were given money to carry out environmental schemes as part of the housing market renewal work. It was possible because public money and public resources were put into it and made it happen. I hope that it will be a brilliant scheme for the next 100 years. There is no way on God’s earth that the local community in areas that are in the top 5 or 10 per cent of deprived areas will be able to raise whatever it costs—say, £35,000—to remodel that land completely and put up new fencing. The resources are simply not there; they are poor areas.
If that piece of land was situated in a rich suburban village, the community may have been able to renovate it, but having a system tht is useful only in richer areas full of retired professional people who can devote their time to such projects is no good. A system must apply across the country in the inner cities, suburbs and former textile towns such as the one where I live. This proposal has very little to offer to the kind of areas in which I live and represent on the council.
My Lords, I would like to make a brief observation about this business of declaring private assets to be of community value by referring to something that occurred many years ago when there was a great scandal about ruthless landlords, such as Rachman and various others, and there was a public outcry. The result was a mass of legislation protecting the tenant. Of course, that was perfectly right and proper, but during this nobody thought to ask the question: why would anyone be a landlord? The result was a tremendous shortage of rental accommodation, which eventually had to be addressed by new legislation protecting a landlord’s rights.
Nobody seems to have asked why a landlord would volunteer to allow any of his assets, either buildings or open ground for sports activities, to be used if it immediately compromised his property rights. Some whose assets are already used by the public will find themselves in this spot, but many landlords will either withdraw the assets or simply refuse to allow them to be used in future. We must ask ourselves why owners would let their property be used if that immediately compromised their ownership, and somehow address that before the Bill becomes law.
My Lords, I will briefly extend the remarks that I made on Tuesday—before I had to leave—on the potential costs of this measure. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, also commented on that. The financial memorandum to the Bill says that the total cost of the measures in the Bill, on the heads of all local authorities in this country, will be £21 million, if I remember rightly. I am afraid that that is a grotesque underestimate. I referred to the burden that I believe that the compilation of a register might impose on my authority—two officers might translate, with overheads, into about £100,000. However, that is only for the routine management of a list.
I very much welcome the fact that my noble friends have placed a discussion document in the Library. I also welcome what my noble friend Lady Hanham said about restricting the ambit of the legislation and excluding some of the potential properties which some people are already beginning to think might be included. As has been pointed out, the discussion document relates to buildings which might improve social and environmental well-being and cultural activity. We have 8,200 buildings of townscape merit in our borough. Not all of these are residential premises—some of them are—but I can certainly envisage circumstances where communities might say, “We might want to have a bit of that if it ever comes up on the market”. You have only to think of that number to envisage the time that might be devoted to this matter while this worthy legislation beds down.
I hear what my noble friend has said about looking at how the measure works in the first two years, but in the first two years there is potentially a very considerable burden. We have an appeals system. Private property owners would be able to appeal to the local authority. Beyond the local authority, there would then be an appeal to an independent tribunal. Thereafter, if there is a compensation matter, private owners will have a right to appeal, and then there will be a right to appeal to an independent tribunal on a point of law against that review decision. I make no complaint about private owners having the right to appeal. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that I feel as uneasy as some of my noble friends who have spoken about the potential invasion of private property rights. Given the fact that this will end up on a point of law, case law will evolve, the measure will ultimately go to the courts and local authorities will have to set up open procedures. Regulatory committees will have to consider all these measures in the open and a substantial process of quasi-judicial activity will emerge. This will cost a lot of money, involve a great deal of time and officer time will be diverted away from neighbourhood planning, to which I would like to see it being devoted, into the mere compilation of lists. However, we have plenty of lists.
I hear what my noble friend Lord Shipley said about local authorities and I acknowledge that they have a responsibility in this area but we are already supposed to have asset management plans and asset management registers, and how bureaucratic they were. I was grateful to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for reducing some of the bureaucracy in that regard. The fundamental problem here is that this is really emergency legislation. It provides for an emergency position. It all started with people being about to lose their post office or small shop, although serious potential problems of blight are involved, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said. A giant register is being sought of all potential assets of community value across every local authority in the land. As a result, like so much else in this excellent Bill, which as I said at Second Reading I believe could be a historic Bill, the measure will become sclerotic and have unintended consequences.
This is part of a tendency, begun under the previous Government but sadly continuing under this Government, of introducing Bills which are too large, take too long to progress and contain too many important measures. This issue of trying to preserve assets of community value, which is testing your Lordships’ ingenuity and potentially interfering with private rights, could have been well dealt with in a narrowly defined piece of legislation. It could have been dealt with in Grand Committee and we could have teased out the question. However, we are here; but I hope that my noble friends—not those on the Front Bench, but the people who manage the Government’s programme—will perhaps think again about some of theses massive and wide-ranging pieces of legislation that we face.
It is obvious that the Government will want some legislation along these lines, but we should not try to include everything. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, about railway land. We have a lot of it but putting it on a register will not actually release it for excellent community use, as my noble friend Lord Greaves said. If we want to deal with railway land—and, my goodness, we should—let us go after it with a specific piece of legislation rather than try to include it in this wide piece of legislation. I should like there to be a narrow definition; a lot of thought about how the administration of this legislation will go forward; and quite an eye to the costs of time, effort and potential division in the communities. I hope that between now and Report we can think further. My noble friend has been generous in the information she gave to the House and the time she has spent listening.
As to the compensation scheme, which I also have not mentioned, it is assumed that local authorities will simply pick up its cost. No one mentioned that. We are asked by our communities to list all these private assets, and then we have to pay for it. There is no help there.
My final comment is that I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Hodgson said on Tuesday. He said that there are issues about the loss of community assets that do not relate to privately owned assets. A second Tesco is opening in my small ward. I mention Tesco because the noble Lord mentioned it. That opening will do more harm to the small shops in my ward than anything else envisaged in this Bill. Where are the planning powers of local authorities to deal with such matters? I do not find them in the pages of this legislation. Some of the things that we are trying to target in this chapter could be dealt with in better and improved planning provisions. Then we might be able to pursue some of the problems that my noble friend Lord Hodgson mentioned.
Rather, as I said at Second Reading, I should like the Bill to be thinner, less sclerotic, better targeted, and respectful of the rights and interests that noble Lords on all sides have mentioned.
My Lords, the noble Lord and I live in and have represented the same borough; he still does, and although I have not always agreed with him, I very much do so on this occasion.
As to bureaucracy and cost, is he as puzzled as I am about the notion of a list? If you are a member of a local community, you know what its assets are—I use that term broadly. The proposal to set up a list of community assets suggests something much more commercial and directed at people and companies who are not within the local community. Does the noble Lord share that view?
I certainly have doubts as to whether we need a list of assets of community value and a list of things that are not of community value. We already have a lot of lists and a lot of local knowledge. As I said at the conclusion of my remarks, neighbourhood planning should lead to greater local awareness and involvement. It may be a better mechanism for releasing resources and it would be on a better timescale, because this is, essentially, emergency legislation and you have six months to save it. That is how it all started. Compiling the lists is extremely complex and would relate to any use to which any of the land could be put. It states in the discussion paper that the local authority could consider former or current use, any planning policies, any use for the asset that the nominator is proposing, community support provided by the nominator, any statutory provisions affecting the asset, or any alternative sites in the neighbourhood that could serve the same purpose. I wonder whether some of the people who drafted this Bill would care to volunteer to give their time to some of the local authorities in this country to prepare for and work on those kinds of lists.
I rise briefly to underline the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, that once the shop or pub is closed the game is almost certainly over. It is certainly past half-time, and every month during which they are closed makes it less likely that they can recover. It is absolutely astonishing how quickly shopping and drinking habits change. I referred on Tuesday to my involvement with a pub company. We inevitably have a continuous refurbishment programme for our 2,400 pubs, involving putting in new lighting, carpets and so on. We have to go in and get out very quickly. If a pub is closed for refurbishment for a couple of weeks, people start to drift away. They know it is going to be reopened and that it will be better, because that is part of the programme, but you have to be incredibly quick about it. The noble Lord made a powerful point that we have to take into account when considering this matter.
Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lord True that the arrival of Tesco damages not only in terms of shopping patterns but in the pricing of the beer and alcohol it sells, which undermines all local pubs because it sells virtually at cost price.
My Lords, this is such a complex part of what is in any event a complex Bill with a new concept of localism, but I confess that it is extremely difficult to know where to start on this chapter. I begin with the three words to which I should like to bring back the Committee’s focus—assets, community and value. Each word opens up a raft of complex and interwoven considerations. I am pleased that the noble Lords, Lord Cameron of Dillington and Lord Greaves, have brought forward this series of clause stand-part debates to deal with the chapter as it is important to see it as a whole.
On the question of assets, one might ask, “Whose assets?”. Are they land or are they services and facilities? The two are not the same. Are they intrinsic assets, are they activities or are they something that indirectly protects some other asset? Is it a current asset, a potential asset or a previous asset that has been lost? I do not need to say more, other than that it is always very difficult to turn the clock back. As to “community” as a term of art, in this part of the Bill one might ask: how local is it? How representative is it? What are its objectives? Is an objective stance being taken on behalf of the community? “Value” is a word with which I, as a practising valuer, am very familiar. What is the purpose? To whom is it of value? What is the time horizon and what are the constraints relating to it, including planning issues?
I turn to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. I spent the first seven years of my professional life working out of an inner city area. I spent the next four-and-a-half years working mostly in Greater London. I can relate to the issue of redundant land and wasteland. Even if they cannot immediately be used they have a negative effect by blighting the appearance of a neighbourhood. I wondered whether “asset” also meant the converse—the non-assets that detract. If so, we need to be much more careful about what we are defining.
Wasteland often relates to orphan sites that have somehow been left over. I alluded to this on Tuesday in connection with bits of rural verge. The same thing happens when urban land is built out. During the great expansion of the Victorian era, all sorts of things were left behind and no one knows who owns them. It may be that there is a case for adopting a sweeping-up principle but, if so, I would follow the dictum of the noble Lord, Lord True, that the issue is not for this Bill. It must be dealt with somewhere else.
However, perhaps the former statutory undertaker on redundant utility property land and that owned by charities, religious foundations and government agencies should have a specific social responsibility to make that land available to the community as a first choice. I point the finger at the privatised utilities in that respect. But that raises all sorts of issues, because privatised utilities are now large companies. They may be owned by French conglomerates or Scottish power companies. It is difficult to turn the clock back because the horse has gone from the stable. It does not matter what we do about the stable door, we cannot deal with that problem. As has been mentioned before, peer pressure or government pressure on companies may procure better social responsibility concerning some of that land. Again, we cannot put that in the Bill
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, touched on a matter which I first thought might be dealt with under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act: that the future use of land can be governed by legal agreements. The problem is that the legacy of past practice did not foresee where we are now. Again, it may be difficult to turn the clock back. It is possible that what we are considering is not relevant under planning law. There could be a lacuna here that we have to deal with.
I cannot remember which noble Lord mentioned Ministry of Defence land. Try getting the Treasury on side. A little thing called best value and getting the proper return for the taxpayer is trotted out. If any Member of your Lordships' House has a sure-fire way of getting hold of the Treasury, I have another proposition that I was not going to float. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, knows what it is. If you give a douceur for offering land or assets to the community—a tax credit or tax break—you might find people making an orderly queue instead of running a mile. I have no confidence that Her Majesty's Treasury will be brought on side for that. I am also confident that it lies outside the scope of the Bill.
A county officer of parish and town councils told me not long ago that he had been approached by a parish about whether this chapter, once enacted, would enable a parish to bid for land where the recalcitrant owner was threatening to sell his paddock to Travellers. I dare say that that was a wind-up by the owner, but it brings into question whether such negatives are part of the concept of asset or something different. I think that the parish was told that the council did not think that the Bill was the right vehicle for that. I point out that relationships are not necessarily always lovely between private individuals, as owners, and communities, in either urban or rural areas. I cannot help pointing out the possibility of what I can only describe as sharp practice, where a local commercial interest gets alongside a community interest with the intention of collaborating over the ultimate division of spoils of a land development project. That is not as far-fetched as one might think. It operates as, “You, the community interest, use your neighbourhood planning and asset nomination rights and we, the commercial interest, will put in some funding and technical backing”.
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the thread of the noble Earl's argument, but did I understand him to say that it was always contrary to the interests of a community for a landowner to offer to sell land for the purpose of building a Gypsy site on it? Is that invariably contrary to the interests of the community?
My Lords, absolutely not. I was going to go on to say that there are many examples where owners take a benevolent view towards the community. It has already been highlighted that they might take a much more cautious attitude in future. No, I am thinking of downstream of the Bill when there are neighbourhood planning powers vested in a community, a community right to nominate and potentially unpleasant practices.
I acknowledge the desirability of communities being able to acquire assets that are important to them. I made that point at Second Reading. That is a bit different from a facility to cherry-pick assets that are not or have never been in community use or have been provided on a voluntary basis. The mechanism is wrong. The visible benefit of the top of the iceberg that we see gleaming above the water masks a much larger lump lurking below, which we need to consider carefully.
On Tuesday, I enumerated various points where I thought that authorities preparing lists would have their work cut out. I add only one thing to that on Clause 81, which concerns the publishing of the lists. Have the privacy and confidentiality issues been considered?
I come to the question of values. As a property valuer, I must suggest that that is not without consequences. I will be brief. Uncertainty is very damaging to property values. We should not await with eagerness the first case of a claim based on a lost sale.
I shall not cover the excellent and helpful paper that the noble Baroness has placed in the Library, but I shall write to her about that, because it does not cover all the things that it ought to. In particular, I mention compensation. The Bill does not provide for an automatic linkage to what is a long established compensation code under the land compensation Acts. That begs the question of whether it is intended to include the same checks and balances that are tried and tested or to introduce something else. I would welcome her comment on that.
I genuinely think that this stand part debate has got to the crux of many of the amendments laid before us. It has been extremely useful. It has helped us to explore and clarify many misconceptions as well as real issues. I thank the noble Baroness for laying the note in the Library and for the many meetings that she has offered to have with us. As my noble friend said, I think that we need to have a meeting with some of the groups that have lobbied us to have them round the table and have their views heard.
We agree with many things that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and others have said, especially about the bureaucracy in this chapter and the rest of the Bill. My noble friend Lord Beecham pointed out one example. Clause 81(6) states:
“In this section ‘free’ means free of charge”.
I hate to say this but I would almost be willing to let the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, have the red pen and have a go at this chapter because he could probably delete some of the nonsense and actually make it workable. That is the key to this—we endorse what the Government are trying to do in this chapter; the intentions are right. The key issue, as highlighted very clearly by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, is about definitions. What is a community asset? There are different views around the country—for example, in rural areas. What we think a community asset is in Bradford clearly differs from elsewhere. It is not just about pubs and post offices but about the use of other community assets, such as land, where the community can transform these places.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked a very important question very early on in the debate about why we need this to do what we have already done in Manningham Mills in Bradford. It is a really important and symbolic step forward, which, if introduced, could effectively provide an additional mechanism for community groups to acquire their own assets, while increasing their confidence, independence and capacity to deliver valuable services in the area. This is really important. We underestimate the creativity, innovation and cost-effectiveness that exists there and this would be a mechanism that would allow organisations such as Locality, which has been working in this area for some 20 years, to work with community groups and give them support to do this. We only have to look at the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, who could probably spend the next two hours telling us how to transform community assets into viable, lively and effective services.
Let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The key intention and thrust behind this, in terms of supporting communities to acquire and develop assets and to turn blight into benefit by providing a training centre, community meeting space, young people’s activity or social enterprise start-up centre in disused buildings, is a real benefit. I know the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is going to ask what difference this makes but—
It is a slightly different question. I am stimulated to stand up by the mention of Manningham Mills. I remember being taken there by an auntie who lived there when I was a small lad to look at the steam engine driving the mills—an absolutely wonderful sight. I am not aware—perhaps the noble Lord or his colleague will know—who provided all the resources and finance for that scheme. As he knows, I am passionately in favour of the kind of schemes he is talking about. In general, do they not require a great deal of resources of different sorts, whether it is money or people or whatever, from either local or national government, or from other organisations of one sort or another? Without that it is very difficult indeed in such communities to achieve such schemes. This Bill does not do that.
I take on board the point the noble Lord is making but I think the Minister would agree—going back to the community right of challenge—that this is about partnership. Manningham Mills was a big partnership with Urban Splash and a number of developers, but with the community as well. It absolutely needs the community. There are small communities that can raise £30,000, £40,000 or £50,000. I have seen it happen. If they are given the opportunity, they can take over small buildings or bits of land and change them. I completely take on board the anxiety about landowners who currently allow the use of their fields for cricket facilities but may become anxious about that, and we need clarification on that. I hesitate to say that it ought to be in regulations, but we absolutely need clarification on these issues. My heart missed a beat when the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said that the local cricket pitch could go. That absolutely must not happen, despite the injuries. I look for reassurance from the Minister that we can address some of the issues that noble Lords have rightly raised—they are valid points—but I hope we can trim this down to the core, where we do not lose the gem in this; which is giving that confidence and a symbolic way forward for communities to really say, “Here is an opportunity for us to get a building we have been looking at for years on the list. We are going to get together, if need be, with local private partners, and have an opportunity with this”.
I am entirely in favour, as the noble Lord is, of having partnerships with the private sector and getting spin-off from that; and indeed have experience of it. That is fine. However, the noble Lord talks about cricket pitches—he will be aware of the cricket ground at Park Avenue in Bradford, which used to be a very fine Yorkshire county cricket ground and is now just used by a local team. It must be in danger, in the future, of being developed or of no local team being able to keep up the expenditure on the large ground—all the terracing and so on. I believe it belongs to Bradford Council anyway, but how will putting that on an asset register help to save it? Surely what is required is for the project and scheme to be put together that will do something about it. They might save the football ground as well, while they are about it.
It is ironic that this Bill could be the trigger to sort out Bradford Park Avenue, because a team called Wibsey Park Chapel plays on the ground and I have played for them for the last two years. The noble Lord is absolutely right that there are issues about not being able to maintain this historic ground. If it got on a list, I bet my bottom dollar a number of groups would get together in the community, get the money required and have this historic ground restored; and you would see cricket on there on a regular basis all the year round. That is a really good example and it is what would happen. At the moment it is in the hands of the Friends of Park Avenue, who feel like they are not the friends of Park Avenue when they see it is falling to bits. You are absolutely right: the cricket team is struggling to keep it going, because it does not have the funds. If it was opened up more widely, a number of other cricket clubs would get involved.
My Lords, that was a good debate. We had a very long time for it, and quite a lot of it had very little to do with the centre-point of the Bill—we roamed pretty widely, near to the subject, but also away from it—but I return to the points I made when we last discussed this issue the day before yesterday. We are looking for a simple way of ensuring that local communities can have an opportunity to try to put together a business case and purchase a facility in which they have a particular interest if it comes up for sale. I shall not try to answer all the points made today, some of which will come up again later. This debate has gone right across this clause, but various amendments cover other clauses and I shall respond to them then. I shall be sympathetic to some of those amendments but not to others. As I also said last time, there is a terrible danger that I will go back over what I have said before. As noble Lords said, I have put in the discussion document, and at our previous sitting I gave a pretty good indication of the sort of areas that the Government are considering. I think that I have also given a pretty good indication that we are not closed to thinking about possible unintended consequences. Many of the speeches today raised the question of unintended consequences. I think that a number of those consequences are completely outside the scope of the Bill. We want to narrow the debate and return to the Government’s starting point which, as I said, was precisely to try to deal with situations where facilities simply vanish from the community’s sight because it cannot do anything about it.
I have taken notes throughout the debate and have to say that so many separate points have been raised that I will need an opportunity to consider them. As I said, I am happy to discuss these issues—some for the first time, some not—with noble Lords. We want this part of the Bill to be right. We want it to do what we believe it should do, and we do not want people to spend the next 10 years of their lives trying to sort out what it means and does not mean. As I said, I am happy to have more discussions about this to see how we can look at the issues further, if necessary.
One matter that I want to address is compensation. We have included compensation for loss of value between a notification and a sale, and we expect the general rules to apply in quantifying this, as with compulsory purchase orders. No final decision has yet been taken on it but I think we can assume that that is roughly what will happen.
We are going to come back to this issue after we have had a break and we will answer more of the points then. As I said, I am listening very carefully to what has been said but, without notice of some of the points that have been raised, I do not think that I can answer them at this stage.
I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate. I assure all noble Lords that every single point that has been raised will be taken into account. I shall endeavour to talk to noble Lords and give them answers before the next stage, or I shall talk to them and not give them the answers, in which case those points will reappear at the next stage. In the mean time, I hope that the clause will be agreed.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the noble Baroness’s offer of further discussions, negotiations and consideration. I think that all of us in your Lordships’ House who have taken part in the Bill over the previous five days in Committee have very much appreciated the—dare I say it?—conciliatory tone from the government Front Bench and their willingness to discuss, consider and, if agreed, make changes to the Bill at the next stage.
However, as we have just found out today when the next stage will be, I ask the noble Baroness how she envisages that we will achieve that further discussion and consideration, given that the last day in Committee will be the day on which we go into recess and the first day of Report will be the day that we come back, the intention being that Report will be completed in the two weeks in which we sit in September. I do not doubt for one moment the sincerity with which these assurances and offers have been made. My concern, which I suspect will be shared on the Front Bench, is how that is going to be achieved between 20 July and 1 September, the day on which amendments have to be tabled for the first day of Report. I suspect that there is no answer to that but we have to find one.
My Lords, I endorse what the noble Lord has just said. We increasingly have concerns about the timing of the process. We are doing everything we can to make sure that we make progress, but there is an issue with trying to resolve some of these matters when the House is in recess. Frankly, some Ministers will be away, and writing to everyone will be more difficult when officials are also likely to be away with their buckets and spades. If we want to get the Bill right, I urge the noble Baroness to consider that point.
My Lords, it is not for me to consider. As the noble Lord knows, government business and the timing of that business are dealt with by the usual channels. That does not fall within my remit at all. We have three weeks left with virtually two days a week to be spent on the Bill. Somewhere within that time people will, I hope, come together and we will be able to discuss the issue. I just make the point that I have had several meetings and I am very happy to extend the invitation to those meetings to the Opposition.
My Lords, on a different point, the Minister referred just now to compensation, as she did on Tuesday. I have two linked amendments on that issue in today’s Marshalled List that we shall come to later. Have I missed an amendment on this that the Government have already tabled? I do not see a provision in the Bill about compensation, other than that an authority may make compensation available. Has an amendment been tabled? If not, is it the intention to table an amendment about it?
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for what I thought was a very good debate. I want to make it clear that, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I do not want this part of the Bill to disappear; I want it to work. I want it to save pubs, shops and some community spaces. I accept that there is more to life than pubs and post offices, and I totally accept that communities should get involved with their open spaces. I am not sure about railway sidings—that is obviously a very difficult matter which I am afraid is beyond me—but clearly it does not really belong in this Bill.
However, if wasteland and other sites are owned by public bodies, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, there is nothing to stop the community getting together now and trying to buy a particular site. If it is owned by a private person, they can also make a bid, as is being proposed. As I said, under Section 15 of the Commons Act 2006 people can make a bid to have a site declared as a village green. However, I still think that the real danger to an existing community asset occurs with a change of use. That applies to the possible cricket pitch of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, or his MoD sale for business development. I am not sure about the demolition of the pub. I always thought that you had to get permission to demolish a pub. I am told that you do not; I accept that. That may be an exception but there is probably nothing that any legislation can do to stop that in any case.
As I said, I do not want this part of the Bill to disappear. I want it to work, but there is also no doubt in my mind that the chapter as currently proposed is not the right answer to saving community assets.
Clause 74 agreed.
My Lords, before we move on to the lunch hour business, there are about a dozen amendments which have already been spoken to and it may be for the convenience of the Committee if we deal with those now. However, if any noble Lord wishes to move one of those amendments, we must stop immediately.
Clause 75 : Land of community value
Amendments 136ZZB to 136ZD not moved.
Clause 75 agreed.
Clause 76 : Procedure for including land in list
Amendments 136ZE and 136ZF not moved.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 2.38 pm.