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Legislative Reform (Epping Forest) Order 2011

Volume 729: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2011

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved By

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Legislative Reform (Epping Forest) Order 2011.

Relevant document: 14th Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee.

My Lords, it is now almost exactly one year until the start of the 2012 Olympics, and there is a palpable sense of excitement at the prospect. All of us want the Games to be a huge sporting success. In order for that to happen, there needs to be a well planned and executed security operation. Today, I am asking your Lordships to endorse a legislative reform order that is a crucial element in that.

I acknowledge straightaway that there have been complaints about the way in which this has been handled, not least from your Lordships' Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I apologise on behalf of the Government for the deficiencies and for the error that was made. I will address specific points in a moment, but perhaps noble Lords will allow me briefly to set the context.

A tried and tested approach to ensuring the security of major events is the use of muster, briefing and deployment centres. These are places where large numbers of police officers can be gathered and given a collective briefing before being dispersed for their duties. In London next summer there will be three such muster centres. The most important will be the one in north-east London, which will support the main Olympic park area.

After extensive scrutiny of many possible options, the Metropolitan Police are convinced that the fairground site of Wanstead Flats on Epping Forest is the only real option for this deployment centre. The site in question constitutes just 2 per cent of the total land area of Wanstead Flats. The Metropolitan Police will pay £170,000 in lieu of rent, in addition to all of the costs of making good the site, which will help to create lasting legacy benefits for Epping Forest.

The Government recognise that there will be some disruption for a brief period next summer for those people who use that particular part of Wanstead Flats. However, we believe, and we ask those people to accept, that this is both necessary to the security of the Games and proportionate. I am pleased to say that, despite its criticisms, that view was endorsed by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.

The City of London, which is the conservator of Epping Forest, is happy to endorse what is proposed, as is the London Borough of Redbridge which granted planning consent earlier this year.

The issue which arises is that the Epping Forest Act 1878 prohibits the enclosure of any part of the forest, even on a temporary basis, hence the need for a legislative reform order to make a temporary amendment to the 1878 Act. The order was recently endorsed in another place without a Division.

The Government have no wish to see any change to the status of Epping Forest nor to the legal protections that ensure that it can be enjoyed in perpetuity. The order is therefore strictly time limited. It disapplies the protections of the 1878 Act only for a specified period of three months next summer. After the Games, the muster, briefing and deployment centre will be removed, the land 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.

I quote from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee:

“The Olympic and Paralympic Games is a special and unusual event requiring special and unusual policing. We agree with the Government’s view that members of the public cannot reasonably expect to exercise their freedoms over the Centre’s site for the limited period for which the Centre is considered necessary”.

The committee was satisfied that the order meets all the tests in the legislation and is not otherwise inappropriate to proceed.

The order was declared hybrid by the Chairman of Committees the day after being laid. The Hybrid Instruments Committee, having considered eight petitions against the order, concluded:

“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 … that no further inquiry into them is necessary ... there ought not to be a further inquiry by a select committee into any of the matters complained of”.

Perhaps I may now turn to the criticism of the Government’s consultation process made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The overall proposal has been subject to three separate consultation processes, covering the police proposals to use the site, the specifics of the LRO itself, and the planning permission from Redbridge Council. Every effort was made to involve and consult local people. This included leafleting the streets most directly affected and public meetings in the area.

One of the criticisms of the Government’s consultation is that it did not offer respondents a choice of possible sites, or even details of the sites which had been considered by the police other than Wanstead Flats. The latter was clearly an error, which was remedied during the consultation.

On the former point, let me explain the Government’s stance. The Metropolitan Police considered 29 possible sites 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. It would have been very difficult and even potentially dangerous for the Government to try to override that advice. The effectiveness and the clarity of the consultation process would not have been enhanced had we sought views on alternative sites which had already been ruled out as unsuitable; indeed, to have done so might have unnecessarily alarmed residents living near those sites.

I absolutely stand by the principle that good consultation requires allowing people to be involved at the earliest possible stage and to be able to influence the eventual outcome. However, I do not believe that it would be practical or desirable to ask people for their views on the details of how something like the Olympics should be policed, so the question of whether or not a muster, briefing and deployment centre is necessary had to be off limits, nor could we reasonably have asked people to substitute their own judgment for that of the police when it came to assessing suitability of the alternative sites.

Another issue raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee was the error in the Home Office’s original consultation document, in consulting on removing the burden of Section 34 of the 1878 Act rather than Section 36, as it should have done. The committee said that it was surprised that the Home Office did not engage in further consultation.

If noble Lords look at the responses to the consultation, all of which were placed on the Home Office website, they will see that those who responded were either for or against the principle of what this order seeks to do. I do not believe that the positions which local people took on this issue were affected by the fact that there was an error relating to the 1878 Act in the consultation document. Nor do I believe that the error meant that anyone who feels strongly about the issue was deterred from submitting a response.

I do not believe that had we aborted the consultation at any point and started again or even if we were to rerun the whole thing again today, the results would be any different. The Government are well aware that a small number of people in the immediate area of Wanstead Flats are deeply concerned about what is being proposed and we accept that their concerns are legitimate. They were certainly not prevented from expressing their views by the consultation process and, indeed, were able to petition Parliament direct through the hybridity process.

I am pleased to be able to report that, despite its misgivings, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee concluded on this matter:

“On balance we consider that the information given to those required to be consulted was just about sufficient to enable them to respond coherently to the proposal for the legislative change”.

I confirm for the record that what we are doing does not in any way set a precedent for future development on Wanstead Flats. I hope noble Lords will agree that the Olympics are unique in terms of scale and the policing challenge they present. I can think of nothing else that would require similar arrangements. As we have gone for a time-limited legislative reform order, even if a future Government were minded to put buildings on Wanstead Flats, even temporarily, they would have to replicate these procedures and secure fresh parliamentary approval.

Restoration of the site was, rightly, a point of considerable interest in another place. One of the conditions of planning consent imposed by the London Borough of Redbridge was that the Metropolitan Police should agree a scheme of restoration with both the corporation and Redbridge Council in writing before work begins. I am sure that both those bodies will be vigilant in ensuring that the restoration scheme is comprehensive and that its provisions are properly adhered to. My honourable friend in another place, Lynne Featherstone, is writing to MPs whose constituents will be most directly affected to set out how the restoration scheme will be drawn up.

I respectfully suggest that what we are seeking to do is a sensible, proportionate measure. It will be a vital component in next year’s Olympic and Paralympic safety and security operation while ensuring that those who cherish Epping Forest can have the confidence that the Act that protects it remains fully in force.

I apologise again for the error and deficiencies identified by your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. It concluded:

“The Committee considers that the proposal in the draft Order meets the tests set out for LROs in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006; and is not otherwise inappropriate to proceed”.

I ask your Lordships to support this measure.

My Lords, first I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Home Office Olympic Security Board. For the past three years I have chaired the Metropolitan Police Authority Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and one of our key terms of reference is specifically to examine the security preparations for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The issue before us is one in which the committee has been heavily involved. Most of the committee’s work is done through examining all the Met’s business cases for the various elements of the Games. Committee members are very diligent as some of those business cases run to about 200 pages with lots of annexes, but despite that we spend a huge amount of time, and have done over the past three years, looking in great detail at what is proposed and challenging assumptions when necessary.

On this one, members of the committee had lots of representations, as the Minister mentioned, from various groups who had some genuine concerns. Speaking personally and, I think, for most of my colleagues, I would say that many of the concerns arose because people did not fully understand the proposals. One of the difficulties is that when people talk about consultation they are not always entirely clear about the difference between consultation and public information. Like every other noble Lord I am a great believer in consultation, but there comes a time when you have to separate that from public information. Some issues must be put into the public domain to inform the public about what will happen and why and to give all the reasons, whereas others are for consultation. Sometimes the impression is given that when an announcement is made—this happens a lot with the Metropolitan Police Authority in particular because it is such a large organisation—people will be consulted with a view that if they are not happy with the consultation they will be able to get something else done, whereas in fact, as with some of the issues we are discussing here, it is a matter of, “This is what has to be done because …”. You cannot possibly have the public saying, “No, we don’t like site A. We think that you should move to site B”.

Some of the concerns are around the fact that so much will be put on the site. I am sure that many noble Lords have had letters from people about the Metropolitan Police saying that they just need one big major briefing centre. That is not correct because plans for the site clearly show that there is more than one building. So many things will be on the site that it is just not possible not to have more than one building. We are talking about accommodating 3,500 officers every day, so it has to be large enough not just for briefings. There will be armouries because we will have to keep weapons. There will be stables, parking, secure parking, kennels, refreshments, and obviously there will have to be showers, toilet facilities and so on. It was very difficult to find a site that came anywhere near the sort of requirements needed. This site was sourced after a very extensive search. The committee considered all the proposals and the information that the Met provided—they provided everything that we asked for—and we were happy to confirm that their option was the best possible one.

The committee is entirely satisfied that Wanstead Flats in Epping Forest is not just the best way forward but is probably the only area that can provide the range of facilities for the sort of secure location required. It is near enough to the park so that officers can go backwards and forwards not just to the Olympic park but to Victoria Park, Westfield shopping centre, Stratford and to the ExCel centre. We were very happy with that option and I hope that noble Lords will be, too.

My Lords, when I represented the City of London and Westminster as a Member in the other place for well nigh quarter of a century, I worked with the City of London in its capacity as an owner and guardian of many green spaces around the metropolis. Although Epping Forest was outside my geographical remit, I remain interested in the City's role as conservator of the forest and in its work to safeguard this vital green space for the benefit of all Londoners, at no cost to the public purse.

Last month’s debate in the other place on this legislative reform order raised some questions about the City of London's custodianship of the forest in collaboration with the local residents. I speak only for the consultation exercise with which the City was concerned, not for the subsequent exercises that were undertaken by the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office and examined by parliamentary committees.

The local consultation carried out last summer by the City, working with the Metropolitan Police, involved canvassing local residents, 22 resident and community groups, local councillors and MPs. Some 6,400 fliers were distributed in the local area, outlining ways in which the public could engage with the consultation. Five public exhibitions were staged and a public meeting was held in October. Representatives of the City were present at all of these events to listen and to answer questions. The City also engaged activity with a minority of the public who raised concerns about the proposal, by responding to letters and publishing answers to “frequently asked questions” on its website.

During the debate in the Commons, there were calls for a consultation by the City on the possible uses for the £170,000 “rent/fee” that will be available for the improvement of Wanstead Flats following the use of the flats by the police. I am happy to inform your Lordships that the concerns expressed are groundless. Consultation on the issue started last summer, when the City invited local residents to comment on three possible projects to be funded: improvements to the adjacent Jubilee Ponds; landscaping the area south of Bushwood; and improvements to Alexandra Lake. The Jubilee Pond improvements received the greatest support, and the City is committed to consulting local residents again when plans for possible improvements have been developed further, and when it is certain that the muster centre will be located on the flats and that the funds will be available.

Finally, concerns were expressed that the site might not be fully and properly reinstated following the police's departure. The site will have to be reinstated, at the police's expense, in compliance with a restoration plan to be approved by both the London Borough of Redbridge and the conservators, and to the satisfaction of the acknowledged experts employed by the City. The City is—rightly—highly regarded for its husbandry of open spaces all around London, such as Epping Forest, Hampstead Heath, Burnham Beeches and several commons to the south of the City. This should provide the assurance required that Wanstead Flats, that greatly valued green lung for the City, will be restored to its former state once it has played a vital role in delivering a secure 2012 Olympic Games.

I will add a personal footnote. At the end of the second 1974 Parliament, I took a Private Member’s Bill through the House of Commons on behalf of the Corporation of London on the subject of the consequences of the construction of the M25 as they related to Epping Forest. In that capacity, I paid a visit to, and inspected, the forest, which of course lay outside my constituency. It was an era when the proposition that “George Davis is innocent” was being carved or painted in many places, including on a test match cricket ground and likewise at a cricket ground in Epping Forest, beneath which the M25 now thunders. More than three decades later, I believe that I am right in saying that Mr Davis’s innocence has been confirmed. If that is so, this sporting vignette may be a good omen for the Games next year, which of course I wish well.

My Lords, I rise again and in so doing I declare the interests not just of chairing the British Olympic Association but also of having the honour of sitting on the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games as a director of the board. I again thank the Minister, in particular, and his colleagues for their comments today. I recognise that nothing is more central to the success of both the Olympic and the Paralympic Games than effective security. Here we are talking about effective security which will be provided by a maximum—if the Minister is correct—of 3,500 police officers on this site. But of course security goes far wider. Although this order is not relevant to that wider security, it is important to recognise that before this measure comes into place we will have many of the 205 national Olympic committees here for pre-Games training camps. Their security around the country is of high importance. I have raised the issue on many occasions outside your Lordships’ House but I hope that the Minister will echo it as critical to the success of the security operation. In his opening remarks my noble friend the Minister said that this was relevant to the Games. In that context, I would be grateful if he could clarify, for the avoidance of doubt, that we are talking about both the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games and that the order is effective from 23 June to 20 September.

On the restoration scheme, I would be grateful if the Minister would let the Committee know over what estimated period of time the restoration process is likely to take place and whether there is any visibility at this stage on the cost of that restoration scheme.

In closing, I again thank my noble friend the Minister for his introduction to this order and for the comments made by my noble friend. In particular, perhaps I may echo the latter comments relating to the sporting success of the Games. I have every confidence that Team GB will be outstandingly successful at these Games. I hope that it will match our aspirational target of fourth place, as we did in Beijing, with a remarkable level of success in more sports with more medals than we have seen in many a decade. That would be very much due to the support services provided by the Government and, above all, to their ensuring the security of the Games and the athletes who will, I hope, have the experience of a lifetime when they come to London in 2012.

My Lords, I am here to talk about the renewable heat initiative but I grew up in Wanstead and could never understand why it was called Epping Forest when on Wanstead Flats I could see no trees. In fact it seemed to be part of the western European plain as it stretched out into the distance. As a schoolboy I used to visit the fairs in Wanstead Flats, which was a great experience. One of the few complaints that I can remember about the area and the police was that there was never enough of them. Now, at last, 3,500 have turned up at one time, which is probably good news.

I know that this is not, nor is it meant to be, an amusing subject. However, I was slightly amused at the restoration of Wanstead Flats. When I knew it four or five decades ago, restoration would probably have meant taking it down and making sure that it looked worse than it had before. It was in a very bad state at that time. I know that it is a lot better now and I am absolutely delighted that this restoration will be taken seriously, which I am sure is most important. I am delighted to see Wanstead Flats in the centre of the Olympic Games and how it will be organised. I hope very much that despite some of the mistakes made in this process, Wanstead will play its part in a successful Games.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for introducing this further legislation and for his explanations. He has certainly tried very hard to give a good account of what has happened. I may have to return to one or two of the points because there are issues here on which we should perhaps dwell before we leave this order. It was also useful to have in front of the Committee the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, who helped to explain some of the context of the police decision, which is absent from any of the documentation that I have seen. It was also useful to have the background from the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, who was entertaining as always in his recollections of his times. When will we see the book? Why do we not have it all down at one time? Every time the noble Lord speaks, he seems to have a little vignette of life either as an MP or as a member of the City corporation, which has informed the House, made us laugh and has lightened the tone on many occasions.

Two things seem to be happening here—the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, is absolutely right that there are two halves to this. The first is the police’s decision—for all the right reasons, and probably correctly—regarding a place which they must have to secure the Games and the Paralympic Games. I do not think that we should confuse that in any sense with the processes then necessary to allow the legislation to permit us to establish the muster centre in the area that we are talking about. There is a decision properly arrived at by the police and in consultation with the appropriate authorities, which is that Wanstead Flats is the place where operational efficiency can best be achieved for the muster centre—and, for the limited period involved, that has to be the right decision. Conversely, I can imagine the impact that that decision had in the Home Office when it was realised that this was an area that is heavily constrained by legislation which has lasted for a very long time—indeed so long that they probably did not manage to read it correctly and, as has been explained, tried to consult on a provision that was introduced in 1878 but lapsed in 1882, so that the actual consultation itself was not in any sense to do with the legislation that we are dealing with.

I suspect, although I have no evidence to support this, that the downward spiral started at that point and that, the panic having set in, they decided to do all they could to cover every possible area, as a result of which we ended up with the poor people living in the area having three separate consultations over two years to deal with issues that probably should not have been consulted on, in order to give a bolstering to the process.

So we have a planning application which by all accounts seems to have gone well. I do not think that any issues arise from that. It would of course be necessary for there to be a planning process. I am glad that, until such time as the Localism Bill strikes us, these planning processes seem to work well and involve the local people. It received a proper level of response and went through.

The reasons for the police consultation have been explained—although it was not really a consultation in that sense but a public information exercise. However, this consultation was rather difficult to engage with because it was only online; it was done in a relatively short time, and they had a set of preset questions that people had to respond to. It was not possible, as it often is not in electronic communications of this type, to write in your views or explain. I think that the local people could have been quite upset about that, and it is right to recognise that. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that when he replies.

The consultation was described in another place as being potentially deficient mainly because of that. To describe, as they did in that process, the flats as,

“essential to ensuring the safety and security of the Games”,

was, as has been said, a little bit of an overstatement. I suggest that the Government have rather overegged this.

As for the Home Office consultation, as we have said, it set out on the wrong track, concentrating on Section 34, which lapsed, and not Section 36. I think that there were several factual errors as well as a rather limited approach to that. The impression, as far as I can tell from the responses that were received, was that the deal had been done and that the process that was being used was chosen simply as the best way of achieving that. That raises the one point that I would like to invite the Minister to respond on. It has been alleged in a number of places that in using the LRO procedure, the process was flawed from the start because the powers necessary to achieve the objective that the Home Office wished were already in the legislation, if it had looked in the right place; and, indeed, that this could have been done through by-laws introduced by the corporation as conservator. In that sense, a lot of this stuff would have come down a complete notch and would not have caused the subsequent difficulties.

Consultations—a word, as I have hinted, which should be used carefully—are always difficult. However, to the extent that consultations were carried out in the process that we talked about, 31 responses were received. There were also responses to the hybrid petitions, which should be counted in that. Therefore, to that extent, views have been expressed. In the debate in another place, the local Member, John Cryer, suggested that there were issues that had not been properly discussed, including the impact of this whole arrangement on traffic, although that would certainly be part of the planning proposals, but mainly in relation to traffic for commuters and others who live locally and the impact of the Games. But I suspect that that has probably not been looked at. Security might be adversely affected in the area because the location of the police centre there will bring focus to that area which otherwise would not have happened.

Although the compensation figure of £170,000 sounds very reasonable, nobody really seems to know where it came from, and although we are notionally talking about a three-month period during which the police will be in occupation of the site, there will clearly be periods before and afterwards when the site is prepared and restored during which it will not be appropriate for it to be used by local residents, so there are issues about that.

We would be grateful if the Minister will reassure us in his response, as he has done already, that the Government recognise the mistakes that were made in this; indeed, he has apologised for them, which was good to hear. However, the main consideration is that the use of the LRO in the Act that has been selected for this does not set a precedent. Can he reassure us that we can be confident that in any future arrangements of this type—it may be that there will not be so many—we will not find that this process, which was definitely flawed and possibly defective, will not be prayed in aid in order to achieve an easy win in an area that should be subject to proper consultation and discussion that gives local residents a chance to make their points?

I thank all noble Lords for their comments and questions today. I shall do my best to address them. First, I thank my noble friend Lady Doocey for her helpful comments on the need for a distinction between consultation and public information; on the complexity of the buildings required, with which I entirely agree; and for her other helpful comments.

My noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville made some helpful comments, expanding upon mine, on the consultation process and on reinstatement. My noble friend Lord Moynihan commented on the importance of security. This order applies to both Games. He asked how long the restoration process will take and what it will cost. It will take several months for the site to return to its original state, and I say in all seriousness that it will depend to some extent on the weather because the grass will grow better if it rains. The cost is not yet known and will not be known until the centre has been removed and the state of the site is known. The £170,000 is above the cost of returning the site. I thank my noble friend Lord Teverson for his support.

Turning to the comments and questions from the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, I hope that I have addressed most of the issues that he raised, but I am delighted to return to some of them. He particularly commented on the deficiency of the police consultation. I reiterate that the police leafleted local properties and held five public meetings in the area, so they did everything they could to consult local people. I have apologised. We recognise the mistakes. We will certainly do our best to prevent them happening again, and I apologise again.

The noble Lord asked about traffic. I can confirm that traffic issues were considered as part of the planning process and that Transport for London is satisfied that this is manageable, not least because it is during the school summer holidays.

The point I wanted to make about traffic was not so much on the planning application, as that would be about the site-specific activity, but more about the impact that it would have on patterns to and from the Olympic Games themselves and on those who are commuting, so it is wider than planning.

I am satisfied that that has been taken into account in the process. The noble Lord is right that it will be critical. After all, how will the police react to an incident? However, it has been part of a very comprehensive planning process. I think that the noble Lord asked whether this could have been done through by-laws. I confirm that we could not have achieved the result by amending the by-laws. I think that he also asked about the sufficiency of the £170,000 figure, which I hope I have already addressed adequately.

I am grateful to all noble Lords for their supportive comments today. I appreciate that, despite those comments, what is proposed raises strong feelings in the immediate locality. I remind your Lordships that what is being proposed affects only 2 per cent of the total area of the Wanstead Flats and is entirely temporary in nature. After 90 days next summer, the full provisions and protections of the Epping Forest Act 1878 remain in force. I take note of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, made about the consultation exercise; and I reiterate that whatever deficiencies there were, I do not believe that those who have strong views about this matter, particularly those opposed to the proposal, felt inhibited or unable to make their views known. We are satisfied that what is being proposed is proportionate and necessary to ensure the safety of the world's greatest sporting event and I commend the order to your Lordships.

Motion agreed.