Since the Queen’s Speech outlined the proposals in the Infrastructure Bill, people have been wondering what the implications on land might be. Tentative campaigns, questions, concerns and hypothetical worst-case scenarios have been circulating around the internet. Fears centre around the possibility that the Bill will permit ‘privatisation of all public land’; some are arguing that parks, forests, rivers, beaches, moors and fields can now enter the hands of private developers with no say from the public or public owners and with no need to adhere to local authority planning policy, or other land protections.
Yet the wording of the Bill is unclear – campaigners are second-guessing how clauses could be abused, and articles claiming the Bill will license the sale of land have had to retract their certainty. For example, George Monbiot’s Guardian article now runs ‘campaigners […] fear that the Bill could…’. The Woodland Trust is ‘very concerned’ about the Bill’s ‘potential’, and many are seeking more land protections, but without a clear idea of what really is at stake.
Greatest concerns around the potential implications of the Bill arise from:
– The Bill’s permission for ‘land to be transferred directly from arms-length bodies to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA)’ for sale to housing developers.
Arms-length bodies include the Forestry Commission, National Parks Authorities and the NHS, but not local councils, for example. Though there is an acute need for new housing in the UK, many are concerned that the Bill will permit land such as public forests, that are inappropriate for housing, to be sold and built upon.
– There is a clause that allows easements, rights and restrictions that have been suspended by the HCA to be passed on to any private buyer. Private developers can now ‘inherit’ suspensions of things like public rights of way after sale.
– Schedule 3, which states that ‘property, rights and liabilities that may be transferred by a scheme include property, rights and liabilities that would not otherwise be capable of being transferred or assigned’.
These two clauses above have been analysed as a threat to all protected public land. People are worried that there is potential for abuse, with private landowners extinguishing public rights, bypassing local authority planning policy and rendering all protective land legislation ‘null and void’ by Schedule 3. Any property or rights are fair game, it is suggested; ‘this is the land grab to end all land grabs’.
Baroness Stowell, junior minister in the Department for Communities & Local Government has claimed that such speculation is ‘misleading’ and ‘uninformed’, but the debate around all of this is still unclear. At Shared Assets, we want to establish some clear, realistic conclusions about what the Bill really means, what it can feasibly be used for and what campaigners and organisations can get together and do about it.
From looking at campaigns and rebuttals, we think there is most uncertainty around:
- 1. Whether the inheritance of easements and rights suspensions can be abused to eradicate planning or other designations or restrictions?
- 2. Who is to initiate the process of land sales: the HCA, the Secretary of State (and if so, which?) or the arms-length landowning body? How do we know this?
- 3. Does Schedule 3 provide enough leeway for developers to bypass local authority planning restrictions?
- 4. Is there a risk for public assets beyond arms length bodies to be covered by the Bill?
What do you think or know about the real implications of the Bill?
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