Key new law will not protect open spaces, say experts

18 January 2011

 An expert group has condemned a key part of the coalition Government’s policy on protecting open spaces.

The Open Spaces Society, which campaigns for the protection of greens and commons, said the Localism Bill, due for its second reading in the House of Commons next week, offers little protection for green spaces.

The OSS general secretary Kate Ashbrook said: “One of the bill’s most important aspects, the care and future of open spaces, lacks any clear idea of what is needed and is a muddle of conflicting provisions.”

The campaign group’s case officer Nicola Hodgson, who analysed the proposed law’s provisions, added: “The bill requires every local authority to compile and maintain a list of land of community value in its area, to remain on the list for up to five years, but inclusion on the list appears to offer little protection to the land.

“If the owner of such land wishes to dispose of it, a community interest group must be given an opportunity to bid.

“We cannot see how the bill provides any new protection for open spaces which local people enjoy for informal recreation. Indeed, once land is on the list, the owner may be encouraged to consider selling it for development.

“The purpose of the list of land of community value is not clear. Why does land only remain on the list for five years, and what happens to it after that time?  What protection is offered to land on the list?”

She pointed out that land can be nominated for the list by others, but the local authority will decide whether it is included.  Ms Hodgson questioned the ability of local authorities to come to impartial decisions on land they own themselves. She also said it might prove impossible for locals to afford to buy land under the provisions.

“If the owner of listed land wishes to dispose of it, a community interest group must be given the opportunity to bid for it, but there is little chance that the group can raise sufficient funds to buy the land, especially if it is at market value based on any obtainable planning permission,” she said.

“We fear the bill’s provision for payment of compensation to landowners will encourage them to put land of community value on the market.”

The bill does not mention the Government’s proposed new designation to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities which was heralded in the business plans for the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Ms Hodgson said: “We have called on MPs to ask these and other questions at the second reading debate on Monday 17 January. This bill needs to be rewritten if it is to offer any protection to open spaces which are loved and enjoyed by local people, and if it is to enable and empower those people to play a part in their protection.”

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