HC Deb 27 February 1990 vol 168 cc145-7 3.51 pm
Mr. Malcolm Moss (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

I beg to move, That leave he given to bring in a Bill to minimise the effects of planning blight by establishing a maximum period of time within which compulsory purchase of land and property by local authorities and other statutory undertakers must be effected. One minute a person may be minding his own business and caring lovingly for his garden; the next minute, crash!—the JCB turns up and starts to take away the hedge to make way for a new motorway. That is the ultimate home-owner's nightmare: it: might be called the Arthur Dent syndrome.

This may seem far-fetched, but some people find that such events have a terrible habit of creeping up on them, unexpected and unannounced. Others are caught in a trap, not knowing whether to fight the road proposals through the courts, sell their property immediately at a loss or wait until the scheme is completed before claiming the maximum compensation. In every case, however, the home owner seems to be on a loser.

Compulsory purchase, blight and compensation are now among the critical issues of our expanding and developing economy. Economic growth has meant that we have more vehicles and more road and rail congestion, especially in densely populated areas such as the south-east. There is a growing conflict between Government aspirations to improve road and rail infrastructure, and the deep-rooted desire of property owners who are in the way of such developments to retain the status quo. At times, it seems that "not in my back yard" has been crystallised into "over my dead body": an example is the resistance to the demands of the Channel tunnel rail link and the south London inner orbital road.

Attempts have been made recently to take a fresh look at the problem. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors published its blue book last March, and the Government's consultation document came out at about the same time. Both publications proposed helpful and constructive amendments to the law, but so far the Government have not found time to present the necessary legislation. My Bill is a modest attempt to chivvy them along towards vital reform—not merely to give property owners a fairer system to speed up their receipt of rightful compensation, but to facilitate the acquisition of the necessary land to complete our new roads. If we are to have any chance of completing our £15 billion 10-year new road investment programme, we really must accelerate the process of acquiring land.

There are five areas of unfairness in the present system. First, compensation can often only be claimed once a precise route has been chosen. However, years may elapse between the reports and studies and the final decision. Secondly, when a route has been chosen, owners have to show that the property would have to be compulsorily purchased in order to claim the compensation. They are then entitled to a home loss payment, but only if they have occupied the property for five years.

Thirdly, if they tried to sell but were offered only a reduced price, they could serve a blight notice. In that instance, they would forfeit the right to the home loss payment. Fourthly, owners who do not need to be bought out have to wait for 12 months before they can claim compensation for injurious affection. No backdating or interest is payable. Finally, there seems to be no compensation under the law to cover the element Of compulsion that is involved and recognition that the claimant is an unwilling seller.

Some of these problems were brought home to me as a result of the Government's White Paper "New Roads by New Means". Two of the proposals affect my constituency: the dualling of the A47 between Peterborough and Norwich and the partial dualling of the A 10 north of Cambridge. As for the A47, under the Town and Country Planning and General Development Order 1988, the Department of Transport informed the local authorities. Development is now effectively banned in a corridor 67 m wide on each side of the existing roadway. That has effectively blighted all the properties along that corridor. I ought to declare an interest, as my property is one of those in the corridor.

The property owners have not been told anything. That is an oversight and it needs to be rectified. My Bill would make it mandatory for a local authority that receives such a notification to publish it and to advise all interested property owners within the defined corridors.

The question is far more serious for owners where the Department of Transport has not yet determined the line of route, although feasibility studies or reports on potential routes have been made public, thus allowing a cloud of blight to descend over large areas of high-density housing. A relevant example is the case of the London assessment studies, which will take several years to receive official sanction. Owners are not entitled to compensation and will not be in a position to serve blight notices within that period, which could be up to two years. Projected road corridors are up to about half a mile wide, and it is calculated that 20,000 homes may be affected. In order to mitigate such effects, my Bill would require firm decisions to be made on projected routes within a year of studies being published. That would put a time limit on uncertainty and, I hope, would deter ill-considered studies.

The principal way in which compensation can be assessed and paid out well in advance of statutory work starting is via the vehicle of blight notices. Their purpose is to compel authorities to purchase land in advance of their needs in order to mitigate hardship to property owners. That can be done under section 192 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. The owner has to satisfy stringent conditions and can serve a notice only once the statutory stages of a scheme have started. The owner also has to prove a genuine attempt, without success, to sell the property at a reasonable price on the open market. The latter requirement causes hardship and seems to be unnecessary. My Bill would remove the requirement to prove an unsuccessful attempt to sell.

The second provision is section 248 of the Highways Act 1980. It gives discretionary powers to the Department of Transport and other highway authorities. There are many complaints that the stringent rules are too harsh and too readily applied. In order to speed up the process and provide a fairer system for owners, my Bill would remove the requirements of previous intention to sell and proof of an unsuccessful attempt to sell. Owners are hardly willing sellers in those circumstances.

Two outstanding issues are those relating to payments for home loss and injurious affection. Home loss payments are available under sections 29 to 33 of the Land Compensation Act 1973, but at present they can be claimed only by owners who have lived in their houses for five years or more. The payments are automatic for compulsory purchase, but they are not made when a blight notice has been served. The current payment is 10 times the rateable value. However, after the change next April from the domestic rating system to the community charge, that will no longer apply. The Government are therefore proposing a flat rate of between £1,200 and £1,500.

The levels of payment are frankly inadequate; I commend to the Government the recommendations of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors for an additional allowance to compensate for the factors of compulsion and in recognition of the fact that the claimant is an unwilling seller.

My Bill makes home loss payment available to owners who have served an effective blight notice, as I see little difference between those owners and those on whom compulsory purchase has been served. Owners would qualify for home loss allowance after only one year's residence. Injurious affection which is covered under part I of the Land Compensation Act 1973 concerns those properties affected by the development but which are not needed for the construction. At present, the owner cannot claim until one year has elapsed after the works have been completed. The Government have so far turned down requests to alter or shorten the time scale. Under the old rating system, an owner could apply for a reduction in the rateable value, but after April 1990 that will not be possible.

The time scale in which owners can obtain financial redress seems unreasonable and limited in scope. My Bill recommends that an assessment of the level of compensation is made after six months, and 60 per cent. of that amount is paid up front. The full assessment would take place after two years, with the balance of compensation payable, incuding adjustments with interest backdated on the outstanding payment.

The issues on compulsory purchase and compensation are extremely complicated and need immediate review and amendment. The payment of speedier and more realistic compensation is not a charter for over-the-top payments to a few homebuyers. The system needs to be made fairer, and in doing that the Government's aims to improve the infrastructure will be achieved more efficaciously and with less opposition.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Malcolm Moss, Mr. Barry Field, Mr. William Cash, Mr. Robert G. Hughes, Mr. Bob Dunn and Mr. Roger Knapman.