|Draft Vehicular Access Across Common and other Land (England) Regulations
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Amess.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has described the purpose of the schemethe Minister has confirmed this again todayas assisting
As a result, some property owners have found themselves in the invidious position that, although they and their predecessors have been driving across common land for many years to get to their homes or
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I draw hon. Members' attention to a recent incident. About 100 residents living around Newtown common on the Berkshire-Hampshire border were affected when Lord Carnarvon sold the title of lord of the manor of Newtown to Mr. Michael Farrow in 1986 who put the common land into the hands of Bakewell Managementa private company owned by his wifewhich then attempted to charge the residents for vehicular access over the common land.
A similar case involved Claverdon parish council, Warwickshire, which sought payments averaging £30,000 a house for each household to gain access. In the light of that, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West HampshireI am sorry to say that he cannot be here as he is currently chairing a sitting of the Standards and Privileges Committeeraised the issue of residents around Newtown common, which is in his constituency, when he tabled amendments to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 during debates on Report in the House.
My right hon. Friend explained that, in 1993, the Court of Appeal decision in the case of Hanning v. Top Deck Travel Group gave a fresh interpretation to the law on vehicular access over common land. The court decided to deny access over a common to a business premises by double-decker buses. Private cars and private houses were not considered, but other lawyers who have studied the case assumed that they were similarly precluded from access. The court decided that, because it had been illegal to drive over urban and certain other common land since 1925, householders who had enjoyed free access could not acquire a prescriptive right through an illegal activity. Driving over common land was banned in 1930.
My right hon. Friend also asserted that the Law of Property Act 1925 was never intended to stop people driving over a common to their home, but to restrict members of the public from driving on commons while others were on those commons for ''air and exercise''. It is perfectly true to say that, between 1925 and 1993, no one was prevented from driving to his or her house across a common, but the courts have now denied that presumption of free access.
To seek some redress for his and other hon. Members' constituents, my right hon. Friend pursued the issue with the Law Society. On 24 November 1999, he received a letter that said:
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My right hon. Friend's amendments on Report would have restored the position to that before the Hanning v. Top Deck Travel Group case, so that nothing would be payable and people would have a right, which they always thought that they had, to cross common land to get to their own property. The Government did not accept those amendments.
After continued pressure by Members of the House of Lords, the Government belatedly confirmed their intention to amend the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. Before the Bill completed its passage through Parliament, new provisions were added to give the Secretary of State the power to make regulations, which would contain the details of the scheme.
I understand that the main elements to be included in the scheme are, first, that the property owner, or his predecessor, must have been using the access in such a way and for such a time that, if the land had not been common land or other land on which driving is prohibited, a prescriptive right of access through long use would have been required and, secondly, that there should be a limit on the amount of compensation that the property owner has to pay to the landowner.
The Minister has confirmed that the Government's current view is that the compensation sum will be between 0.25 per cent. and 0.5 per cent. of the value of a property for residential properties built before 1 December 1930 and where use of the property has been materially unchanged since that date. For other properties after that date, it will be 2 per cent. of the value or one third of the increase in the value of the property with a right of access, if that were lower. It is also important that members of the Committee understand that no part of the regulations prevents the two parties from coming to an independent arrangement over vehicular access rights.
It is true that, during the passage of the original Bill and subsequently, many have questioned the necessity of, and the rationale behind, such regulations. The Government have persistently stated that the regulations are designed to protect home owners who use common land to access their properties. They must be aware, however, that those who are property rich, but cash poor will struggle to pay an unexpected and sometimes considerable bill.
For years, some property owners have been left vulnerable to a loophole in the law and may have to face swingeing costs to buy what they thought that they hadthe right of access to their homes. The courts have asserted that landowners are within their rights to charge home owners for vehicular access, but they have put no price on the value of that access. In extreme cases, that has resulted in requests for more than 10 per cent. of the value of the property. It is right that the Government propose to remove that loophole and ensure that compensation is limited to between 0.25 per cent. and 2 per cent. of the value.
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Despite the fact that several people have responded negatively to the consultation paper, we must accept that DEFRA has had to strike a balance between making the regulations as fair as possible between the rights of the landowner and the needs of the home owner. It is generally agreed that the regulations are in line with the consultation paper and it is clear that the law needs to be changed. However, the Country Land and Business Association remains concerned about the lack of provision to recover reasonable costs incurred by landowners. In a letter to me dated 13 June 2001, the association said:
Mr. Sayeed: In the letter to which I referred, the association did not make that point.
Alun Michael: The CLA has sent that letter to several hon. Members, and it made an informative contribution to our proceedings. The CLA was consulted. Its views were taken into account as part of the process that the hon. Gentleman rightly acknowledged required care to ensure that the right balance between the two extremes was achieved.
Mr. Sayeed: I understand that that is the crux of the matter. One organisation says that greater compensation is needed and others say that the compensation is far too high.
I shall finish reading the letter for the sake of completeness. It says:
Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): I received that letter too, and I was worried when I first read it. The point that some costs may be greater than the amount of compensation payable seems fair, at least on first reading. As the costs are mainly due to the imposition of the regulations if the owner goes through the full process, does the hon. Gentlemanor the Ministerthink that there is a route out for CLA members? If the members grant access quickly and simply without requiring the demands of the regulations, the process would be much quicker. They might receive a smaller compensation payment, but it would nevertheless cover their costs.
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