Cabinet were asked to consider Buckinghamshire Council’s proposed response to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Right to Regenerate consultation.
1) the draft response to the Right to Regenerate consultation be agreed; and
2) authority be delegated to the Corporate Director for Planning, Growth and Sustainability, in consultation with the relevant Cabinet Members and Leader of the Council, to submit the final response, incorporating any further changes after the Cabinet meeting.
The ‘Right to Contest’ allowed anyone – private citizen or organisation – to challenge the central government (strand 1) and other public bodies, including Local Authorities (strand 2) to sell land or property if they believe it’s not needed or could be put to better economic use. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) was currently consulting on proposals to reform to the Right to Contest, turning it into ‘The Right to Regenerate’, making the process more effective. The deadline to respond to the consultation was 13 March 2021.
M Tett, Leader of the Council, introduced the report which highlighted the context of the consultation and the emerging thoughts of Buckinghamshire Council’s response.
MHCLG was arguing that the reform of the Right to Contest would help to “encourage the public to drive regeneration and stimulate the more productive use of public land”. The reform particularly concerned Strand 2 of the Right to Contest, which allowed members of the public to request that government direct the disposal of unused or underused land owned by public bodies. The Right to Contest was little known and little used, with only one direction being issued since 2014. The proposed reforms were as follows:
- Increasing the usefulness and effectiveness of the right, taking into consideration how the reform could be used by private individuals and organisations.
- Making it clearer when land is unused or underused through the publication of a clear definition to help guide people making applications.
- Extending the scope of the right, questioning if including land owned by town and parish councils would increase the effectiveness of the right.
- If a public body has an intended use for the land in question, the government is considering incentivising temporary uses by ordering sales where temporary uses cannot be identified. This is suggested to help minimise blight until sites are put to better long-term use and help to keep neighbourhoods vibrant and productive especially in town centres and urban areas.
- To ensure a greater role for local authorities, anyone making a request under the right may be required to prove they have contacted their local authority, as the right to contest was designed to be a last resort.
- The ‘Presumption in Favour of Disposal’ reform questions if the Secretary of State should establish clearly that disposals will be ordered unless there is a compelling reason not to do so.
- To improve transparency around these requests, the government is considering requiring local authorities to: produce quarterly reports on the number of preliminary enquiries made, display physical and digital publicity where a request has been submitted for the release of a site, and publish all requests, together with their outcomes and reasoning online.
- If an application is successful, the government is considering offering the party who made the request first refusal.
- The Secretary of State had the power to specify in the direction, the terms and conditions, though this power had never been exercised. The government was considering if conditions should be imposed on the disposal of land.
The premise of the proposed amendment appeared founded upon positive direction to increase the success of the previously unsuccessful Right to Contest. It was considered that the proposed changes could have a positive impact on community involvement in place shaping and improve engagement between public bodies, including local authorities, and community groups.
However, there remained a significant number of unknowns and a lack of specific detail regarding the proposed reforms that bring into question its operational practicality. These were queried in the draft Buckinghamshire Council response found in the Appendix 3 The key concerns for Buckinghamshire included:
- A potential ‘presumption in favour of disposal’ which could result in public bodies having to release land should they not have a compelling reason not to do so. For public bodies with a substantial land ownership this may result in the need for all land either to have plans developed or face the potential for land to be released. Furthermore, as a newly established unitary council, Buckinghamshire is at a significant disadvantage in being able to determine the future uses of its estate. If imposed, we are suggesting a 5-year moratorium on the right should be granted to any recently established unitary local authority.
- A lack of definition on what unused or underused land is. As a result, it is unclear what land could potentially be in scope under the proposed right reform. This concern is further emphasised in the fact that is not made clear at this stage whether differing spatial and conditional contexts will be applied.
- There was also a lack of clarity from the government regarding the definition of key terms like ‘community’, ‘future use’, ‘better economic use’, ‘compelling reason’ and ‘market value’. This lack of clarity could lead to speculative applications from parties that do not truly reflect aspirations of the community and lead to implications on local authority resources from having to deal with process of the application. It may also result in proposals that diverge from emerging place-based strategies and lead to the Council being directed to dispose of land for an insufficient value.
- Government were also seeking views on potential conditions that should be imposed, it is considered that conditions would be essential in guaranteeing appropriate delivery. These could include:
o Agreed uses for any land disposed of aligned to planning policies and regeneration strategies
o Clear proof of plans, funding and ability to deliver regeneration to be included in any application.
o To enable public bodies to re-secure land should no regeneration work be started within a specific time limit
o Valuation to based on any proposed specified uses to ensure the local authorities would receive the best value.
Members discussed the matter and were fully supportive of the issues raised and the proposed response.
1) That the draft response to the Right to Regenerate consultation be agreed.
2) That authority be delegated to the Corporate Director for Planning, Growth and Sustainability, in consultation with the relevant Cabinet Members and Leader of the Council, to submit the final response, incorporating any further changes after the Cabinet meeting.
- Report for Right to Regenerate – Consultation Response, item 10. PDF 756 KB
- Appendix 1 for Right to Regenerate – Consultation Response draft, item 10. PDF 793 KB