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New Tory Bill threatens sell off of all public land

They've stolen our postal service, and are currently giving away the health service, education and prisons to their mates, what's next for this Government? Perhaps the most audacious theft yet - potentially all of our public land.

Surreptitiously, with zero media coverage, the Government has introduced a Bill, due to be debated in the House of Lords on Wednesday June 18th, with a clause that bypasses the role of councils in granting or denying planning consent, cancels any rights of way or any need to ask the people of England and Wales if they mind losing their parks, playing fields, allotments, woodlands, public facilities or village greens to housing developers, fracking companies, road- or railway-builders. It's the land grab to end all land grabs. But not everyone's on the receiving end, luckily all land belonging to the Royal Family is excluded.

Handily, privatisation of the Land Registry is also happening, and the proposed law, known as the Infrastructure Bill, will give this newly private company free rein on deciding who land belongs to. The Government, conveniently forgetting that the land is ours, plans to order local authorities to make 90 per cent of its brownfield sites (a designation that apparently includes parks, allotments, gardens as well as former industrial sites) available to be transferred to the Government quango the Homes and Communities Agency, which was established in 2008. The HCA can then pass it on to developers without any tiresome planning restrictions. The job of deciding on planning applications will no longer be done by councillors - Eric Pickles (or his successors) and a panel of two Government inspectors will instead get out their rubber stamp for whoever wants the land.

George Osborne (in a recent after-dinner speech) said houses are needed so badly that anyone who objects must be a nimby. In the same breath, he said the Government would protect "green spaces" - by that, of course he means the private estates. As 69 per cent of Britain's acreage is owned by 0.6 per cent of the population , and quite a lot of that by the Queen and Prince Charles, it means his friends' rural idylls will be untarnished. Another sweetener for the developers - if their estates contain less than 50 houses, they won't need to bother making them zero carbon, which is currently required. While many will agree new houses need to be built (whereas only 20 per cent agree fracking should be allowed), why must it all be on public land?

At the time of writing, no newspaper or broadcaster has covered the story - maybe they think their readers won't want to know that they could lose their recreational spaces? It was only discovered by campaigners from the Forest of Dean nosing around the Government's website. Campaigners from Hands Off Our Forest (HOOF) were wondering, despite many promises from Defra for many months, why no draft forestry legislation was announced in the Queen's Speech, the last-chance saloon for this government to pass new laws. HOOF and other members of the Forest Campaigns Network had been told the legislation was ready to go, and they'd been involved with discussions on it ever since they started meeting with civil servants in 2011. They and 3,000 banner-waving protestors - many of them pillars of the community, some even Tory voters - freaked the Government out by burning an effigy of Big Ben in the middle of the Forest and getting it on the news. That, combined with a national petition of 500,000 names and an opposition flank that included the Archbishop of Canterbury, Daily Telegraph and Boris Johnson's sister, had forced the Government to concede wrongdoing, and to scrap their attempt to pass the noxious Public Bodies Bill, which would have allowed all the public woodlands in England to have been sold off or otherwise disposed of. At the start of the campaign, one member of HOOF received an anonymous phone call from someone who said he worked in "policy". "The Forests are just the start," he warned. "They are absolutely determined to sell every scrap of public land - beaches, parks, the lot."

Within a few months, however, the Government retreated in the face of mass protest, (see SchNEWS 754 Fight them on the Beeches)  which included some top Establishment figures. Three years on, it seems the Government are trying it all on in one go, and something is stirring again in the forest... and ought to be throughout England and Wales. The Infrastructure Bill contains a clause which will allow ALL public land to be privatised. There's no need to reference the Forestry Act 1967, the Countryside Rights of Way Act or any other protective law, because Schedule 3 of the Bill - states that "the 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." It may as well say, "break any law, trample on any rights, do whatever you like... none of it counts for anything anymore, we've fixed it for you". The more Parliament keeps this a secret, the easier it will be for this Government and any future governments to get whatever they want built or fracked, without local busybodies and neighbours getting in the way.

However, given that the 'save the forests' campaign transcended politics and class - people equally appreciate beauty-spots to exercise their hounds whether they're millionaires or paupers - aren't our political 'representatives' taking a bit of a risk that if this secret gets out at an early enough stage (although it is being rushed through Parliament rapidly) that loads of disparate people might find common cause? All the efforts spent in encouraging divide and rule and the rise of the far-right might be in vain... Maybe people will realise they've gone too far this time? No protests have yet been organised at the time of writing - but there is a petition, good for raising awareness at least: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/infrastructure-bill-allows-ministers-to-sell-off-public-land

January 3, 2011, Hands Off Our Forest rally at The Speech House in the centre of the Forest of Dean, when thousands of people gathered in sub-zero temperatures to warm themselves around a burning Big Ben.
There are 17 comments on this story...
Added By: Tighe - 17th June 2014 @ 2:24 PM
All land should be owned by the state....usage of parts of the land should be acknowledged by holding of a lease, with a rateable value being paid to the local council instead of to private landowners. As is the case with many Tenant farmers today...Planning for buildings/homes etc should be decided on locally with a national appeals committee deciding on disputed decisions
Added By: Anki - 17th June 2014 @ 4:44 PM
Spreading petition & the word on fb. Thanks - heads up is very appreciated!
Added By: Mike Watts - 17th June 2014 @ 6:03 PM
There's a news story on channel four that shows how Goldman Sacks Bank controls all governments of the world, including ours. I've had enough of the rich thieving from everyone else. I think its high time that something more direct was done to change the situation.
Added By: Julie Daniels - 17th June 2014 @ 8:32 PM
Seriously this is so wrong. It's as if they want riots!!! We must find a way to stop this madness.
Boris will have the water cannons at the ready.
Added By: Anonymous - 17th June 2014 @ 11:56 PM
it's called capitalism.
Added By: Glynne Williams - 18th June 2014 @ 8:02 AM
If we all flood the national newspapers with demands to cover this appalling proposal, that might ensure coverage. Also contact all local radio stations, BBC, LBC etc
Added By: Land of the unfree - 18th June 2014 @ 8:12 AM
The way everything is going in this greedy country it will be the Air that you breath will be taxed next, And as for the Main Stream Medias they will only report what they are told to
Added By: Paul Richardson - 18th June 2014 @ 9:30 AM
The Government, Media, Ministers are all corrupt and are all puppets to the will of the big corporations ... are police and military are the enforcers of that will .... but the power of the people is always stronger than the people in power and when we have all had enough they will hear that silent power roar.
Added By: sam porter - 18th June 2014 @ 10:14 AM
wot just shoot us all and have done! worst Idea ever
Added By: Anonymous - 18th June 2014 @ 6:15 PM
while I oppose the bill I would say be thankfull that her majesty owns os much at least some is safe.
Added By: Anonymous - 18th June 2014 @ 8:18 PM
How dare they sell of the publics land is there no stopping these vampires
Added By: Anonymous - 18th June 2014 @ 9:14 PM
How dare you sell of public land in order to destroy our land through fracking quite frankly you should be ashamed I'd like to preserve what land we have left for future generations to enjoy.!this bill is against my wishes and against the wishes of our nation!how about passing a law to preserve our countryside you might find you get more support this way!
Added By: Anonymous - 19th June 2014 @ 12:02 PM
It's long overdue that we open up more land for development.

If there hadn't been decades of stagnation we'd not have have those insanely long waiting lists for pitiful council housing.

I earn minimum wage and I support fracking because it will lower my energy bills. I also support building more homes. Many many many more homes. So I can live in a flat and not a broom closet in a house share in a dump with humid walls and rotten floor boards.
Added By: Dennis Gaunt - 19th June 2014 @ 1:55 PM
In response to other respondents: cracking is extremely unlikely to have the effect of lowering anyone's home energy bill. The corporates involved are in it for profit. Whatever amounts of marketable commodity they may or may not eventually realise will be sold off at market rates, ie the same as is paid for other energy commodities. They are getting and will get huge tax breaks in addition to the gains gleaned from their standard opaque accounting practices.

But this is not about cracking, or even necessarily about releasing land for house building. It is about who owns our country's lands. Selling them is a one-off and, short of a revolution that changes our system of government and the laws it is bound by, irreversible. If you want to be beholden to and increasingly ripped-off by multi-nationals for the rest of you and your children's lives then turn a blind eye to this blatant sell-off of the primary national asset: LAND!
Added By: Anonymous - 19th June 2014 @ 10:40 PM
No surprise this was being debated when England are playing. Classic distraction technique.
Added By: Anonymous - 20th June 2014 @ 12:48 PM
A couple of years ago our local council sold off land to property developers. This land had a covenant in place stating that it could only be used, by the people of our town, for recreactional purposes. Cue 2 year long appeal by local campaigners to stop the development, end result the houses have been built by a private developer.
Did the local community see any benefit from the money raised in the sale of our park land? No.
Not totally relevant but this was done under a Labour government and local council. It doesn't matter who's in power, the land will disappear under houses and roads for as long as our population continues to rise. What really matters is that the local communities see and feel some benefit from this, rather than a higher strain on their resources and infrastructure as is most often the case. Classic example, lets house 100 more families and have them send their children to the local school whilst we cut the schools budget yet again so they can't afford extra staff and equipment.
Added By: Anonymous - 24th June 2014 @ 4:21 PM
This is all part of Expansionist Capitalist policy that supports growth to make the rich richer and the rest of us, well no ain't having it. Let's have a fairer society and retain our land for the many not the few.
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