This is the text of Sir George's response to the DETR Consultation Document, proposing a solution to the problems of residents on Newtown Common who are being charged large sums to access their homes.
Dear Mrs Carter,
I am responding to the consultation exercise on the above.
Let me begin by saying that I welcome the Government's decision to tackle the problem which I first raised in an adjournment debate last November; and to do so within the parameters of a Government Bill that should secure Royal Assent within a month. This will bring to an end the uncertainty that
afflicts my constituents - and others who have found themselves drawn into the problem.
The consultation exercise is inevitably compressed but that is a price my constituents are prepared to pay. (If the Government had decided to take ownership of the problem when I moved my amendments in the Commons in June,we would have had more time but it would be ungracious of me to make too much of an issue of this!)
Turning to the details, your covering letter refers to a "limit" to be placed on the compensation; but para 5 of the General Framework says the "purchase price for the easement is....4%". A landowner should not be prevented from charging less, if he wants to charge less.
Para 1.C. is drafted in such a way that it might exclude my constituents on Newtown Common who received a letter from Mr Farrow before November 2nd that
might have ended their prescriptive rights. There are ways round this, as suggested by Newtown Common Residents in their own submission. It would be difficult for me to explain to my constituents that a solution had been found to the problem which helped everyone else, but not them.
On Para 3, Newtown Residents make a sensible suggestion which I support. This paragraph also obliges the property owner to claim his right of way within a
statutory period or he loses it. This underlines the need for staged payments, to which I return.
On Para 5, the Government proposes a flat-rate 4%. This is a significant worsening for those of my constituents who would have paid 2 1/2% under the Selborne amendment. I note that, in his speech on the Selborne amendment on October 11th, the Minister did not object to the principal of a two tier system, reflecting the length of time that access had been enjoyed. If the Government sticks to its 4% maximum, I think there should be a 2% maximum where the conditions set out in the Selborne amendment are met. If the
Government does not move to a two-tier option, the maximum should be lowered.
In para 8, it states that periods will be prescribed for the purposes of defining when payment will be made, and the covering letter states that property owners will have to pay "within a few months." This will cause
hardship in a number of cases where there are no savings with which to pay the charge - which could be substantial and which the Government recognises to be unexpected. Some might have to sell and move.
I believe there should be an option to defer part of the charge. Newtown Residents propose 1/2% on agreement, with the balance payable when the
property changes hands - but significantly, the total percentage to be recalculated on the value of the property on disposal. This meets the point which the Minister made in his speech, where he said it was not reasonable for the landowner to wait 30 years for compensation; and it is more generous to the landowner than the Selborne amendment, where the percentage was tied to the value at the time of the agreement. I think this represents an acceptable way forward.
I would be grateful if you could acknowldge receipt of these representations; and if you could email me the Government amendments when they are tabled.
Yours sincerely, George Young