The Bishop of Worcester spoke in a debate on amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill on 20th March 2023, supporting an amendment by Baroness Pinnock that would address inflation in land prices in different regions:
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford has added her name. She regrets that she is unable to be in her place today; I wish to make some points that undoubtedly she would have contributed had she been here.
As already indicated by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, the Government’s tabled Amendment 165 is very welcome. The review of Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972, and the correction of the omission of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime—and of police and crime commissioners generally—are necessary and positive steps. However, there remain ways in which the general disposal consent 2003 could be improved to better allow public bodies to dispose of assets for less than market value for social, economic or environmental benefit. We believe that such measures would be very much in line with the Bill’s desired outcome: levelling up communities across the country.
Noble Lords will be well aware of the significant variation in land value across the nation’s regions. The introduction of a percentage value discount would help ensure that local authorities, no matter where they are in the country, could offer the same level of discretion when selling sites for community good. I hope that the Minister will therefore accept the proposal from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for an adjacent percentage value to take into account varying land prices in different regions.
I also echo calls for the Minister to confirm today that the Government commit to launching a consultation on a new directive to update the current consent order on the disposal of public land. I am aware that Munira Wilson MP, who has been active in these matters in the other place, has received a letter from the new Housing and Planning Minister in which Mrs Maclean confirmed that the Government will take forward a consultation on a new direction with higher thresholds after the passage of the Bill. Is the Minister able to reiterate this commitment on the Floor of the House?
I also hope the Minister will accept the call by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for a new disposal consent order increasing the cash value amount in line with inflation in land prices. In her letter to Munira Wilson MP, the Housing and Planning Minister recognised that the current threshold of £2 million was provided in 2003 and that land values have increased over the last two decades. Amendment 174 would increase the cash value amount that public authorities can give a discount on to £3 million. It should be noted that this is in fact a conservative estimate of the inflation in land prices over the past 20 years.
To conclude, I repeat my welcome for the government Amendment 165 and urge the Minister to reiterate the Government’s commitment to consult on a new directive, create such a directive and accept Amendment 174’s provisions for an adjacent percentage value. I hope that we can continue in this spirit of co-operation truly to level up our country.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab): I welcome the Government’s amendment on the issue of there being no specific provision relating to disposal below value. This is a big issue for local authorities whenever we are looking at these things. I think there is a degree of misunderstanding about it in local authorities, where a lot of arguments go on between the legal side and the policy side about how the power of environmental, social and economic improvement works, in conjunction with the audit side of having to achieve best consideration. I hope that these amendments will help to resolve some of these issues. The ability to empower PCCs to include considerations other than monetary value alongside local authorities is welcome, although I will come on to some of the issues around that in a moment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, rightly pointed to the very steep price rises and the 160% inflation that is currently linked to valuations. The words of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, channelled through the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised the issue of the assets available to more deprived communities and what we do about making sure that we do not exacerbate that rather than using the powers of the Bill to level up. Using the power of land to provide preventive facilities—as in the example the noble Lord, Lord Best, used—which will do long-term good for the community and potentially save long-term revenue funding for the public bodies concerned is a really important way forward for determining how the value of land is determined in the first place. If it is going to provide facilities for that community and save revenue for the public body in the long term, surely that ought to be one of the considerations we can take into account.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester highlighted the outdated nature of the figures currently used. This has been one of the common themes of the data used that we have highlighted throughout the consideration of the Bill. We must get up-to-date data here, otherwise we will end up giving ourselves problems that we should not need to have.
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