The Localism Act 2011 introduced a requirement for Local Authorities to keep a list of buildings and land which are of value to the community. Once on the list, the land or building will remain upon it for 5 years. Where the owner of the land wishes to sell, it must give notice to the Local Authority. That then triggers a right for a community interest group to ask to be treated as a potential bidder and if it does so, a sale can’t take place for 6 months. The 6 month period (known as “moratorium”) allows the community group to produce an alternative proposal to purchase the site.
The legislation is aimed at preserving areas which are used by communities, particularly in the light of the ever increasing pressure upon land for development, particularly where it abuts existing settlements.
Both authorities and local groups will obviously have an interest in trying to have land and buildings designated as being assets of community value. Landowners will not, given the extra steps which they will have to take to dispose of their land once it has been designated.
The recent case of Oliver’s Battery Limited -v- Winchester City Council is interesting both in terms of the conflicting interests of landowners, community groups and local authorities but also in how the use of an area of land can alter and how land owners need to be careful to prevent the unauthorised use of their land.
The land in question had been “set aside” and left fallow. Although it was subject to an agricultural lease, it hadn’t been ploughed since approximately 2006.
During the period in which it was set aside the local community had made increasing use of the land. It was accepted by both parties that there were rights of way over the land but it was established during the hearing that those rights of way had been used extensively and those using the land had often deviated from the rights of way.
In spite of the efforts of the landowner to prevent third parties using the land (signs warning the public to keep off the land had been erected) the first tier Tribunal concluded that the land was used by the local community as required in order for it to be an asset of community value. This was inspite of some elements of the use being unlawful (given that it wasn’t authorised by the landowner). The use of the land by the community was not deemed to be ancillary to its agricultural purpose and the fact the landowner hoped to develop the land for housing wasn’t of itself a bar to the land being designated as an asset of community value given there was no certainty that planning permission would be granted or, for that matter, any development would go ahead.
This case, as with others recently (notably Banner Homes Limited -v- St Albans City & District Council) highlights both the opportunities available to community groups and the concerns which landowners need to be aware of if they are to preserve flexibility in the future use and disposal of their property.
If you have any queries concerning the issues raised, please contact Victoria Onoufriou.