EXCLUSIVE: Truro New Town and Compulsory Purchase Orders – the lawyers are watching

Posted By on 13th June 2022

By Graham Smith

A major landowner has suggested he might seek a Judicial Review of any Cornwall Council decision to compulsorily purchase his property to pursue its Truro New Town ambitions.

Property developer Richard Walker has written to all 10 of County Hall’s cabinet members complaining about the way the council is attempting to buy land it needs for a massive 3,500-property project at Langarth, between Threemilestone and Shortlanesend.

The council scheme is particularly controversial because it would be built by its own property developer, Treveth, and at least 65% of all properties are destined for the open market.  The remainder are “affordable” only in the sense that Treveth would offer a 20% discount on the open market price – meaning they would still be well beyond the reach of the 22,500 people in Cornwall who need social housing.

It is this lack of an obvious “over-riding public interest” which some lawyers think puts the council on shaky ground.  Any other property developer would have to secure land by negotiation and would not have access to Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs.)

Now lawyers acting for Mr Walker have written to cabinet members to allege that there has been no negotiation and that the use of CPOs – to be approved at a meeting on Wednesday – would be an abuse of process.

“It is not reasonable to pursue the making of a CPO,” say the lawyers.  “The council’s officers have made little or no effort to enable my client’s land to be delivered under existing planning consents.

“The officers’ motivation seems to be one of wanting control of the site and not being prepared to work with local landowners to achieve a comprehensive scheme.

“This is not an appropriate exercise of the council’s powers…..I do not consider this is the action of a reasonable council and such an approach will be susceptible to Judicial Review.”

As Cornwall Reports revealed in August, the council began preparing CPOs at Langarth even before it had secured planning permission for its own scheme.

At the same time, County Hall has still not determined Mr Walker’s own planning application for 435 homes.

Landowners are frequently anxious about CPOs by local councils, which they suspect are being used for convenience rather than the diligent application of conventional planning controls, exercised by democratically-elected councillors.

In August 2020 Cornwall Reports revealed how Cornwall Council approached landowners in Hayle with threats of CPOs.  In 2017 a landowner in Penryn accused County Hall  of “behaving like a communist regime” by seeking a CPO in advance of negotiations.

The use of CPOs is always supposed to be a last resort, used only when negotiations have failed – and not as an additional weapon in any negotiations.  The issue is particularly controversial for Conservatives, who like to portray themselves as the champions of individual and private property rights.

One of the most famous cases, now known as “the Crichel Down affair,” earned a place in 20th century history for what became widely seen as an abuse of government power to seize private land for public use

One law firm says of CPOs:  “Private property rights in the UK are jealously guarded by a combination of the Human Rights Act 1998 (the HRA) and the European Convention on Human Rights. Together, these prohibit the compulsory acquisition of private property `except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law.’

“Nonetheless, there have always been circumstances where public authorities and certain bodies, that are responsible for what are traditionally regarded as ‘public’ services (e.g. privatised utilities) need to acquire land or rights over land in order to perform their functions and are unable to negotiate a purchase.

“Over the years, a broad range of powers have evolved.  At one end is the general power of compulsory acquisition which applies wherever a local authority has a power to negotiate the purchase of any land (now contained at s. 121 of the Local Government Act 1972) (the General Power).

“At the other end are powers used by specific authorities, in particular circumstances, which are subject to specific controls. Section 226 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 is a typical example, and enables a local authority to acquire land which it “thinks … will facilitate the carrying out of development” but only if that development will contribute to the social, economic or environmental well-being of its area.

“To ensure that acquiring authorities (AAs) are not using the General Power to avoid the statutory controls on various specific powers, government guidance insists that where a relevant specific power exists, it is always used in preference to the General Power.”

The test for Cornwall Council’s cabinet on Wednesday is the extent to which it might question, publicly, its officers’ insistence that the Truro New Town project will serve the wider public nterest to such an extent that it justifies the use of Compulsory Purchase Powers.


This article has 2 comments

  1. Langarth will NEVER be of benefit to the public! This is another prime example of CORRUPTION!
    Cornwall Council building houses on this scale and type is NOT a function of a local authority. Using Corserv is just a ruse to overspend and not go bankrupt as they will just through more public money at it.
    This madness has to be investigated and the officers involved must be exposed!

  2. Failure at the top once again, What do we get for paying £200,000 a year, nothing more than chaos and incompetence. In my opinion this project is a mal-adminstration of public money, and needs independant invetigation,
    too many unanswered questions.

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