Many thanks to those who came to this informative seminar at the Grasmere in Salisbury last Friday. We had a lively debate on a number of key issues and interesting speakers who raised awareness on a number of issues.
Our first speaker was John Glen MP, who fielded a number of pointed questions about the process and the validity of previous plans and consultations. It was clear that there was some frustration about how much work this all entailed and whether it really would deliver benefits to parish councils. However, his point was clear that the Government was driving the devolution of power to parish councils and that the development of a robust local plan was vital to ensuring that the needs and wishes of the local community were properly taken into account and that this document, enshrined in Statute, would begin to shift the balance of power from central to local. He agreed to take back several queries to the Ministry including further clarity on the relationship between developers and parish councils where planning permission was sought. John stated that he had written the foreword on a number of local plans already and would be pleased to talk to parish councils about their plans should they wish it. The reality is that Wiltshire has an overarching plan to build houses – if you don’t engage formally in the process, then the planners will make their decisions without you.
Our second guest speaker was Paul Wilmshurst, a barrister from 9 Stone Buildings in Lincoln’s Inn. His talk was on the issue of Village Greens and it came as something of a shock to learn that it was possible for any person to register (for free) their assertion that a piece of land could qualify for this status – in other words that rights could be given to the public to use the land for recreational purposes regardless of who owned it. On that basis, the land would become worthless to a landowner as it would be impossible to develop it. There had been some decisions to create “village greens” including a beach! Paul has kindly agreed to come back to future seminars with other interesting topics, so we look forward to welcoming him back.
Our final speaker was our very own Tony Ford. Tony has been a property solicitor for many years and shared with us his concerns about parish councils knowing and understanding what land holdings they had. Where land had already been registered, then it was clear. However, much of the land held by the parish councils nationwide was unclear and much of it held in the memories of older residents and fusty documents kept in somebody’s barn or attic. When you consider that parish councils probably hold more land than the Queen and the Duke of Westminster together, it is very worrying that so much land is “unknown” in its title. So, Tony proposed creating a “Terrier”, (Historical Terms – a register or survey of land [from Old French, from Medieval Latin terrārius of the land, from Latin terra land])- which is simply a compendium of information about the land that you hold, drawn together with all of the documents you hold or a verbal history that still remains to you (bearing in mind that those older residents will not always be around to explain). You can then decide whether you want to register these at the Land Registry or not – even if it’s not clear who owns the land, a Terrier will have great sway with the Land Registry in the absence of anything else and it will stop others from registering Adverse Possession of land for whatever purpose they choose.
Looking forward to seeing you all at our next session in Salisbury – this will be later in September. Reg Williams will be talking to us about parks and childrens’ play areas – a subject close to many of your hearts.
If there are particular subjects you would like me to get specialist speakers to in future, please just let me know. We have access to our own expertise as well an extensive range of external experts.