Compulsory purchase powers cannot be used by a local authority to acquire land purely for the promotion of the environmental and social well-being of an area, according to a recent judicial review decision

In the case of R (on the application of Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council) v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government the Court was asked to consider whether the Secretary of State had erred in judgment in refusing to confirm a compulsory purchase order in respect of a parcel of land adjoining a housing estate which was used by the public as an amenity area.  The area in question had been registered by local residents as a Village Green under the Commons Act 2006.  The reason given by the Council for making the CPO, relying on its powers to acquire land under the Local Government Act 1972, was to ensure that the land was maintained and available for public use as an amenity area as part of its powers to promote the area's social and environmental well being pursuant to section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000.

The Court agreed with the Secretary of State's view that the combination of statutory powers did not in fact authorise the use of a CPO.  The 2000 Act itself makes clear that it does not override the prohibition, contained in section 121 of the 1972 Act, against the use of compulsory purchase powers to acquire land simply for the benefit, improvement or development of an area. The Court took the view that depriving a landowner of land that belongs to him, no matter how popular it may be with local people, is not something that the law permits lightly and the Court would need to be persuaded that it was truly parliament's intention for the 2000 Act to be used in this way before finding that the Secretary of State's view was wrong in law.  This case provides an interesting reminder of the scope of compulsory purchase powers available to local authorities.

A link to the judgment can be found at: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2012/1366.html

by Tom Evans, Solicitor