They've stolen our postal service, and are currently giving away the health service, education and prisons to their mates, what's next for this Government? Perhaps the most audacious theft yet - potentially all of our public land.
Surreptitiously, with zero media coverage, the Government has introduced a Bill, due to be debated in the House of Lords today (Wednesday June 18th) with a clause that bypasses the role of councils in granting or denying planning consent, cancels any rights of way or any need to ask the people of England and Wales if they mind losing their parks, playing fields, allotments, woodlands, public facilities or village greens to housing developers, fracking companies, road- or railway-builders. It's the land grab to end all land grabs. But not everyone's on the receiving end, luckily all land belonging to the Royal Family is excluded.
Handily, privatisation of the Land Registry is also happening, and the proposed law, known as the Infrastructure Bill, will give this newly private company free rein on deciding who land belongs to. The Government, conveniently forgetting that the land is ours, plans to order local authorities to make 90 per cent of its brownfield sites (a designation that apparently includes parks, allotments, gardens as well as former industrial sites) available to be transferred to the Government quango the Homes and Communities Agency, which was established in 2008. The HCA can then pass it on to developers without any of tiresome planning restrictions. The job of deciding on planning applications will no longer be done by councillors - Eric Pickles (or his successors) and a panel of two Government inspectors will instead get out their rubber stamp for whoever wants the land.
George Osborne (in a recent after-dinner speech) said houses are needed so badly that anyone who objects must be a nimby. In the same breath, he said the Government would protect "green spaces" - by that, of course he means the private estates. As 69 per cent of Britain's acreage is owned by 0.6 per cent of the population , and quite a lot of that by the Queen and Prince Charles, it means his friends' rural idylls will be untarnished. Another sweetener for the developers - if their estates contain less than 50 houses, they won't need to bother making them zero carbon, which is currently required. While many will agree new houses need to be built (whereas only 20 per cent agree fracking should be allowed), why must it all be on public land?
At the time of writing, no newspaper or broadcaster has covered the story - maybe they think their readers won't want to know that they could lose their recreational spaces? It was only discovered by campaigners from the Forest of Dean nosing around the Government's website. Campaigners from Hands Off Our Forest were wondering, despite many promises from Defra for many months, why no draft forestry legislation was announced in the Queen's Speech, the last-chance saloon for this government to pass new laws. HOOF and other members of the Forest Campaigns Network had been told the legislation was ready to go, and they'd been involved with discussions on it ever since they started meeting with civil servants in 2011. They and 3,000 banner-waving protestors - many of them pillars of the community, some even Tory voters - freaked the Government out by burning an effigy of Big Ben in the middle of the Forest and getting it on the news. That, combined with a national petition of 500,000 names and an opposition flank that included the Archbishop of Canterbury, Daily Telegraph and Boris Johnson's sister, had forced the Government to concede wrongdoing, and to scrap their attempt to pass the noxious Public Bodies Bill, which would have allowed all the public woodlands in England to have been sold off or otherwise disposed of. At the start of the campaign, one member of HOOF received an anonymous phone call from someone who said he worked in "policy". "The Forests are just the start," he warned. "They are absolutely determined to sell every scrap of public land - beaches, parks, the lot."
Within a few months, however, the Government retreated in the face of mass protest, (see SchNEWS 754 Fight them on the Beeches) which included some top Establishment figures. Three years on, it seems the Government are trying it all on in one go, and something is stirring again in the forest... and ought to be throughout England and Wales. The Infrastructure Bill contains a clause which will allow ALL public land to be privatised. There's no need to reference the Forestry Act 1967, the Countryside Rights of Way Act or any other protective law, because Schedule 3 of the Bill- states that "the property, rights and liabilities that may be transferred by a scheme include... property, rights and liabilities that would not otherwise be capable of being transferred or assigned." It may as well say, "break any law, trample on any rights, do whatever you like... none of it counts for anything anymore, we've fixed it for you". The more Parliament keeps this a secret, the easier it will be for this Government and any future governments to get whatever they want built or fracked, without local busybodies and neighbours getting in the way.
However, given that the 'save the forests' campaign transcended politics and class - people equally appreciate beauty-spots to exercise their hounds whether they're millionaires or paupers - aren't our political 'representatives' taking a bit of a risk that if this secret gets out at an early enough stage (although it is being rushed through Parliament rapidly) that loads of disparate people might find common cause? All the efforts spent in encouraging divide and rule and the rise of the far-right might be in vain... Maybe people will realise they've gone too far this time? No protests have yet been organised at the time of writing - but there is a petition, good for raising awareness at least: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/infrastructure-bill-allows-ministers-to-sell-off-public-land