Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Did Alice's Meadow save Otmoor?

Writing this morning of Greenpeace's attempt to frustrate the building of a third runway at Heathrow by selling off numerous small plots of land to different owners, I said:
I do remember Friends of the Earth trying to use a similar tactic to prevent a road being built across Otmoor in Oxfordshire and getting nowhere.
It turns out that the motorway in question was an extension of the M40. And it was not built across Otmoor after all.

Was this due to Friends of the Earth's tactics? The Alice's Meadow website claims it was:

In order to construct the motorway, all the land along the route needed to be compulsorily purchased. In addition, the complete compulsory purchase procedure, (including valuation, identification of the landowner, service of compulsory purchase order, notice period etc; and all possible stages of appeal) needed to be followed for each individual plot of land.

With each appeal having the potential for being a re-run of the original enquiry (which it had already lost) this was intended to make the compulsory purchase of the 3,500 plots of Alice's Meadow a very unattractive prospect for the government.

To further frustrate the development, the purchasers of the campaign plots were encouraged to subdivide and sell on their land. This greatly increased the total number of plots, and therefore the difficulty in contacting and dealing with the landowners - many of whom lived abroad.

In December 1984, just over a year after Alice's Meadow was sold off, the government began it's U-turn, announcing that although the motorway was needed, the route would have to be looked at again. Just 11 months later, in November 1985, the government's preferred route was withdrawn, and a version of the objector's route, which had been recommended by the 1982/3 inquiry was adopted. The battle to save Otmoor had been won.

Whatever the truth of this, Alice's Meadow is now a valuable nature reserve. Read more about it in a Daily Telegraph article.


Jp69 said...

I have been trying to research the history of Land Banking. In recent times it seems to lead back to this case.

I think the laws were changed after the Otmoor case by the Conservatives to prevent it happening again. I cant seem to find all the details on that change but am sure it happened.

In 2002 the Labour party again allowed the division of land into small plots bringing about the possibility of selling tiny bits of UK Green Belt land to naive people in the UK and around the world for astronomical sums. This was after convincing the same naive people that the Green Belt could be easily converted to prime building land.

Plot based land banking was born.
There have been zero successes in 2002 to 2007 in perhaps the biggest housing boom in UK history and a large number of companies have folded or been shut down taking with them consumers money.

A bizarre side effect is also to open the UK to the possibility of exporting our Green Belt Land at very low cost and importing planning approved land at very high cost.

We could actually end up paying 60 times the cost of the land to import planning permission on our own land.

It is impossible to get any Government action on this since presumably it would bring considerable embarrassment to the Housing Minister that scam opportunities were created by Labour Government policy.

Only Liberal MPs Greg Mulholland and David Heath have been willing to speak out on this issue.

If anyone can fill in the gaps between Otmoor and the apparent policy reversal in 2002 I would love to read it.

jane said...

I bought one of the plots on Alice's Meadow as part of the campaign. I wonder if I still own my square foot of England?

liz said...

I also bought a plot and visited it today, and yes, it appears it is still in multiple ownership with the local parish council managing grazing rights, and presumably the set of rules there in a lichen-covered notice board with an agreement dated last year.
Who thinks we should have a landowners gathering for the 30th anniv and revive the Otmoor fair?! Answers on a website....