Saturday, 14 January 2012

Barnet Council - Playing fast and loose with the law on the Church Farmhouse sale?

Yesterday I published a blog detailing the sale of the building which used to house the Barnet Church Farmhouse Museum. I am often astounded by the power of the Barnet blogs, they work in mysterious ways. This morning, I received two emails from eagle eyed and legally savvy Barnet residents. They drew my attention to section 123 (2A) of the Local Government act 1972.

Now I am not a lawyer, but it is pretty clear to me that this means that the Council are possibly not legally in a position to dispose of this land. This morning, I sent the following email to Mr Jeff Lustig, the Borough Lawyer and copied the CEO and all of the Barnet Councillors.


Dear Mr Lustig,
This week advertisements have been placed in the local press, advertising the buildings and lands surrounding Church Farmhouse Museum for sale. I have been contacted by several concerned residents, regarding this sale and my attention has been drawn to section 123 (2A) of the Local Government act 1972 (see below)
It is clear that there is the possibility that the act prohibits the sale of this property under the terms of the act. I have no wish to see my money as a Barnet Taxpayer being tied up in expensive legal challenges of the type we have seen in the Partingdale Lane fiasco or expensive reviews such as the Underhill sale. As such I am calling on you as head of the Barnet legal department to call an immediate halt to this sale, pending a full legal review of the legality of the sale.
My attention has also been drawn to other issues concerning the sale of the building and lands which may have legal implications. As I do not want to initiate a campaign and have to raise funds for a legal challenge (which I believe will be well supported), without giving you the opportunity to reconsider the position of Barnet Council regarding the sale, I call on you to immediately suspend the sale.
Please confirm that the sale has been suspended or provide a full legal opinion as to why you believe the sale complies COMPLETELY with the law as described below. If you supply a legal opinion, I ask for a suspension of the process for 4 weeks, to allow me time to receive a legal opinion on your response. As I have stated, I have no wish to cost the Barnet taxpayer a penny in avoidable legal expenses or reviews. As such it is clear to me that this process must be suspended until all of these issues are resolved.
Yours faithfully,
Roger Tichborne

123 Disposal of land by principal councils.

(1)Subject to the following provisions of this section, a principal council may dispose of land held by them in any manner they wish.

(2)Except with the consent of the Secretary of State, a council shall not dispose of land under this section, otherwise than by way of a short tenancy, for a consideration less than the best that can reasonably be obtained.

[F524(2A)A principal council may not dispose under subsection (1) above of any land consisting or forming part of an open space unless before disposing of the land they cause notice of their intention to do so, specifying the land in question, to be advertised in two consecutive weeks in a newspaper circulating in the area in which the land is situated, and consider any objections to the proposed disposal which may be made to them.

(2B)Where by virtue of subsection (2A) above a council dispose of land which is held—

(a)for the purpose of section 164 of the Public Health Act 1875 (pleasure grounds); or

(b)in accordance with section 10 of the Open Spaces Act 1906 (duty of local authority to maintain open spaces and burial grounds), the land shall by virtue of the disposal be freed from any trust arising solely by virtue of its being land held in trust for enjoyment by the public in accordance with the said
section 164 or, as the case may be, the said section 10.]

F525(3)—(5). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

F526(6). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

(7)For the purposes of this section a disposal of land is a disposal by way of a short tenancy if it consists—

(a)of the grant of a term not exceeding seven years, or

(b)of the assignment of a term which at the date of the assignment has not more than seven years to run, and in this section “public trust land” has the meaning assigned to it by section 122(6) above.

I call on all Barnet Councillors to fully acquaint themselves with the details of the sale and the legality of it. The role of Councillors is to oversee the executive and their actions. This is a good example where councillors should get involved to prevent the executive of Barnet Council making a tragic decision which would destroy forever a much loved Barnet landmark. 
--- email ends ---

I will of course publish Mr Lustigs response to this email as and when it arrives and the results of any legal opinion we recieve. In the event that Mr Lustigs response is unsatisfactory, I will be seeking funds to assist with the legal challenge.


Jaybird said...

Barnet are not playing fast & loose at all. They have correctly identified that there may be rights for local people to use the gardens as a park & they are advertising this for 2 consecutive weeks to see whether people claim those rights, which is what the law says they have to do in order to sell the land free of any future claim.

If people do claim those rights then they will have to be investigated to see whether there is any substance to them.

Barnet are acting perfectly correctly & properly.

Rog T said...


Some of us happen to believe that a local authority shouldn't be selling off such historical sites full stop. These were bequeathed to the people of the Borough. Although the council has many economic issues, these are no worse than at many times in the past, such as the second world war.

I wonder if local residents & people in the locality have been notified, they are the ones most likely to have a claim. Sadly we live in an age when, by putting an ad on page 57 of a paper with patchy distribution, you can claim you've complied with the letter of the law

Jaybird said...

Rog, I agree that the closure of the Museum is very sad.

I also agree that the public notices section of the paper is probably not read by many people, and that even fewer would look up s.123(2A) Local Government Act.

I just think "fast & loose" is inaccurate and unfair.

Rog T said...


I didn't say they were breaking the law or ignoring it. To my mind, fast and loose means doing the absolute minimum possible to actually comply with it and certainly not following the spirit of it, merely the technicality, or taking the loosest possible interpretation.

You are entitled to your view, but I stand by my statement.