Law Commission: Conservation covenants consultation

25 April, 2013

The Law Commission has launched a consultation on proposed new law which would create “conservation covenants”.

The Law Commission will explore different scenarios where conservation covenants could be used. An example given in the consultation paper is where a heritage group have invested funds in buying and restoring a Victorian House. They want to sell the land but ensure that the work carried out and heritage value of the property is preserved.

The Law Commission states that this project emerged from the consultation on easements, covenants and profits à prendre and the National Trust’s believe that a special status of covenants should be created in order to protect cultural and natural heritage. One of the key features of conservation covenants is that they arise from a desire to achieve long term conservation objectives by using private rights to benefit the public interest.

A large proportion of important conservation land and heritage sites in England and Wales remain unprotected. The Law Commission recognises that conservation and the need for more housing and office development may conflict but the hope is that conservation covenants will facilitate responsible and sustainable development.

A conservation covenant will be a voluntary arrangement between a landowner and a conservation organisation or public body to do or not to do something on their land for a conservation purpose. Currently conservation charities or organisations have to purchase land in order to ensure the conservation aspect of that land is protected. Instead, they will be able to negotiate a conservation covenant with the landowner. A conservation covenant will be binding on all future landowners as it will run with the land.

Proposals for a new statutory scheme of conservation covenants include:

  • who would be able to create a conservation covenant;
  • how a conservation covenant can be modified or discharged
  • the role of the Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal in adjudicating disputes
  • who should be responsible for managing and enforcing the obligations under a conservation covenant
  • and of course the legal nature of a conservation covenant, requirements for its creation and registration.

Clearly there is a need to protect our heritage and conservation areas and this may be a workable solution provided it takes into account existing rights over land.

The consultation closes on 21 June 2013 when the Law Commission will present its recommendations to the Government.