Justifying his unprecedented decision to overrule Enfield Council’s planning committee and throw out the plans of Transport for London and its development partner Grainger to build 351 homes on the large car park at Cockfosters station, transport secretary Grant Shapps told the House of Commons it would be “ludicrous” to remove “all put 12 parking spaces” to make way for the new dwellings
The statement itself was, to put it nicely, ludicrous, as in truth the plans leave 47 spaces in the currently 370 space car park, not 12. And it may also be that Shapps’s grounds for his intervention turn out to be less clever than he thinks.
In a letter to an exultant Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers, stout defender of suburban car parks, Shapps explained he had rejected the application under section 163 of the Greater London Authority Act (1999), the legislation that brought the mayoralty and London Assembly into being. “This sought my consent to dispose of operational land at Cockfosters station and car park,” Shapps wrote.
Sadiq Khan has now told TfL to “explore all options” for overturning Shapps’s veto, including legal action. What might their chances be?
Looking at section 163, a lot seems to depend on what is meant by “operational”. It states that TfL (and the GLA) may not sell the freehold of land it owns “which is or has been operational land” or grant a long lease on it “without the consent of the Secretary of State”. And “operational land” is defined as follows:
a) land which is used for the purpose of carrying on any railway or tramway undertaking of Transport for London’s or of a subsidiary of Transport for London’s; and
(b) land in which an interest is held for that purpose.
but paragraphs (a) and (b) above do not include land which, in respect of its nature and situation, is comparable rather with land in general than with land which is used, or in which interests are held, for the purpose of the carrying on of a railway or tramway undertaking;