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Government abandons Land Registry privatisation in new Bill

Controversial proposals to privatise the Land Registry have been excluded from a new Bill which the government says will boost the number of homes being built.

The Neighbourhood Planning Bill was originally due to contain the proposals when it was announced in the Queen’s Speech in May, but they were not mentioned when it was introduced in Parliament yesterday.

However, the plans were opposed by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCSU), the Competition and Markets Authority and MPs including Labour’s David Lammy and Bernard Jenkin, the chair of the Public and Constitutional Affairs Committee, on the grounds that it could lead to commercial conflicts of interest.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCSU, said: “We showed two years ago, and again this time round, that selling off the Land Registry would be stupid and wrong, serving only private companies looking to profit from homeowners' data.

“We welcome the government's pause, but the plan should be scrapped in its entirety, never to see the light of day again, and the Land Registry should remain fully in public hands.”

A government spokesperson said: “No decision has been taken on the future of the Land Registry. A consultation on the Land Registry’s future closed in May and we are carefully considering our response. It is only right that new ministers take time to look at all their options before making a decision.”

Cllr Martin Tett, the LGA’s spokesperson for housing, said he was “pleased” at the news.

He said councils want to work with the government to transfer local land charges registers to the Land Registry, and that it was “imperative” that the government continues to guarantee the cost of transferring data to the registry for councils.

However, Cllr Tett noted that he was “surprised” that the Bill also excludes plans to establish the National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory basis.

“Councils see the establishment of a national body that will enable much more robust long-term strategic decision-making on the country's infrastructure needs as a step in the right direction,” he said. “We hope the government remains fully committed to the need for such a body and one that recognises the vital role of local authorities in delivering infrastructure for a modern economy and all communities.”

The Bill includes proposals to make compulsory purchase orders easier to use. It will also ensure that planning conditions which require developers to take action before work begins to reduce the impact on heritage and the environment are only used ‘where strictly necessary’.

Cllr Tett said: “Councils approve almost nine out of 10 planning applications and the number of homes granted planning permission by local authorities during 2015 was 253,000, the highest level since 2007. There is little evidence to suggest development is being delayed by planning conditions. Planning conditions provide a vital role, enabling planning permissions to go ahead which would otherwise be refused or delayed while the details are worked out. They can also save developers time and money as they do not need to invest in detailed submissions until the principle of the development is granted.”

Gavin Barwell, the housing and planning minister, said: “The prime minister has been absolutely clear that we need to build more homes and this Bill is the first of a number of measures to deliver on that.

“We have already built more than 900,000 homes since 2010 and now this Bill will help speed up delivery of the further new homes our country needs and ensure our foot is still firmly on the pedal.”

The Bill also contains measures to make it easier for communities to develop neighbourhood plans, following a recent government consultation.

(Image c. Dominic Lipinski from PA Wire)

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Clare Michelle   08/09/2016 at 12:24

Quote: "..Cllr Martin Tett, the LGA’s spokesperson for housing, said he was “pleased” at the news. He said councils want to work with the government to transfer local land charges registers to the Land Registry, and that it was “imperative” that the government continues to guarantee the cost of transferring data to the registry for councils..." Its worth mentioning that 99% of councils do not want to work with the Land Registry to transfer the Local Land Charges Register. Local Authorities want to keep their Register and continue processing LLC1 searches themselves. You may also recall that the Consultation carried out by the Land Registry - on taking over Local Land Charges - 99% of responders were against it ! So I am not sure where the term "councils want to work with the Land Registry" came from.

P Parkin   08/09/2016 at 13:30

Commenting that the Local Authorities are "pleased" to be working with Land Registry is extremely misleading. We are being forced to work with them on a scheme that most think is totally misguided and will ultimately cause more work to the Local Authorities. It is unlikely that Land Registry will be able to answer any queries resulting from their searches which will ultimately mean that the enquirer becomes exasperated and turns to the Local Authority, who will no doubt become the agency to blame. Local Land Charges gives a bit of a hint here, it's local information from the local source - the agency best placed to produce an accurate product.

Tom Mc   08/09/2016 at 14:38

As Clare has said, the consultation results show that Local Authorities do not want for the Local Land Charge service to be transferred to the Land Registry. It is of popular opinion by solicitors and personal search companies that Local Land Charges should remain locally within local communities rather than centralised. It can be said that whilst the vision for a central Local Land Charges Register is admirable, it is just a vision. Understandably, local authorities may not appear to be active to the proposed change. With change comes the fear of weakened job security, increased workloads and growing pressurised targets. It would put to rest some local authorities minds for the Land Registry to clearly set out what is happening. It is well understood that central government wish to have a central register, but we begin to ask questions of the format to which it will be held: Individual polygons?; Individual records linked to different UPRN?; or every property linked to a local land charge UPRN? Will the register be standardised into a format that only Land Registry is aware of? We must also question whether the Land Registry will hold the register out of necessity or out or professionalism. If a customer has a query with the search result, they will expect to return to the holder of the information – in this instance the Land Registry. If however they are not qualified, either in knowledge or experience, they will simply return the query to the customer with the answer ‘please speak to local authority’. In a world where we are trying to cut the middle man out, to streamline processes, this does not seem logical. If Land Registry could provide local authorities with an actual plan of how they will provide expert knowledge, expert advice and how they will provide an expert service, local authorities would be more receptive. But they cannot, they are just the middle man. Cllr Tett, I ask you to visit a variety of Local Land Charge teams. You will see why local knowledge and a wealth of experience gained only in a local environment is key to a great service. Please do not speak on behalf of those who you do not represent. We cover more than housing. We cover units, warehouses, fields, parks, hospitals, bus stops, churches, mosques, synogogues, listed walls, ruins, every square millimetre of land from the northern border of England to the South Coast of the Southern British Isles. Please, answer our questions, because how can we trust a system which does not trust us.

Theo1963   12/09/2016 at 16:45

Councillor Tett could do with getting his facts straight regarding Local Authorities. I'm sure all will be made clear at the Land Registry's Industry Day in October because without some concrete information on exactly how the process is going to proceed I suspect there will be very little buy in from Local Authorities. We've been watching this space for over 4 years now!

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