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Changes to the compulsory purchase process: What you need to know

The government’s consultation on proposed changes to the compulsory purchase process closes on 9 June. What are the changes likely to be and how will they affect your business?

On 18 March, Budget day, the government launched a consultation on a series of proposed changes to compulsory purchase procedures, which will close on 9 June.

Each stage of the process is to be tweaked to speed it up and make it fairer.

Between them, they will make quite a difference to the process for obtaining land compulsorily that anyone involved in major developments should be aware of.

The main proposals – out of a total of 26 – are described below.

On balance, they tend to favour landowners over acquirers, but many of the measures will benefit everyone.

Extended notice period

First, public bodies tend to be reluctant to pay over the odds for land to get hold of it early on in the process, because of their duty to obtain ‘best value’, even though a private developer would do so in the interests of saving time and money in the long run.

This is tackled by changing guidance so that all the factors that might make persevering with a CPO more expensive can be taken into account, such as delays to the project, handling Lands Chamber claims, consultants’ fees and so on.

The current very short notice period for entry onto land is to be extended from a mere 14 days to a more reasonable three months.

This longer period already applies when ‘general vesting declarations’ are used, and in the case of hybrid bill projects such as High Speed 2.

Having said that, it could extend the length of a project by two-and-a-half months.

Time limits

Time limits are to be introduced for various stages to provide more certainty and prevent applications from dragging on.

For example, if there is a public inquiry, a decision must be issued within 24 weeks of it closing.

This will certainly be welcomed by those applying for CPO powers.

Measures are proposed to stop acquiring bodies from dragging their heels once they have issued notices of entry, and make them pay a proportion of compensation in advance earlier.

One option is for landowners to issue ‘reverse notices of entry’ to require entry.

The interest rate on late compensation payments is also to be raised to 1 per cent above the base rate rather than 0.5 per cent below it, which, since the base rate is 0.5 per cent at the moment, is currently zero and is no incentive to pay sooner rather than later.

The government floats the idea of inspectors taking decisions on applications of only local importance themselves rather than decision-making always being done by the relevant Secretary of State.

If the response to the consultation is positive, then more details will be worked up.

Does that introduce a democratic deficit?

The decision-taking Infrastructure Planning Commission was abolished by the coalition government for that very reason.

Sensible and uncontroversial

Finally, objectors can set projects back to the starting line by successfully challenging a CPO in the courts.

It is proposed that if a decision to grant a CPO is quashed, then just the decision need be retaken, rather than having to make the whole application again.

If a CPO is challenged unsuccessfully, it is also proposed that the three years for implementing it is extended by the time it took to dispose of the challenge – i.e. the challenge ‘stops the clock’ on the three years.

All in all these proposals seem sensible and are likely to be uncontroversial.

As the consultation straddled the election, though, it merely says that it will be up to the new government to decide what to do about it, so we shall see.

Angus Walker is head of government and infrastructure at Bircham Dyson Bell

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