Changes to the Compulsory Purchase System
By Jon Suckley
It was anticipated that the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s final Budget would contain an announcement to promote and increase development on brownfield land. At an initial glance, whilst there was no direct announcement, the Government has published a consultation on changes to the compulsory purchase system.
The consultation paper “presents a package of proposals for technical process improvements and guidance to make the process clearer, faster and fairer with the aim of bringing forward more brownfield land for development”.
The compulsory purchase process is an underutilised tool of the planning system because it is currently costly, time consuming and complex. Proposals to streamline the compulsory purchase process are very welcome and a “clearer, fairer and faster” system will have hugely positive benefits for unlocking brownfield sites for new development.
There are a range of interesting proposals contained within the consultation document which include:
• Providing suitable cover to accounting officers, enabling them to offer more reasonable initial offers to landowners. Encouraging public authorities to offer good levels of compensation adds much needed flexibility. Improved compensation offers increase the chances of early settlements which reduce the overall costs of the process including legal fees, wider CPO costs and costs associated with project delays.
• Public Authorities could be provided with powers of entry for survey prior to compulsory purchase being made. This will reduce the delays of CPO which are often created because landowners are unwilling to allow a proper survey to be undertaken which can frustrate and delay the process in its later stages. The notice period for entry could also be standardised and a new single power of entry is proposed which could only have one notice period of 14 days.
• Statutory targets for the confirmation stage are also proposed. The statutory targets will streamline the process allowing the decision making timetable to become more clear and transparent for all parties. In particular, a statutory requirement for orders subject to a public inquiry requires that within 10 working days of the close of the inquiry, the inspector should inform the timescale for when a decision will be issued. For cases that will be made by the Secretary of State, it is proposed that in 80% of cases, a maximum of 8 weeks will be allowed for an inspector to write the report and 12 weeks for the Secretary of State to review the report and issue a final decision.
• It is proposed that the Secretary of State could delegate decisions to be made directly by an Inspector. Initially it is proposed that only decisions which do not raise issues of more than local importance will be appropriate for delegation. This is a very welcome change because often decisions by the Secretary of State can be issued some time after an Inspector’s report has been written and certainly in straightforward cases the Secretary of State’s final decision letter does not add anything more to the Inspector’s reports. This is certainly a change which would speed up the compulsory purchase process.
• There are also proposals to reform High Court challenges. Where an order is found sound but the Secretary of State’s decision has been found to be legally flawed, the acquiring authority will not have to remake the order if the decision can be quashed. This reform would speed up the process because it would not require acquiring authorities to start from scratch if a decision has been quashed and it will also make the process for challenging decisions clearer and fairer.
Overall the consultation document is detailed and proposes a range of changes which could reform the compulsory purchase process making it clearer, fairer and faster. The proposed changes will be welcomed by the development industry. The consultation presents an opportunity to streamline what is currently a complex process making it easier to unlock brownfield sites for important development.