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Government Consultation – Transparency and competition: a call for evidence on data on land control

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

The government has published a consultation document “Transparency and Competition…

– A call for evidence on data on land control”, something which should be of interest to anyone involved in the promotion of land for development, whether landowner, promoter, developer or their advisers.

The issue being considered is the apparent lack of transparency about who owns land, and who may have an interest linked to its promotion for development, and the view that this may interfere with release of land for development. The proposed solution for this alleged problem is a requirement to file a large amount of detail in relation to any agreement for the promotion of development land, as set out in the consultation document.  This includes matters such as the length of the condition period, the price payable, whether the interest is assignable and how much has been paid for the interest.  So this would drive a coach and horses trough the tradition of commercial confidentiality.

The government understands that, in the development context, the most common ways of exercising an element of control over the purchase or sale of land are:

  • rights of pre-emption;
  • options, and
  • estate contracts.

The paper acknowledges that the Land Registry’s registers have been open to public inspection since December 1990, and nearly 88% of the land area of England and Wales has been registered. Any interest in land acquired is almost invariably protected by registration. Therefore there is no difficulty  for developers, promoters and their advisers to find out who owns land with development potential, and whether one of their rivals has already secured an interest. Indeed, such information is often generally known in the development industry and by surveyors whose practice is advising owners disposing of potential development land.  It is usually the case that once such an agreement has been entered into then the promoter/developer will be contractually obliged to promote the land, so their interest becomes public knowledge at the stage of the local plan process, when representations are invited to nominate candidate sites for allocation as preferred development sites.

The problems in site assembly do not really arise due to lack of the information it is proposed be disclosed, but other issues.  For example, some landowners decline to participate in agreements involving other landowners relating to the promotion of larger sites, preferring to wait and benefit from the efforts of others or by holding out for a better deal than their neighbours. Putting in place a system of compulsory recording of the terms of land agreements will surely serve to encourage such behaviour, and make some private landowners reluctant to sign up knowing that their private commercial agreements will be open to public access.

This proposal is will make the process of signing up new agreements more difficult for the house building and land promotion industries. In reality the lack of information is not holding back the market, as the number of sites put forward and promoted in the site allocation phase of the local plan process throughout the country demonstrates.  Those involved in the development of sites should consider carefully this consultation document and make representations against the proposals, which would not bring forward more sites and indeed may well make it more difficult to bring sites into the planning system.

For more information see here

 

Ika Částka

Posted:

Ika Částka

Partner

Ika is a member of the Commercial Property team and has been advising individuals and businesses across Northamptonshire since 1986, specialising in commercial, agricultural and rural property matters for both businesses and individuals.