"We want to see a clear, accessible, effective and efficient system of legislation and policy which allows for the compulsory acquisition and purchase of legal interests in land and property for the public benefit". While there is as yet no sign of a Ministerial response to the Scottish Law Commission's September 2016 report on reform of the compulsory purchase legislation in Scotland, this clear messaging from the Scottish Government in its recently published consultation paper on planning reform, should provide some comfort that the concerns expressed in the SLC report about the current system have not gone unheeded.
At the heart of proposed reforms to the planning system in Scotland, is a desire to deliver more high quality homes and create better places. The planning consultation paper recognises that local authorities already have land assembly powers, but it is currently unusual for those powers to be used to unlock housing sites for development. The Minister for Local Government and Housing wants this reluctance to end and for local authorities to take positive steps towards delivery, rather than waiting for development to happen.
Combined with a target of ensuring that 1 million acres of land in Scotland is in community ownership by 2020 and an aim to bring vacant and derelict land back into productive use, we can expect to see an increased use of compulsory purchase powers.
Ahead of changes to the legislation, the planning reform paper highlights the Scottish Government's intentions to investigate proposals which give local authorities more confidence and tools to acquire land, which is not being used as allocated with the development plan. It also mentions amending current guidance on compulsory purchase.
These interim measures are to be welcomed as they echo suggestions made in the SLC report, where there was particular emphasis on updating compulsory purchase guidance issued to the Scottish Government’s own agencies and improving best practice among acquiring authorities.
But surely to be truly “clear, accessible, effective and efficient” we need a modern restatement of the law on compulsory purchase? Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long….
Note: You can comment on the Scottish Government’s consultation paper on proposed planning reforms via https://consult.scotland.gov.uk/planning-architecture/a-consultation-on-the-future-of-planning/
Partner, Burness Paull LLP