The government has issued a consultation on proposed improvements to make the compulsory purchase process clearer, fairer and faster. The main points identified as areas in need of reform are as follows:
Improving existing guidance
- The need for public authorities to have greater flexibility and clearer guidance as to the level of compensation they can offer at the outset of the CPO process. The government believes that local authorities are more likely to make a lower initial offer of compensation than their private sector counterparts because of a perceived conflict with the duty to achieve best possible value. However, this may be a false economy. A CPO process is a costly affair from start to finish; if a higher initial offer leads to earlier settlement and acquisition by agreement then there is no need to rely on the entire CPO process. This should reduce costs overall and limit the amount of time the CPO process ultimately takes;
- The need for powers of entry to be standardised for all acquiring authorities, supported by a standard warrant provision. The new power of entry would have one notice period, a move designed to consolidate the various notice periods into one single period.
Streamlining the development and confirmation processes
- Timescales for some parts of the written representations process are to be introduced in a bid to reduce delay in the overall process. A new statutory requirement for the site visit to take place within 15 weeks of the starting date letter is proposed, together with a government target that 80% of all written representations cases are decided within 8 weeks after the site visit. For the remaining 20%, a further 4 weeks will be allowed;
- In cases where the Secretary of State is required to reach a decision following a public inquiry, the government proposes a new statutory requirement to apply in 80% of cases. The inspector will have up to 8 weeks to write up his/her report and the Secretary of State will have a further maximum of 12 weeks to issue a decision letter. For the remaining 20%, a further 4 weeks will be allowed;
- Whether the challenge procedure for a decision not to confirm a CPO (currently judicial review) should be aligned with the challenge process for the decision to confirm a CPO (a statutory challenge); whether the Courts would benefit from a wider range of remedies to allow them to quash a decision to confirm a CPO, leaving the order itself in place; and whether a time extension should be given to implement a CPO which has been challenged unsuccessfully.
Improving the implementation stage
- Improving and standardising taking possession of land, with one standard notice of entry period of three months and a specified date given for entry; or, as an alternative, a new procedure where the occupier can serve notice on the acquiring authority requiring it to take possession of land on a specified date;
- Improvements to the system of advance payments, so that compensation can be paid before entry and a new dispute resolution mechanism for claims for advance payments;
- The extension of the power to override easements and restrictive covenants to acquiring authorities such as statutory undertakers who do not currently have these powers.
Finally, the consultation also identifies that the guidance on compulsory purchase needs updating and updated draft guidance has been issued. The government proposes that the CPO guidance should move to a web-based resource, just as it has done with guidance on the National Planning Policy Framework.
The consultation is open until 9 June 2015 and the government has requested that responses be submitted electronically at https://surveymonkey.com/s/VZBG7NC.