Compulsory purchase powers for regeneration and revitalisation have long been available, but not always used to best effect. The taking of land against the will of the owner is always a serious step and one never to be taken lightly. In the post-war period, when the rebuilding of towns and cities was imperative, compulsory purchase had an important role to play in assembling land and local authorities built up experience in using the relevant procedures. In more recent decades, however, local authorities seem to have adopted a more cautious approach to compulsory purchase. Why should this be?
The perceived complexity of the process that has to be followed is doubtless one reason. Another, perhaps, is a greater emphasis placed on the rights of the individual against the state, and certainly a greater willingness on the part of individuals to assert their rights and to take the opportunity to object to proposals, often in a sophisticated and effective way.
That there should be a compelling case in the public interest to justify compulsory purchase remains a guiding principle that all users of compulsory purchase powers need to keep at the forefront of their minds. Yet without compulsory purchase, regeneration schemes to revitalise our towns and cities would be thwarted by ransom strips, unrealistic demands by landowners and the sheer difficulty of assembling sites where ownership is fragmented.
Accordingly, compulsory purchase is alive and well and remains an important tool in making regeneration and renewal happen.
Of all the powers of compulsory purchase perhaps the best known and most used are those found in section 226 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and available to local planning authorities for ‘planning purposes’. The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 made some important amendments to section 226. The specific requirement to have regard to the development plan before utilising the powers was removed and instead emphasis is placed upon the promotion or improvement of the economic, social and environmental ‘well-being’ of the area. This amendment, the Government hopes, will cause local authorities to be less cautious in pursuing compulsory purchase as a means of promoting sustainable development.
Regional development agencies have had compulsory purchase powers since they were established under the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998. They may, by agreement or compulsorily, acquire land if necessary for their statutory purposes. These purposes include, amongst other things, furthering the economic development and regeneration of their areas, promoting business efficiency and contributing to the achievement of sustainable development, and are wide ranging powers indeed. The London Development Agency also has these powers, but must first obtain the Mayor's consent before using them. They were most recently used to assemble the site for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
English Partnerships also has compulsory purchase powers, under the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 as do urban development corporations pursuant to their purposes under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. In the Midlands and in Northern England, compulsory purchase powers have increasingly been used as a way of tackling the problems of low demand for housing in some areas, by clearance schemes under the Housing Act 1985 often coupled with the declaration of renewal areas which can involve utilising the compulsory purchase powers in the Local Government and Housing Act 1989.
Compulsory purchase powers are also found within other orders, not least Transport and Works Act orders used to authorise, in most cases, railways, tramways and certain other modes of guided transport. These orders typically contain a range of powers necessary to deliver infrastructure and compulsorily acquire land, whether on a permanent or temporary basis.
Whichever procedure is used, the guidance contained in ODPM Circular 06/2004 (Compulsory Purchase and the Crichel Down Rules) provides a useful summary of the procedures to be followed both generally and with reference to a variety of different statutory procedures.