All questions

Real estate ownership

i Planning

The planning administration in England and Wales primarily consists of local planning authorities (LPAs) and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. The Mayor of London is also able to exercise specific planning powers at a London-wide level, including the power to decide strategically important planning applications. Planning administration is governed by a mix of government policy and statutes, the most important of which is the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Under the 1990 Act, planning permission is required for 'development', a term that includes both works and changes of use, although certain forms of development are automatically granted planning permission (they have 'permitted development rights') under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 2015. Separate planning controls exist for property in conservation areas and for listed buildings under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. Third parties have a right to make representations about any planning application, which in turn must be considered by the relevant LPA. Applicants are able to appeal LPA planning decisions to the Secretary of State, in which case the Secretary of State will decide the application afresh and on its merits. Third parties have no such right of appeal but they (and applicants) may appeal decisions of the Secretary of State to the courts on the grounds of legal error. LPAs have enforcement powers to deal with development that is carried out without or in breach of planning permission. The Planning Act 2008 contains a separate planning regime for nationally significant infrastructure projects, which are projects within the five general fields of energy, transport, water, wastewater and waste, as well as certain commercial and residential projects. A development consent order granted under the Planning Act 2008 provides a single consent for such projects, thereby removing the need for developers to seek planning permission and other related consents separately.

ii Environment

The environmental issue of particular significance to investors is the contaminated land regime, which is set out in Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, as amended by the Environment Act 1995. Contaminated land is land that is causing, or may cause, significant harm to the environment or human health. The regime also applies to water pollution. Local authorities are obliged to inspect their land to identify areas of contamination. Where land is deemed to be contaminated and is not being remediated voluntarily, the local authority or the Environment Agency (in England) or Natural Resources Wales (in Wales) is obliged to serve a remediation notice on the relevant persons requiring the clean-up, investigation and monitoring of the contamination. It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with a remediation notice. In general, those who cause or knowingly permit land to become contaminated are responsible in the first instance; however, if no such person can be identified, the current owners and occupiers of the site may be liable for remediation costs. While regulators in the United Kingdom do not take enforcement action as readily as in other jurisdictions, remediation costs can be substantial, and it is often necessary to obtain specialist advice when dealing with land that is or may be contaminated.

iii TaxValue added tax

The starting point is that a supply of land (i.e., any sale, letting or licensing, or the grant or surrender of property rights such as rights of light) will be exempt from value added tax (VAT). However, the seller or landlord can exercise the option to tax, which will generally make any sale or letting of the property by that seller or landlord a supply subject to VAT. The standard rate of VAT is currently 20 per cent. The landlord or seller can then recover the VAT charged on supplies of goods and services made to him or her in connection with the property concerned. In addition, supplies of land are generally subject to VAT if the sale involves a new commercial building completed within the past three years, or an incomplete industrial or commercial building.

Stamp duty land tax

SDLT is a transactional tax payable by the buyer on the acquisition of a chargeable interest, and applies to any chargeable consideration payable by the buyer on a relevant transaction. The rate depends on the value of the transaction, and the highest rate for non-residential transactions is currently 5 per cent in respect of that part of consideration that exceeds £250,000. Residential properties are subject to rates ranging from 2 per cent up to 12 per cent for higher-value properties where the consideration exceeds £1.5 million; there is an additional 3 per cent charge on second homes and most buy-to-let properties and, from April 2021, a further 2 per cent surcharge on purchases by non-UK residents, thus making for a marginal rate of up to 17 per cent. Where the buyer of a residential property costing more than £500,000 is a corporate vehicle, the rate of SDLT is 15 per cent and an additional annual charge may also apply. A new land transaction tax replaced SDLT on property transactions in Wales with effect from April 2018, which, following the introduction of a similar tax in Scotland in 2015, leaves England and Northern Ireland as the two areas of the United Kingdom where SDLT remains in place. SDLT is also payable by the tenant on the rental element of a lease on grant, and is charged at banded rates of 1 and 2 per cent of the net present value of the rent payable for the term of the lease. Limited types of transactions are normally exempt from SDLT, including mortgages and personal licences to use or occupy land. A number of reliefs that may apply, including group relief, sale and leaseback relief, acquisition relief, reconstruction relief and charity relief. It is important to consider how best to structure a transaction for SDLT purposes, although the introduction of various anti-avoidance provisions has made it increasingly difficult to implement tax-saving schemes. An SDLT holiday introduced by the government at the start of lockdown to help support the housing market came to an end on 30 September 2021.


The occupier of a business property is responsible for the payment of business rates, which fund local government expenditure and are calculated by reference to the rateable value of the property. Rateable values are usually assessed every five years, and a revaluation took place in 2017 based on 2015 rateable values. This has resulted in a significant uplift, particularly for those businesses in property hot spots such as central London. Following a significant reduction in the relief available, business rates are generally payable on empty properties, and this has become a significant issue for owners in sectors with high vacancy rates. A business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses applied for the 2020–2021 tax year and an expanded retail discount continues to apply to those sectors until 31 March 2022. A new, temporary business rates relief for the 2022–2023 tax year was announced as part of the 2021 Autumn Budget.

iv Finance and security

Lenders will generally require security over real estate, the best form of which is a charge by way of legal mortgage. It is necessary to register a mortgage over land at the Land Registry. If the company giving the security is registered at Companies House, the security must also be registered at Companies House within 21 days of creation. The mortgage will typically impose restrictions on the ability of the borrower to deal with the property and obligations on the borrower to preserve the value of the security. Security is also commonly taken over the rental income derived from occupational leases.