In R (On the Application of Argos) v Birmingham City Council (2011), the court clarified the extent to which a compulsory purchase order (CPO) must be tied to a specific purpose and/or general scheme as specified in a general vesting declaration (GVD).

Argos occupied a large unit in a shopping centre located above Birmingham New Street train station, which as part of the New Street redevelopment project became the subject of a CPO. Argos brought an application for judicial review concerning the associated GVD, arguing that a subsequent alteration of the GVD scheme significantly altered the purpose as authorised by the CPO and as such was unlawful. In particular, Argos contended that under the new scheme they would no longer be able to trade during the construction and remain in occupation afterwards.

The judge held that the question to be answered was whether the GVD was made for the purpose authorised by the CPO. This did not mean that all of the listed uses of the scheme had to be met exactly but rather that the regeneration of the station and shopping centre that was at the heart of the CPO had to be satisfied. Accordingly, the GVD was made for the purpose of the CPO. The court also held that the acquisition of the land was not disproportionate to the public interest; that while Article 1 of the ECHR was engaged by the making of a CPO, there was no breach of human rights in this case; and finally that the operation of the GVD was not unreasonable or unfair and as such was lawful.

The case highlights that when implementing CPOs, the main concern is that the purpose at the centre of the CPO is met, with specific details of implementation being less important. This comes as welcome news to councils, allowing an element of flexibility and change in major development projects, provided of course that a clear focus on the overriding aims of the CPO is maintained.